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Around The Perimeter: A First Person Account From Boston

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It was a beautiful morning.

Crisp, and warm in the sun. A sunglasses kind of day, one of the first of the season.

We got a late start, heading down to Copley around 1. Our goal: to take pictures of the finish line, and maybe meet up with friends along the way.

We stroll along Boylston from Arlington, down to between Hynes and Copley. People are crowded on the streets but it's not oppressive, like 4th of July, or wildly drunken, like St. Paddy's Day. We are at the finish line at 1:14pm. There's a bottleneck at the beginning of the block, and we have to walk in slow, staggered single-file to see the winners, raising their arms triumphantly and posing for the photographers on the street facing them. Tears form and retract at the inspiration of the runners, at what their tenacity can accomplish. This is why we venerate athletes: they show us the immensity of what we are capable of. I felt silly for feeling so emotional.

We continue on.

We loop back eventually, walking on the more deserted Newbury street one block parallel to the race to get a bite to eat and make our way back to Copley. At Dartmouth, I turned to the direction of the finish line and pause.

"We should see the race again before we go," I said. "But let's take a shopping break first?" I suggested it, even as I felt guilty. We could go shopping any day, but only see the marathon once a year.

But...Newbury was empty, the shops would be wonderfully devoid of crowds of shoppers, and the new Nordstrom Rack was down the street.

Jason, my fiance, agreed.

I went next door and told Jason to meet me when he was done. A little after 3, I overheard a customer talking to a sales clerk: "The building shook. There are wheelchairs. A bomb."

"What?" the clerk said.

Probably an earthquake, I thought and scanned my phone--Twitter, Facebook. Of course there would be a mention if something had happened. Nothing.

I completed my purchase and went outside at 3:24. It was quiet, people milling around.

Jason texted me: "there's a bomb at Copley." He had felt it, shaking the store building.

I waited on the corner outside the H&M, growing more restless. It still didn't sink in. I looked for a cue from the faces of the knots of people around me. Someone was laughing, others were talking on their cells. Surely no one would laugh if something serious had happened. A young runner on the corner sits with her teeth chattering and eyes unfocused, a marathon cape on her shoulders, people who I assume are her parents on either side of her, all three silent.

My calls weren't going through, just messages. My texts get more panicked: where r u /im on the corner/waiting for u /meet me asap

The combination of not knowing where Jason was and what was going on agitated me to the point where I run to the corner of Clarendon and Boylston, about a block and a half from the finish line.

The street is empty, still barricaded to separate runners from spectators. Half a dozen people are pointing their phones and taking pictures of...what? Nothing. A deserted, dirty street that a few minutes ago had been packed.

By a long-practiced habit, I snapped a picture too and sent it to Facebook as a police officer from behind the barricade yelled hoarsely at us to get back.

Finally a text from Jason. I run back and we hug before starting to walk. Stores on either side of the street have been quickly locked. He hasn't eaten all day. He doesn't talk about the bomb.

"We have to go see," I persisted. We are walking on Newbury parallel to the race, away from the finish line, on the expensive end of the street. I see smartly dressed clerks on the phone or texting behind locked glass doors.

"See what?"

"See what's going on." We pause at the corner, where large knots of people are milling around, confused, touristy. "Something's happening."

Police on the street were slowly ushering everyone away,securing the perimeter without causing more panic. Confusion is just annoying; an announcement over a bullhorn about a bomb would have caused more panic.

My instinct to go back is strong, and I paused, torn. It's not an altruistic instinct. For whatever reason, I pictured a blown-out building, people scared but uninjured. The thought of blood never crossed my mind. I just needed to know.

But Jason held firm. "I don't want to be around people."

"But something happened."

"Bombers sometimes set off more bombs."

I pictured a line of explosions going off like giant firecrackers down the street and agree to leave. We start to walk across the public garden. Halfway across we hear a third boom, and everyone in the park stops and looks back toward Copley. We still don't know what that was.

All the subways we passed are closed. We make our way down to government center. I've lost count of how many ambulances and fire trucks and cop cars have screamed by. Two yellow-jacketed Boston police race by on bikes through the Common.

"Sir, sir?" The employee at Panera Bread where we stop to gather ourselves calls to a confused-looking, possibly homeless man behind us at the counter. Her voice rises a panicked note. "You can't leave your bag there. You just can't."

They exchange more words and he goes back. Another employee tells us that there might be a bomb at the Mandarin Hotel and we decide to continue, to get home as quickly as possible, threading our way past the large groups of tourists and locals walking, some slowly some quickly. We get across the harbor to East Boston, to safety. I had never been so relieved to get home.

You try not to think about what it would feel like to have 12 nails tear through the flesh of your leg, or your flesh burned from the heat of an explosion, to see your loved ones enveloped by smoke and screams. Try not to picture your or a loved one's pixelated photograph on news sites in the coming days as the three victims' names are released. The fear, anger and disbelief are numbing. But this is mild compared to what others injured or directly witness to the tragedy went through.

Some of my colleagues, most of whom are athletes, were much closer to the finish line. Their unspoken what-if's drown out mine.

One of our project directors had crossed the finish line just as the bomb went off. You can see her, in the news videos, covering her head, continuing to run.

Another project manager, a tri-athlete, was in the Marathon Sports store minutes before the explosion. Minutes.

Our administrative assistant was a few steps from the bomb. She stayed with a girl whose legs were injured until a first responder came. That girl was the sister of the boy who was killed.

Now, Boston, provincial and proud, sartorially casual and which shines like no other city on a bright spring day, is slowly getting back to normal. There are more moments--admiring the first blooming daffodils, the light off the bricks, the glitter of water--where the terror slips away. But then you see one of the many yellow city officers, the dark blue of state troopers, the green and tan of military. You see a city enjoying its long-awaited spring, but cautiously, with eyes sharp, waiting for justice, waiting to know.