We flew home expecting to land in New York or maybe New Hampshire if we were lucky. It’d be an easy drive to Boston from New Hampshire, but we knew we could end up anywhere on the east coast. Our city had been attacked and those responsible were still out there. Was there more to come? Was there worse to come? How did we end up traveling through this? We knew Boston’s Logan airport would be shut down before we got there. It had to be — but it wasn’t, and we landed.
Years ago, we had flown just weeks after the attacks that brought urban wonders to the ground, so knew the police states that airports would transform into. Suits and ties with suitcases rolling close would be replaced with “camos” and assault rifles with canines heeling even closer. Deplaning, we knew Logan airport would be turned into a military base and security would keep us under its intimidating, anxious eye — but it wasn’t, and we passed with ease.
A quiet taxi slipped its way through an eerily quieter East Boston as it made its way west to our home. The chatty ride that you dread when tired didn’t happen, and of course we longed for it this time.
“Any news yet?” “Nah, nuthin.”
The next day brought my familiar morning routine for work, but still no answers. Familiarity would do me good today. Brushing my teeth, my pocket buzzed with a new email. I pulled out my phone, read the message, and it brought the routine to an end.
“We are shutting down the campus today in an effort to work with the authorities. Please contact your employees and tell them to stay home.”
Was something happening? Well, of course it was, but what was happening?
The news on the television brought no answers either and the early hours passed with the same stories being played on loop.
Texts flew back and forth and emails did the same. All full of here say and not having much substance. There had been a murdered cop and a car heist in Cambridge. A chase ensued west of the city with shoot outs and make shift bombs leaving one suspect dead, and another still on the run.
How do you get away from that?
Soon a different email caught my eye. “We are shutting down power to your area in an effort to work with authorities. Please remain indoors.”
Just then, the governor of Massachusetts broke the loop on the television and announced, in better chosen words, that the entire city was on lockdown. A lead, maybe some answers. Before we could be told more, the ominous warning from that last panic-inducing email came to fruition. The screen suddenly turned black and the room went dark filling with silence. Sounds of sirens filled the void and flashes of blue pierced the slivers left open around the curtains.
My heart raced as the stream of police cruisers did the same by the window. Confused, uncertain, and anxious we joked to break the tension. “What would you do if you heard a knock at the door?” It worked temporarily, but soon the thought kept floating to the top of mind no matter how deep I buried it. Every time it returned, the knocking grew more violent, and the slamming more desperate. Answers were needed or the silence, the city-wide lockdown, and the thoughts of “what if” would drive me mad. With the power out, I turned again to the only source of information I had left while its battery lasted - my phone.
Twitter became my news anchor with words I trusted - needed to trust. It had credentials though. Credentials in images that eased the tension, but carried a weight of worry all their own.
I peered through thin-gridded, black lines. A layer beneath, a green lawn sprawled back to a short wooden fence whose final post rested against a shed. It was the shed that drew focus with two objects that didn’t fit the typically serene scene. Atop rested, in a pose I had seen too many times in too many movies, two black masses. Flat on stomachs, their toes dangled off one side and the barrels of their rifles jetted off the other.
This wasn’t near me at all. Relief. This was Watertown, but the photo was taken through an open screened window of a friend’s home. The weight returned.
The day passed on and power thankfully returned, and with it a sense of security returned that its absence and timing had stripped. More images flashed on the screens. Useful information came from the the one in my hand as two different stories were unfolding between sources. My phone told the story through still shots of police, snipers, SWAT, ATF, and other acronyms swarming in and out of yards and homes. The first-hand accounts came with captions like “last thing I expected in my backyard” or “at least they brought us some groceries!” The latter made me smile and showed a figure in black paramilitary clothing contrasted with the gallon of white milk he delivered to a family trapped in their house. They took positions behind items from this neighborhood’s everyday normalcy, which seemed stuck in a more innocent moment of time unaware of the day’s happenings. The television, on the other hand, continued a general story and reminded us to remain indoors as the authorities searched the city.
At some point, so the story goes, a confined resident on scene, had had enough and needed to ease his nerves. As he lit his cigarette outdoors behind his house, he surveyed his home which had been taken from him and all other residents of the city in an unprecedented search that made greater Boston a prison of sorts. I imagine the cigarette slowly dropping out of his mouth as he silently mouthed some expletive as his wondering eyes cast upon the red smears of blood on his white tarped boat. The area had just been blocks outside of the search zone and just out of reach of the area the authorities had focused on the entire day. This was the beginning of the demise of the terrorist, and the rest is well known today.
Fear of the unknown, from recent history, and from words that left us in the dark, formed the sentiment of a city that day. Emotions captured and shared by so many through images and words, allowed togetherness in a time of need that combated a fear that thrives in being alone and cutoff from others. In this, the power of social networking, and now even new places to share stories such as this, has become overwhelming clear. A place where people can let one another know they’re not alone and that someone is listening.
The rest of the story continues today with the first Boston Marathon since the bombings. Good luck to all you runners out there! Let’s hope this year is just another week in April.
on the road
It's Sunday morning and we have no plans. How nice!
A late summer afternoon Boston South Station, about to head west on the Commuter Rail
Walking through Boston, thinking about life. It is weird how those two feel strangely connected.
Paying it forward
The view from the deck of the Charles W. Morgan. She's visiting Boston for a few days, and I had the lucky privilege of an early-bird tour!
Ordinary things: but they mean I am settling into a new home. (Also, after three months, I finally have something to put my clothes in.)