On Monday, the city where I grew up erupted in smoke. I can barely imagine what it must have been like to be there when flags flapped frantically in an artificial wind and blood streaked the ground on which I rang in the New Year.
In a video of the event, the sudden flash and crack of the explosives seemed startlingly like the celebratory boom of fireworks at first. Marathoners kept running, only to turn around when the screams began. Only after a minute of frantic heavy breathing and dodging around police officers does the man taking the video pause to pronounce in gasping tones, “There’s been an attack.” By the end of the video, all he can do is repeat, “Oh my God,” over and over again, in the thick northern accent of my youth.
A coast away, it is difficult for me to mourn the city I left behind. I walk in the sunshine between classes, while my friends back east take the subway with National Guard soldiers carrying guns. I stress over a geology lab and my father reads X-rays of legs soon to be amputated. I carry on conversations at lunch about housing plans for next year and I wonder if there’s anyone I’ve forgotten to call.
The event is oddly reminiscent of a scene from a Batman movie. Buildings exploding in the middle of the day in the midst of a large crowd, politicians voting against every gun control law up for debate two days later, and journalists who’ve succumbed to the temptation of speculation seem right out of Gotham City. Evil are the people, whoever they are, who created these bombs. But the nameless enemy doesn’t deserve a face. The only people I want to see on the news are the runners who kept running all the way to the hospital to donate blood, the reporters who carefully shared only the facts, and Bill Iffrig, a 78-year-old man who fell over during the blast and got back up to walk across the finish line.
Some claim that Boston was chosen to spite the local holiday, Patriots’ Day. Others say the day was picked to protest the tax forms due. But I think such a horrible event could have happened on any day in any town. The marathon maximized the effect of the explosion, but when terror is the goal, little else is required besides a device to separate life from limb. I will not forget the bombs exploding on our holiday and the screams of the man taking the video as he zoomed in on the chaos and body parts. Each time I say I am from Boston, I will carry this image in my heart. And I can’t help wondering: How many cities and their people will face similar fates? Whose hometown is next?
I am worried that I will not return to the same city I left. There is a song about Boston that begins, “I’m gonna tell you a story. / I’m gonna tell you about my town.” It describes the life of the city, crooning about dodging muggers and walking with your girl down by the Charles River. Now, any story told about Boston will have to include these explosions. They have become an inextricable part of our history. When I hold my kid’s hand at the marathons of the future, just as my mother once held mine, I fear that the day and the city will still be haunted by this year’s ghosts.
Yet, a thoughtful soul will still wrap the bronze ducklings on the Common in scarves against winter’s chill as my classmates and I once did. The swan pedal-boats will continue to roam the corners of the Charles during the spring and leaf-peepers will still flock to the city each fall to watch the leaves change color. The winding streets will still never lead you where you think you’re going and timeworn Revolutionary-era buildings will remain tucked between skyscrapers. Drivers will continue to bark at you out their windows and the chords of “Sweet Caroline” will still resonate from Fenway Park. The Citgo sign will always shine and the water will always stay dirty. The blasted buildings will be repaired and the maimed will learn how to walk.
I believe that the city that raised me will recover from these acts of terrorism, but I worry that I won’t. I feel angrier and sadder and more scared than ever. The story of my town, after all, is the story of our town—of all the cities that set off fireworks on the Fourth or leave their lights on all night. The Joker left his calling card in Boston this week. We will heal, but I fear his return.