If you have never lived in Boston, it’s hard to explain what Marathon Monday (or Patriots’ Day, as its known there) is, exactly. While the rest of the country reports for another Monday at work, or frantically tries to get their taxes in under the wire, Massachusetts shuts down. Schools close. If you’re a college-aged kid, you wake up early (really early) and chug a few beers and load up backpacks and head to a pre-determined place to meet up with your friends and chug more beers and cheer on the runners. If you’re little, you wake up and get dressed in your best Boston gear (I always wore a blue Red Sox t-shirt with the old logo on it) and your parents pack you in the car and you go to a friend’s house. There’s always a barbecue. You watch the runners on the TV, everyone huddled around the living room, the kids sitting on the floor. When the Red Sox come on (the Red Sox ALWAYS have a day game on Patriots’ Day) some gruff old guy at the party makes a hubbub and then you have to turn it over to catch the first pitch.
The day always seems to fall on the first day of real spring in Boston, the day you finally go digging in your closet and find that pair of shorts that have been jammed in there, getting wrinkled since October. In the other cities I’ve lived in I cannot find a comparison. Patriots’ Day, to Boston at least, isn’t like Presidents’ Day or some other holiday you get to stay home and catch up on housecleaning. If you put a gun to my head I’d say it’s most like a secular Easter. But if you combine it with St. Patrick’s Day, it’s also our Mardi Gras.
That’s what I was thinking about, however strangely, while I sat on my couch in Washington, DC, yesterday, watching footage of the two bombs that exploded near the finish line of the marathon on Boylston Street. I thought about all the kids all sitting on plush carpets in New England living rooms, like I had however many years ago, their burgers and hot dogs balancing precipitously on their plates, the big party they’d gotten dressed up for now silent. Moms must have rushed over and grabbed them. Tried to explain.
I thought about the college kids all over Boston, the ones who minutes before were drunk and happy, maybe flirting with someone they liked, and now, well, this. A younger brother of a friend of mine found me on Facebook Messenger (he found a working WiFi after running back to Boston College) and asked me if I could help him find his brother, who lived near the blast. He told me he heard there were bombs all over the city, bombs at Boston College. I told him that wasn’t true; just rumors. I was watching the Police Commissioner on TV, and typed out the words the man said.
He was scared. He said he didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Didn’t want to be dramatic. He was apologizing! As if he was at fault here, or something. I told him he was OK. He was safe. Stay indoors. An hour later or so, we finally heard from his brother. All safe.
It was interesting to see what we all turned to in the moments after the bomb. Some of us instinctively turned to God. The amount of prayers I saw, both in footage of Boston and online, was staggering. Many of us turned to the new deity in our lives, technology, as we frantically tweeted out Google databases to connect with stranded runners, or find missing people. It was sweet, and sad–when we felt at our most helpless, we turned to Google to help. The strange thing was that these Google docs made me feel better. When my friend’s brother, the one at BC, asked me what to do, I told him to fill out the Google People Locator. He did. It made him feel a little better, too.
Perhaps the strangest thing about all this was how little I cared about who was responsible for the attack. I’m sure I will. I’m sure one day, when I learn who did this, I’ll lose sleep, and feel rage, real rage, and want to see them (or him, or her) killed. I’ll want blood. I’m no better than anyone else.
But yesterday, watching the events unfold, watching the looped video of the initial blast, watching that runner, the one who went down when the blast hit, watching his legs crumple, one and then the other, as he goes down, watching all that, I found myself not caring at all who did this. And it wasn’t some zen state that made me like this, not some Gandhi-like understanding of the nature of man, not some peaceful trance where I knew this person or people would get their karmic comeuppance if I just believed in the balance of the universe. There was none of that shit.
It’s almost like I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction. It was some strange unearthing of that asshole Bostonian in me–Nah, pal, you fucking prick, I’m not even going to give you your 15 minutes. I don’t even care what your stupid cause is, or what you believe. You killed a child of Boston. An eight year old. You hurt a lot more. Innocents. Someone will take care of you, and you will pay for this. But right now, I don’t care who you are.
What I chose to care about was this: the people who ran to help. The ones who rushed area hospitals and tried to donate blood. The journalists who refused to speculate and calmly delivered what they knew, what had been verified. The EMTs and Boston PD who rushed into the carnage.
Those are the names I want to know. Those are the pictures I want to see looped over and over again on cable TV. The people who were good.
Patriots’ Day is a day for Boston. As little as 24 hours ago, it was a day that was impossible to explain, impossible to know what it meant if you didn’t live there. It was a special day. Now, after two explosions went off that killed 3 and injured over 140, Patriots’ Day will mean something else to the people of Massachusetts, my home. It will mean something, I’m afraid, too many of us will be able to understand.