Patriot’s Day is my favorite day of the year in Boston. While Easter gets all the glory as the unofficial start of spring, in Boston, it’s Marathon Monday. Girls wear shorts and flip-flops to the morning Red Sox game when it’s about 20 degrees too cold for it. Bars open ungodly early, but nearly everyone behaves themselves—perhaps the runners outside remind the young folks that day drinking is also not a sprint, but a marathon? Our reputedly cold city thaws on Patriot’s Day—both meteorologically and socially.
My day started at the Pour House, with the boyfriends of a couple of runners. We drank beer. We got a table right by the front windows. We had some cheap breakfast. My other friends joined us. The guys got up to move further down the course to cheer on their runners. The rest of us stayed, polishing off cheap mimosas and cheering as the elite runners cruised by at what seemed to be an impossibly fast speed. Realizing we needed to take a break from drinking, we set ourselves up outside. We saw one friend run by. Knowing another friend was shortly behind her, we decided to mosey closer to the finish line and have another drink.
We weaved in and out of the crowds. We passed bars with cover charges, and one that contained some acquaintances my friend wanted to avoid. We walked behind the plywood-encased risers at the finish line where VIPs and media watched the marathoners’ last strides. Finally, we stopped at the Charlesmark Hotel. There wasn’t a line and didn’t appear to be a cover, so we popped inside. We made a beeline for the bathroom at the back of the bar, which was a one-room affair for both sexes, so it took a while for the three of us to make it through the line. We were just regrouping to move towards the bar and its open windows when we heard a loud boom. Shortly after, we heard a second.
I fell into one of those slow-motion trances like in a nightmare. The sound was somewhat metallic, and while very loud, didn’t shake the building in any way I could feel in the middle back section of the bar. I thought the scaffolding holding up the bleachers had fallen, given the metal clang I heard in the explosion. One of my friends later said she thought that the giant monitor over the finish line had fallen. We held back, waiting to see what we should do next. We started to smell smoke, so I thought a transformer had blown. (Happens sometimes in the Back Bay.)
Then we saw dozens of people rush away from the finish line, looking stricken. Whatever happened was bad. It was time to leave.
We went out the back door next to the bathroom. We walked down the public alley in the back, cut onto Newbury Street, and kept moving. My phone was working, and I checked Twitter where I saw the initial reports of an explosion.
We decided to head to my friend’s apartment in the North End. I texted the runners I knew to find out if they were OK. (They were, as were their boyfriends.) I texted my boyfriend and told him where I was going. I called my mother, leaving her a voicemail in a voice as calm as I could manage. I posted to Facebook and Twitter, all in case my phone stopped working. It was surreal walking through the Public Garden, sirens screaming a hellish chorus around the park, as most people didn’t know what was happening a few blocks away. They kept feeding ducks, taking pictures with those who’d finished the marathon.
Once inside my friend’s apartment, we saw how close we’d been to being in harm’s way. Video of the scene was coming out. We started reading the news reports. Any change in our plan, or not having to use the bathroom, might have put us closer to danger. I’m glad all my immediate friends and family are safe. But my heart breaks for those who were not so fortunate. And I’m sad for the people who spent months training for Boston, only to have their triumph marred by a tragedy, or who didn’t get to finish the race due to being rerouted by the authorities. I hope they know their accomplishment means just as much.
As I’m about to get on the train or back in the car after visiting my Mom, she says she puts me in a bubble when I leave. In the bubble, nothing bad can happen to me when I’m out of her sight. It’s how she can deal with me riding the subway to work, living in a city, driving a car. We all put ourselves and our loved ones in these bubbles every day. Boston’s bubble doesn’t feel very strong right now. But we’ll be OK. We’ll keep going about our business and doing what we love because a life lived in all-encompassing fear isn’t life.
After 9/11, I had horrible nightmares of looking up at the John Hancock tower as a plane flew into it. I think we all had those dreams. But it was unbelievable to be next to some kind of terrorism in real life, on a day that I and so many others love so much in Boston. And will continue to love. Because I’ll be there next year, drinking cheap mimosas and celebrating the return of spring. I hope you will be, too.