Spring Cleaning: April 15, 2013

I had hoped to write this post on the anniversary of the Marathon Bombings (the 15th) or the day of the Boston Marathon this year (the 21st). But as they say, "Man plans. God laughs." Albeit a late post, it's such a relief to be writing it after the 2014 race went off without a single hitch. I loved watching the elite runners on TV in the morning and watching the (relative) mortals from Mile 26 on Gloucester and Boylston.

On April 15, 2014, I had planned to attend a Seder for the second night of Passover, but not feeling up to 5 hours of ceremony at the house of a friend's Jewish grandmother in Newton, I ended up heading to my Women's Circle that night. Six or seven of us had gathered on the fourth floor of Old South Church in Copley Square, the locus of chaos and blood and debris one year before, to meditate and reflect on the tragedy one year later.

Every Bostonian I spoke to this year knew exactly where he was or what she was doing the day the bombs went off. I'm no exception. I was watching the race from Washington Square in Brookline at mile 23, 3.2 miles from the finish line. I was fortunate to be dating someone who lived far down the Green Line--had I watched the race from the place closest to my apartment, I'd have been right in Copley and all that would have saved me from injury and worse trauma would have been excellent timing in leaving the race. My dear friend Meg, who was watching her friend run from Whiskey's bar, which is right around the block from Forum, where one of the explosions occurred, had left barely a half hour before. Thankfully, her friend was fast runner and the weather was just chilly enough to have Meg head home earlier rather than later.

Anyway, I was watching the race in Brookline. It was my first Marathon Monday since moving to Boston and the city was buzzing with excitement (and open containers of Bud Light). The metal barricades on either side of the Marathon course were lined with people and every outdoor seat at the local cafes and restaurants was filled. We'd share in the runners' joy when the reached the finish line, but in the meantime, as we watched the race, we balanced out their physical exertion with our exceptional laziness. Save for emitting enthusiastic cheers between even more enthusiastic gulps of booze.

Like some terrible omen, at 2:52PM, a runner collapsed barely three feet from where I was standing and started seizing. I saw some men in military garb run past her, and I was confused as to why they weren't immediately rushing to her aid. A police officer, looking unusually rattled, came over to help. We heard some strange news over his radio, which he proceeded to confirm: three minutes ago, two bombs had gone off off at the finish line. He urged us to head home.

My mom had already spent at least 15 minutes earlier that afternoon listening to me stress about my landlord wanting to sell my apartment and needing to find a new place to live. She probably thought that when I called her back a second time, it would be to further insult my landlord's character.

Strangely, I was calmer when I related the news of the bombing than when I shared the situation about my apartment.  My tone was composed. I told her I was fine, I was safe, and I was staying well away from the area for the rest of the night. I was lucky I caught her at 2:53PM, before she had the chance to worry about my being unreachable. Placing an outgoing call would become impossible in a matter of minutes as cell service was shut down.

The group I was with walked back to my boyfriend's apartment, stopping at the Whole Foods in Washington Square to pick up meat for dinner. I walked around the market aimlessly, trying to process what was happening while trying to distract myself with the colors and labels of everything in the store.

As we walked back home from the market, I wondered why the people I was with weren't more concerned about telling their loved ones that they were safe and sound. My phone was being bombarded. I couldn't charge the dying thing fast enough to let everyone who was texting me know that I was okay. As the boys went outside to set up the grill, I sat on the couch at the apartment obsessively scraping the internet for news on the suspects. I let myself become consumed with anxiety, but I didn't allow myself to cry. At the time, (and to some extent, even a year later) I felt I didn't deserve to cry because I wasn't personally hurt.

I know there wasn't much else to do that day and that life must go on, but drinking and barbecuing as if nothing had happened seemed like the wrong thing to do. Admittedly, my company was almost exclusively male, and many men don't show their feelings (or don't feel safe to). But these boys' indifference on this particular day and in these circumstances was frustrating. I resented them for their behavior, considering it an insult to those suffering just over 3 miles from where we stood. I'd realize later that these were some of the most childish, emotionally-stunted men I'd ever meet. I still work on letting my resentment toward them go. But as I spent the night in the context of this apathetic group, I felt that all my feelings of sadness and pain and confusion and fear weren't legitimate. I proceeded to undermine or deny them whenever I felt them bubbling up. Despite my denial, I couldn't walk on Boylston Street until well into May without feeling like I'd fall apart.

When the lockdown was over on the 19th, after a day of watching Boston crime movies and obsessively following the news, my boyfriend came to my place and we went for a walk, down Charles, around Cambridge, past Tremont, and then to Beacon. As we walked down the slope of Beacon by the Common toward the Public Garden, we heard loud cheers and chants of "USA! USA!" I remember feeling confused and wondering if this was something to celebrate, if I was allowed to feel joy and this ordeal being over, if this was, somehow, an excuse to be patriotic. For some eccentric reason, I remember wearing black TOMS wedge sandals, having decided that it was a night for celebration with the suspect captured and the weather that night had finally feeling somewhat spring-like. I had blisters by the end of the walk. I don't think I allowed myself to even feel that pain.

After years of therapy, being around crazy people, and being told I was crazy, I'm learning that my feelings are legitimate--and not just my feelings about the Marathon. I've learned that no one gets to tell me how I should feel--including my ego--and that ignoring or swallowing the feelings doesn't make them disappear. And as a recovering people-pleaser and perfectionist, I'm learning that I can't really influence the way that other people feel--about me, about themselves, or about the world. How others feel about me is their business. Not mine.

That's freeing stuff.