On the Tuesday after the marathon, Boston’s typically still packed with runners. Only they’re not running, they’re just everywhere. They’re walking around. Shopping in stores. Eating in restaurants. Sitting on park benches. Digging in trashcans. Hiding in trees. Climbing on buildings. By mid-afternoon, it’s like the city’s been overrun by a pack of smiling, gingerly-moving zombies — for the most part, out-of-towners taking one more day to bask in their life-confirming glory, and all distinguished by one common characteristic: The marathon jacket.
Every year, Adidas issues an official Boston Marathon jackets to the runners (the color changes annually, but it’s always insanely bright. And like I said, every year, the day after the race, these jackets consume the streets. They’re all you see. In some cases, a runner will take things up a notch and walk around with his or her jacket AND medal. In a few more troubling cases, you’ll see someone still draped in foil. In any event, the yearly takeover is just a part of the celebration. Another slice of fanfare for an event that annually brings so much happiness to so many people.
Yesterday afternoon was different. But not really.
At about 1 pm, I walked out of my apartment — about a mile from the finish line — and decided to make my way over to the Back Bay. I wanted to get as close as I could to the spot where everything went so wrong.
Why? I’m not sure. Part of it was probably guilt over not being there on Monday. Part of it was curiosity. Part of it was because I was pissed off and wanted an excuse to get more pissed off. Part of it was just the desire to help. And I don’t mean “help” like pick up garbage or stack a bunch of folding chairs on a moving truck. I wanted to help find the maniac(s) who did this. As I walked through the Public Gardens, with the long line of news trucks on Arlington Street already in sight, I fantasized about somehow sneaking up to the roof where that mystery man was photographed. I wanted to search for clues. I wanted to crack the case. I realized there was no shot of me even getting close to that roof, or the finish line, but I needed to try. I needed to do something. My home had been attacked, what was I supposed to do?
* * * * *
Newbury Street runs parallel to Boylston Street in the Back Bay. It’s one block north. And a tiny block at that. You can easily see from end to end, it’s shorter than the length of a football field. And yesterday, Newbury served as a boundary between fantasy and reality. On the south side of the street, everything was blocked off. Every intersection secured by barriers and multiple armed guards. There was a steady stream of folks stopping to take pictures and reporters hopping in for awkward news hits, but the police kept everyone moving. There was no question that something very bad had happened on the other side of the barricade.
But on the other side of the street, it was business as usual. Aside from random clumps of news cameras, it was the same as any “Tuesday after the marathon.” As I made my way up Newbury, the patio in front of every single north-side restaurant was at capacity. Folks — most sporting this year’s bright green marathon jacket — were eating brunch, drinking Bloody Marys and having a grand old time.
It made me angry.
On one hand, you could ask that same question: What were they supposed to do? Sit in their hotel rooms and cry in front of the news? Spend the afternoon praying in church? I get it. Life goes on. Life will go on. Still, for one day, those jackets — some with medals around the neck, other still draped in foil — and the generally bubbly atmosphere just felt so wrong.
There’s a restaurant on the corner of Newbury and Gloucester called Cafeteria, and you wouldn’t have believed the scene over there. It looked like a party. It took every ounce of my willpower not to walk over to any number of tables and say: “Hey, nice medal! Do you realize that an eight year old was murdered yesterday about 200 feet from where you’re enjoying that cosmo?”
More than anything, I was stunned by the ability these people clearly had to disassociate the pride and joy of completing a marathon from the tragedy that unfolded while (or shortly after) they were doing so. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could have put on that jacket yesterday morning, looked in the mirror and seen anything other Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, bloody limbs and grieving families. That’s all I could see. And that, combined with all the proud, smiling faces was almost too much to handle. Yes, life goes on. That’s what we want. We can’t just shut down the city and put everything on hold. But I thought we could have and should have done that yesterday — less than 24 hours removed and fewer than 100 yards away from such a horrific event.
I walked home angry at the world. I wanted them out. Everyone. Every single person who dared to wear that jacket and enjoy our city while we were going through so much pain.
Looking back now, my anger was obviously a little too general and reactionary. Clearly the world cares about us. The outpouring of love and support that Boston has received over these last 48 hours is something that we’ll never forget. It’s been a welcome reminder, in the face of so much evil, that there is more good than bad in this world.
But the scene on Newbury was a harsh reminder that it won’t be long before the world moves on. The same way we did in Boston after tragedies in Colorado, Newtown and everywhere else. Before we know it, the TV trucks will be gone, #PrayforBoston will stop trending, the next big news story will hit and the headlines will follow it out of town.
Meanwhile, Boston will be left with Boston. And even as we slowly begin to return to our normal lives, the families of Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and all the other victims will be left with the nightmares. They’ll never get over this. Nor should they. In that sense, the rest of us will be as guilty as everyone who was hamming it up yesterday on Newbury.
And OK, this column is winding out of control. But that’s what it’s like inside my head. This is what it’s like in all of our heads. The more you think about it, the more confusing it all becomes. And at the same time, you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s just awful and sometimes it feels so pointless to focus on anything else. Why pretend that there’s inspiration to be found in all this, when the source is a family who’s needlessly lost an eight-year-old son, another that’s lost a 29-year-old daughter, all the lives that have been permanently altered?
Why pretend that it will be OK, when for those folks it never will be?
* * * * *
Last night, after an afternoon in the Back Bay, I walked over to the candle light vigil on Boston Common. And for the first time since this all this happened, I cried. I knew I’d had it in me. There were a few times over the last few days when I had been close. But this did it. This was the reality.
The marathon was over. There were no more jackets. (Except for one guy who was predictably on the outskirts giving a bubbly interview to a random TV reporter from Ohio.) No recognition of anything positive that might have happened in the shadow of all that horror. It was just Boston. Peeled down to its core. Men, women. All ages. All races. Gathered round, holding candles, united in silence.
The vigil formed around a gazebo on the East end of the Common. Right by Tremont Street and the Lowes movie theater. On the ground by the gazebo there were two banners, each about the size of a dining room table, both with a large and loud message written on the front. People took turns kneeling down by the signs and writing a personal message on any open space they could find.
The first banner read: PEACE HERE AND EVERYWHERE ELSE.
The second: BOSTON YOU’RE OUR HOME.
That second one hit me like a Zdeno Chara slap shot the gut. It took me back to that feeling from earlier in the day. My anger at those who I didn’t think were paying proper respect to the tragedy. People from the outside who couldn’t relate to what it feels like when something so horrible happens so close to home. When something so horrible happens to Boston. The idea that it won’t be long before we’re the only ones still fighting this fight.
As I read the messages that had been already written on the two signs, that one phrase was easily the most common:
Boston You’re My Home.
Boston You’re My Home.
Boston You’re My Home.
I’d say almost half of the notes (and there were hundreds) contained some version of that. It was so simple. And so perfect. Four words that summed more than 24 hours of confused and angry internal thoughts.
* * * * *
I got back to my apartment just in time to catch the end of the Sox game. And once there, I started reading about all the different ways that teams around baseball were paying tribute to Boston. I saw that they’d played Sweet Caroline earlier in Cleveland, as well as in Yankees Stadium and Marlins Stadium (and later at Dodgers Stadium). Like everyone from around here, I appreciated the gesture. But deep down it wasn’t quite right. There was something about the tribute — about Sweet Caroline — that didn’t totally register with me. Mostly, it was that as a Bostonian, that song never meant all that much. Sure, it was responsible for some good times, but more than anything — especially as of late — it’s become a pain. A representation of who we aren’t more than anything deeper about who we are.
But then it happened. On NESN, Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to first to end the game and clinch the Sox 7-2 victory. The speakers kicked in at Progressive Field and the song was absolutely perfect.
When you think back over this last decade of Red Sox baseball, and more specifically about the debate that’s raged on about Sweet Caroline — When should they play it? Should they still play it at all? — it’s interesting that Dirty Water has always been the song that Fenway only plays in victory.
But moving forward, I think it’s time for that to change. If you want to play a song that everyone can get behind, every eighth inning, regardless of the score or circumstances, make it Dirty Water.
Forget good times never feeling so good and focus on the one thing that will truly never change and always remind this city what it’s truly about.
Boston You’re My Home.