Monday was a bad day.
It started off good. Great, even. Marathon Monday, Patriots Day, has become my favorite day of the year. One I look to all winter long, my unofficial start of spring. I have been attending the Marathon, cheering on runners since I was a fresh-faced freshman in college, a Midwesterner new to city living, having no knowledge of the role running would eventually play in my life. I watched through my years living in the Boston suburbs, rooting from the front half of the course, runners still high on their starting line adrenaline. And eight years ago, after having moved back into downtown, I was overjoyed to be a spectator back at the finish line.
I love the way the air smells that day. I love how everyone in the city is happy and relaxed. It is a palpable buzz. It is a day of simple joy. This Marathon Monday, my fiancé and I headed over to my favorite spot to watch. We watched the exciting elites finish, cheered for the qualifiers, clapped for the inspiring amateurs. We talked about what a classic, perfect day it was.
And, then it all changed in an instant. Two instants, actually. Twelve seconds apart. We had left the race sidelines to have lunch at a restaurant just off Boylston. We didn't hear the explosions; the music in the restaurant was too loud. But, we soon began receiving frantic texts from family and friends and BPD came in to evacuate us.
As we walked home to our apartment just south of Copley, I was struck by all the people milling about, lost, with nowhere to go, many with race numbers still pinned to their chests. The confusion and uncertainty in their faces mirroring our own, I imagine. Walking swiftly, we got home safely to find a stranded runner and his family in our building. We offered them water and a place to stay until their host made it home as well. We spent the night answering calls, texts and Facebook posts from worried friends, families and colleagues and sending the same back out, tracking down people we knew who were running, watching or working in the area.
That night I was angry. Angry that someone would do this to Boston. To my beloved, adopted hometown. I have Buckeye roots, but after 16 years I have a Boston heart. I was angry that someone would do this to MY marathon, to MY neighbors. To anyone. Who? Why? No answers. Just panic, dismay, shock. I settled that night into a unsettling sleep and woke up the next morning with the full terrible realization that this scene transpired so close to me. In my city, in my neighborhood, on streets I've walked a thousand times. I wasn't upset for me. I'm beyond blessed that I'm safe and everyone I know is. I'm upset for what this means. I love this city and will herald it to anyone who meets me. But, now we have this to deal with. My favorite day is now marred. I was raw that morning. Tears, too tired to be angry, they slowly segued into numbness.
That morning, I'd had too much of the news loop. I tried to work with limited success. I sat at my desk at home, staring at my laptop screen thinking, what now? And, then it hit me. Go for a run. I currently have a bum knee. I have since I hurt it .3 miles into a 9.3 mile race many weeks ago. I've spent several weeks on rest and a few more back on the elliptical. But feeling better, stronger, I had decided Monday morning at the gym that this week, this Marathon week, would be the one where I hit the road again.
I have only been a runner for about five years now. I played sports growing up: basketball, tennis, not really running. It was too boring then. But, five years ago, in line with my typically overachieving ways, out of the blue, needing a goal, I signed up for a half marathon. The BAA half marathon in fact. And, I ran it -- and finished. A running friend then encouraged me to sign up for a full marathon. I couldn't believe he thought I could do it. I certainly didn't think I could. But I signed up anyway. And I trained. And, while I ultimately didn't run the full because of an injury, I did lose 30 pounds and develop a love of running. And, so in these last years, in the absence of anything else, running has become my comfort, my escape. So Tuesday afternoon, I ran. I ran so I could experience again.
I wore my Boston Half Marathon tee from 2010, a race that I had the pleasure of running four times. The BAA puts it on, the same organization that hosts the full marathon, so I felt a sense of connection and pride. I don't know how far I went. It felt like just over 2.5 miles. I'd like to think it was 2.62 miles, but I don't know for sure. It was a slow run. I didn't wear a watch, but I know it wasn't fast. I didn't wear my iPod either. I needed this city and its sounds to be my soundtrack. I heard the birds chirping and construction trucks beeping and saws from a crew working on a brownstone up the street. I felt things. I felt the pounding of the pavement beneath my worn sneakers. I felt the weight of my engagement ring on my left hand. I remembered the many runs over the last few years where, as I passed mile after mile, I dreamed about what that ring, and what that man, would be like someday. I thought of the calls and texts, emails and messages I received Monday night, reminders of the affection I have always had the good fortune to be engulfed in. I tasted the salt from the sweat from my brow. I heard the wicked accents of the Boston Police talking amongst themselves at intersections. I watched cars slow to let me finish crossing the street. And I cried. I cried most of the way. Not because my knee hurt or my breath was short. But because I couldn't believe that someone had done this to this city that I love. I was experiencing, again, this city, this sport. I looked down and saw one foot in front of the other. And, then I thought, this is it. This is how we will get through. As with everything, we will put one foot in front of the other. I looked up and I saw a puppy straining against his leash, eager to play in the park, with that joyful innocence that dogs all seem to have. I smelled the blooms on the trees that are finally coming out. I passed a runner, who gave me a thumbs up, which I returned. I felt the sun on my face as this long winter turns into spring. I saw the fluorescent orange of parking tickets on cars along Columbus Ave... business goes on, you know. And, I thought we will handle this the way Bostonians know how.
It has been difficult for me in the days since that cathartic run. Days full of ups and downs. I don't think I'm different from anyone else. I watch the news clips, desperately wishing the scenes weren't familiar to me. Wishing I didn't recognize the red glow of the Copley Hotel Square sign or the marble of the sidewalk outside of Marathon Sports. I returned to work on Wednesday, to our office just outside the crime scene tape with an uneasy malaise. I can't bring myself to look in the direction of the finish line, not sure I can handle the sight of the grandstand and the banners and the blockades on the ground, even from a distance. But, I have tried to think of the good that has come out of this. The solidarity we have experienced. The sense of community with residents of the 617 and the world alike. Runners feel our pain. Former students of Boston schools feel our pain. People who believe in good feel our pain. I think about the phenomenal job our police and federal agents have done.
I think about the amazing way the BAA has handled this most unforeseen, unprecedented, unenviable task. I think about all of the people who have helped with monetary donations, giving blood, opening their homes up. I think of the remarkable efforts of our world-class medical teams. I think about the outpouring of support I've received personally from friends, family, colleagues, former colleagues, former classmates. And then just when I start to breathe a little easier, something reminds me of what happened and it hurts all over again. I get angry all over again. And today, I remain trapped in our apartment, afraid to go out for fear this madman will strike again, trying to stay out of the way to let the authorities do their job. So, baby steps. This recovery will be long. But, I have no doubt that this city will pull through, bounce back, run again, come back better than ever. We WILL move forward. But how will we do it? By getting up every day and putting one foot in front of the other.
I'm still proud of this city. My heart hurts for the runners, finishers and not. My heart hurts for the victims, innocents just there to watch arguably the most storied distance race around. And now another lost today in the line of duty. But, Marathon Monday is still my favorite day of the year. Because that day when I saw the worst of humanity, I still also saw the best. I don't know where we go from here. I know it will never be the same. But I still choose this city.
This city that has chosen me.
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