It started with sirens.
I fell asleep just before 1:00 a.m. on Friday, April 19. As I was drifting off, I saw the flashing blue and red lights bounce off the houses across my street. I heard shouts and scrambling feet hitting pavement as police officers ran toward their squad cars. I peeked through the blinds and saw a half dozen of them speeding down Nichols Ave., less than 200 yards from my apartment. I fell asleep wondering what the commotion was about, but didn't give it much thought.
I woke up at 6:00 a.m. Friday in a haze because I was in a deep sleep. I turned over to find 10 missed calls and dozens of texts before the sun had even risen.
My first reaction: Someone died. Someone back home in the Midwest died.
Fearing the worst, I called my parents back and found out what was happening. The two suspects who were believed to have bombed the Boston Marathon on April 15 were at large and literally blocks away from me. The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was shot and killed by police early Friday morning just down the road. The other, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, still loomed large and had the country in a panic.
I live in Watertown, Mass., and I was in the thick of yet another crime scene to hit this wonderful city. I'm originally from Granite City, Ill., and moved to Watertown in September 2012 for a job. I've come to fall in love with this bustling town that hugs the border of Boston, located less than seven miles outside the heart of the city.
Acts of terror struck Boston on Marathon Monday, a day of competition and spirit. The Boston Marathon tradition will never be the same. Now, after a week of living on edge and treading lightly, I've realized Boston and its surrounding neighborhoods will never be the same. Period.
As if the events that unfolded Monday weren't horrific enough, on Friday, residents of Boston's surrounding towns awoke to a state of emergency. I didn't realize the gravity of the situation until I threw some water on my face and turned on the news. Since I woke up, I've been absorbing all the coverage. Television, online, what friends are telling me -- all conflicting, all overwhelming.
Friends who know someone in the police force have said that the situation isn't as bad as the media is making it out to be -- no surprise there. This week has given a new definition to the phrase "breaking news" and what that means for us. It's difficult to discern what's reality versus hype.
My phone went from fully charged to dying within four hours of nonstop texting and phone calls with loved ones. I kept my blinds shut but would occasionally crack a window to let some air in. Watertown residents -- like the rest of Boston and its surrounding towns -- were on lockdown. As of 6:00 p.m. Friday, I haven't stepped foot outside my apartment since Thursday evening.
My apartment is on a generally quiet street in eastern Watertown, just down the street from an Armenian church, school and bakeries. I'm Armenian and Watertown is home to the third largest Armenian community in America, so my move to this specific area was no accident. I can walk down the street and buy fresh foods that remind me of home, hear people speaking Armenian outside my window and see Armenian writing on business awnings nearby.
So to wake up in dismay and realize my new town was essentially under siege was both terrifying and infuriating. Within hours, at least a thousand of Massachusetts' finest swarmed Watertown. Choppers and the SWAT team descended upon the area. I could look out my window and see camouflage Humvees rolling down the street. I felt like I woke up in a war-torn country.
I realize what Boston is going through is only a fraction of the horror those in the Middle East or Africa experience all day, every day. I'm not going to compare situations because the excessive complaints on Facebook and Twitter of people who state that obvious fact have driven me to avoid social media. I'm not ignorant of what's happening around the world, but that does not belittle what is happening here in my town.
I take for granted how wonderful it is to live in a country where, on the average day, I do not fear for my life. I know not all Americans have that luxury. But ever since 9/11 and the upswing in mass shootings, I've been uneasy. This week has been a wakeup call that we are never truly safe.
I've never been one to assume the worst in someone. Even after all that has transpired here this week, I can safely say that has not changed. I believe in the good in humanity. I don't believe we need to turn to blame and violence in order to find answers to questions we may never fully understand. The light will always push out the darkness, and even in the wake of tragedy and crime, I cling to that.
I'm lucky. I woke up yesterday, safe in my apartment and put my feet on the ground. There just happened to be a looming threat outside. I realize others are not as fortunate. For that -- to have a roof over my head and a place to hide -- I am thankful.
I'm thankful for our heroes in uniform -- law enforcement, SWAT team members, doctors and nurses. I'm thankful for those first responders and good Samaritans who ran toward danger on Marathon Monday to help their fellow man instead of running away scared.
Terror looms every day, some days more than others. But to live in fear is possibly one of the biggest mistakes we can make. I live in the middle of this manhunt, but I do not live in fear.
How long does it take to resume "normal" life? Time will tell. I can't speak for the grieving families and friends of those who have senselessly been killed because of this week's events. I can only grieve with them and hope they will find solace.
But I do know none of us will ever fully return to normal. Just like Columbine, just like 9/11, this week -- especially Marathon Monday and yesterday with the suspect search -- will forever be ingrained in our memories. We'll always remember where we were and what we were doing when those bombs went off.
We'll remember the weeping, the sadness, the injuries. We'll remember those rushed to hospitals, the confusion and the international attention.
But most of all, we'll remember the hope and kindness in the aftermath. Or at least, I will. Because the tremendous outpour of support that has come in for the city of Boston is what is worth remembering.
Boston is strong. It is not easily shaken. This will be a tragic series of events for its -- and American -- history, but it will not leave us living in fear.
It started with chaos. I can only hope it ends with peace.