I was studying at a coffee shop. Writing a feminist jurisprudence paper about human trafficking, arguing (via the paper) with Catharine MacKinnon’s conception of sex work. My phone rang – it was my dad calling.
“Where are you?”
“Uh, a coffee shop.”
“In Cambridge, why?” I was vaguely annoyed at this point. He interrupted my academic reverie, and I was studying with two friends, in a busy coffee shop. Not the ideal place for a chat.
“Have you talked with Allison?” he asked. Allison is my 19-year-old sister, a freshman at Northeastern University.
“No, whyyyyyy?” I asked, annoyance creeping into my voice.
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I was just checking. There’s, um, there’s apparently been some sort of explosion at Copley. Near the Marathon finish line. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t near there.”
“No,” I said. “No, no, I’m fine.” And we chatted another minute, then hung up.
One of the friends I was studying with looked up from her laptop. “An explosion,” she said. “At Copley.”
Suddenly, conversation erupted around us. Words floated in and out of my brain and ears: explosion. Copley. Maybe a manhole or something? No. Bombs. Two of them. Bombs. Marathon. At Copley. Words pierced me, and I felt my panic level rise. Explosions. Blood. Limbs. In my home.
Friends and I had been watching the Marathon shortly before this phone call. We had just left, actually, to get lunch and to study (exams and final papers are coming up), when my phone rang. I tried to work out was going on, to put my panic at bay, but I kept thinking about friends, hoping they were safely ensconced in the law tower, deep in Mergers and Acquisitions outlines. And then it hit me – why my dad had asked about Allison. My little sister is a college freshman.
“Wait – I – “ I stared at my friends. “I – I just realized, I realized why my dad asked about my sister.” Of course she would be watching the Marathon. Everyone in Boston watches the Marathon.
I tapped the contacts screen on my phone, but couldn’t tap her name. My hands were shaking too badly. Finally, I managed to call her, but no dial tone. I set the phone down. Blood pounded in my head as I tried to clear my panic to think clearly.
“Too much cell traffic,” said one of my friends, watching me. “You should try to text.”
I picked up my phone again, and saw that it was exploding with texts from friends and family, out-of-town and in Boston. My screen and Facebook newsfeed became a blur of: “Are you okay?” and “I’m fine.”
I texted Allison, and quickly received a response. She was fine, safely at Northeastern. I replied I was also fine, safe in Cambridge. But for those few minutes, while I tried to get in touch with my littles sister, and with friends, I was terrified. More terrified than I have ever been in my entire life.
I’m no longer terrified, but my heart is still racing and my thoughts are disjointed. It’s shocking, really, to see my home in the international news, but my home as I’ve never seen it. Covered in smoke and shattered glass.
I love the Marathon. Runners, dressed in bright clothes and sweating like nobody’s business, start in Hopkington in the mid-morning, then run 26.2 miles into downtown Boston. Pretty much everyone in the Boston-Metro area lines the route, cheering on the runners. Each time a runner passes, the crowd, several people deep on each side, bursts into applause, blows horns, chants, “You can do it!” and “Keep going!” People train for months, years to run a really crazy long distance, proof of what human spirit and hope and strength can do, reiterating a persistent belief that we can get there. As they run, sweaty, pushing themselves, working as hard as they possibly can, they’re surrounded by us, cheering them on.
In one second, laughing, cheering, clapping transformed to screaming, running, bleeding.
But that one second is so overwhelmed by the many, many seconds that followed it. When that bomb went off, journalists and firefighters and police officers and regular people who were just there to watch loved ones ran toward the smoke. People helped. We donated blood – so much blood, in fact, that the Red Cross tweeted that really, they were good with the blood, thanks. First responders stepped forward. Regular people offered our apartments and houses, no questions asked, to runners from out of town who weren’t able to get back to their hotels.