Horror at the Finish Line


I’ve had over 48 hours to digest what happened on Monday, and here’s the deal: It’s indigestible. To any civilized human being, the bombings at the Boston Marathon were incomprehensible.

My experience was terrifying, although nowhere near as horrific as others’. Three days later, I’m still shaken, weepy and finding it difficult to concentrate. And this is all that happened to me:

Sam and I were at his company’s annual marathon party, directly above the finish line. When the first bomb went off, almost directly beneath the windows we’d been leaning out, cheering on the racers throughout the day, we were sitting at his desk, at the back of the building. Both of our chairs were physically moved by the blast, and I poked my head around the corner to see smoke pouring in through the windows. I heard the word “bomb!” and an instant later, the second explosion occurred. Everyone at the front of the building was rushing towards us wearing masks of horror. After that, all I remember was scrambling to get the back windows open and helping people out onto the fire escape. One girl came out crying, with chunks of plaster in her hair. If the windows facing Boylston St. hadn’t been open, it would have been glass. In blind terror, we ran to a friend’s house in Back Bay, where we spent the next five or six hours monitoring the news and reaching out to everyone we knew who had been near the site, trembling with relief each time we found out someone was OK and then remembering someone else who could have been hurt. Numb beyond reckoning, we somehow made our way home that night and woke up Tuesday morning wondering if it had all actually happened, then traumatized to realize that it had.

Tuesday passed in a fog, as more information rolled in. Sam’s boss, Marlo, who held back to make sure all her guests were alright, had surveyed the room we’d all been partying in. Metal shrapnel and glass were on the floor. It was a miracle no one had been maimed, or worse. The FBI had been at Marlo’s house, and had requested any and all photos taken at the party. Sam’s co-worker, Ben, who had acted heroically by calmly directing people to the fire escape instead of the stairs leading out to Boylston St., said that he’d poked his head out the window and seen a severed arm lying on the sidewalk and streams of blood. An acquaintance reported that she’d been nearby and helped to do triage, while another said that a pair of parents had asked him to help find their kid. He did, but the kid’s legs were blown off below the knee.

Besides the televised reports of death and injury, the horror stories kept trickling in. Yesterday, I learned that a good friend’s daughter was in the hospital, badly hurt.

So terrorism turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving—nausea, that is.

Nevertheless, as rattled as I still am, and as many lives as this thing has shattered, the one thing I’ve tried to concentrate on—the anti-emetic, as it were—are all the equally numerous stories of bravery, kindness and generosity. People ripping off their shirts to use as tourniquets, opening their homes to strangers, offering their phones to let them call their loved ones. A man giving a shivering runner his jacket. Runners at the finish line continuing to run two more miles to the hospital to donate blood.

That’s what will eventually make this all possible to swallow, however unlikely that may seem.

And to quote my friend, William Martin: I’ll see you at the finish line next year.