Note: One year ago today, our town was the site of an intense search for the Marathon bombing suspects. This is a post that I wrote a few days after the event, which originally appeared on The Os at Home. I’m reporting it here in case you’re interested in reading one family’s perspective on the day.
On Thursday night, I was up late. As I finished brushing my teeth, I heard a boom, and then another. I texted my neighbors to be sure I wasn’t hearing things, and then, when I heard the third explosion, I woke up my husband: “I think something bad is happening.”
Almost immediately, we heard rapid gunfire. We raced to check that the doors and windows were locked, and my husband smelled something burning as he re-shut the front door.
Over the next few hours, we took turns watching the side windows and comforting our son (not quite two) as the search helicopters flew low over our neighborhood. By 2:00am, state police had cruisers parked across the street, which was a great relief to us.
Still, we knew that even with all the official resources directed at our town, the police couldn’t be on every side street, and so, in the dark hours, we kept an eye on our neighbors’ front doors, and they kept an eye on our garage and back door. Never, ever, have we wanted so badly for the sun to rise. A suspect with explosives at large in the darkness is far more terrifying than one at large in the light of day.
We knew the sun would rise just before six. Friends kept us company online; our friend M, on facebook, encouraged us, reminding us that the sunrise was close, very close. We called our parents, texted with friends who were listening to the scanners for us, and eventually muted the news on TV, following just the headlines and updates on Twitter. We didn’t need to hear the descriptions of the scenes; Watertown is our town.
My then-fiance found the listing for what would be our first home together on my mother’s birthday in 2010. Three months later, we moved into our first-floor rental on Mount Auburn street in Watertown, just two weeks before we were married. We were thrilled to bring our little son home to this bright, cheery space the next summer, happy to know he’d grow up close to Boston but far enough away from the concrete to see trees and flowers and little animals whenever we left the house.
Even though we’re renters, we’ve come to love Watertown and the community here; it’s technically a city, but it feels like a small town. Police officers chat on their breaks from construction detail (one kind officer gave H a sticker and a chocolate last fall), and more than once the tricky door at the East Watertown Post Office has been held open for me (and H in the stroller) by Watertown firefighters. Our neighbors have become our friends, people with great advice and interesting stories; even in a crisis, they’re ready to laugh. Our kids play together. We shovel snow together. We talk about our favorite places to go in Watertown.
And there are so may wonderful places here! We have favorite menu items at Red Lentil (Sesame Seitan Strips and the Omelet du Chevre) and the Deluxe Town Diner (the Best Calamari, Grilled Cheese with Tomato), you’ll find us at Russo’s every week (there’s always a new fruit or new vegetable to try — next time we’re thinking about tamarinds), and at Arax when we forget parsley or need a falafel fix. I read for my grad school oral exams at the Watertown Library, which has since loaned us life-saving Elmo DVDs for car trips with H. We walked down to the new frozen yogurt place on Wednesday (verdict: tasty), past the teams practicing on Hosmer field and our neighbors walking their dogs.
And we love Watertown’s cemeteries, which might seem strange. But the Common Street Cemetery is a quiet place to walk and find unexpected historical markers and unusual names (Tryphosa is one of my favorites). In the opposite direction on Mt. Auburn Street, Mount Auburn Cemetery extends from Watertown into Cambridge. In every season it’s lovely, but in early spring it’s on the cusp of spectacular. The pale green buds dust the myriad trees chartreuse, and the magnolias and flowering cherries shock pink and white across the ponds; purple and blue flowers are carpets under trees, and stands of daffodils signal spring.
It’s a garden, a reminder of life in the midst of death, a tribute to beauty and remembrance.
I thought of Mt. Auburn Cemetery all day on Friday, as we waited, exhausted, for the search to end, fervently hoping that no-one else would be hurt. We imagined how lovely it would look on that day, in the warm sunshine. Watched the local police, state troopers, ATF and FBI vehicles and SWAT teams from all over (New Hampshire, Barnstable, Cape Cod) race down our street.
Like everyone, we were shocked and horrified by the bombings at the Marathon on Monday, and were hoping that the suspects would be arrested swiftly and without further bloodshed, that the families of those killed and wounded would not need to endure a long pursuit of the suspects.
We simply never imagined that their pursuit would happen in our town. All the cliches are true: it was surreal. It felt, at times, like a movie; we would see the emergency vehicles race past our house, only to see them reappear on tv thirty seconds later. It was frightening, but as the afternoon wore on, we felt lethargic after all the hours awake and on edge, and then we felt guilty for feeling that way when so many men and women were risking their lives to keep us safe.
We prepared for possible evacuation, and realized just how little things, objects, mattered, in those moments. I put my engagement ring on (it was my great-grandmother’s), and that was it (we keep an archive of family photos on a hard drive outside the house, so that’s one thing we don’t worry about). Our son was sick, running a fever, which meant that he was more than usually willing to cuddle and watch the news (or Sesame Street, when the helicopters returned, louder than ever), but it also meant that we worried how we would get him to a doctor if his fever spiked.
We watched and waited. We did normal-seeming things to keep busy, to give our son a sense of routine: laundry, dishes, lunch. Made grocery lists, hoping we would be able to get out the next day. Read Goodnight Moon ten or twelve times. H arranged his matchbox cars in a single, upside-down layer on the coffee table.
We weren’t alone, really, though we were all confined in our separate houses. We kept in touch with our lovely neighbors and friends, both in Boston and around the country, and felt reassured when we saw the cruisers across the street. Our landlady, who lives upstairs, spent the afternoon cooking and brought us a huge bowl of meatballs and marinara sauce for dinner, and a package of M&Ms, H’s favorite. It was such an act of kindness, and love. She was worried that he was frightened, and knew that he wasn’t well since she hadn’t heard the patter of his little feet during the day; H only ever runs from place to place. He perked up when he saw her (and the “M-Ms”), and from then on, he got better and better, waving to the troopers out front in their “ray-car” (the striped police cars look like his matchbox race cars to him).
At the 6:00 news conference, we were relieved that we’d be able to step out into the fresh air, but worried about another dark night without knowing where the suspect had gone. We were just about to step outside when a neighbor texted, letting us know that she had called police after learning that her neighbors were out of town and had left their doors unlocked. Within minutes, ten officers with very large guns were taking up tactical positions between our house and theirs. The search was fast and efficient, and of course, came up empty.
Drizzle surrounded us as we drank deep breaths of fresh air outside. Our neighborhood came alive as people went out to walk, to buy milk, to just breathe. H was thrilled to finally be able to see the helicopters he’d been so afraid of, following the Blackhawks with his finger pointed toward the sky.
Then Ben and I saw a cruiser speed by doing at least seventy or eighty miles an hour, light flashing, no siren. We looked at each other — that wasn’t right. I checked Twitter and text messages; nothing.
Minutes later, we heard the all-too familiar sound of gunfire. Closer, this time. The evening before the shots had been five or six tenths of a mile away; now they were one-third of a mile away, on Franklin Street. All the vehicles we’d seen before raced down our street toward the shots. As the minutes ticked by, we learned, from Twitter and the local news, that it would be over soon; law enforcement had surrounded the suspect. We knew what to expect, and counted the flash-bangs with our son.
Eventually, H drooped with exhaustion, so we started to put him to bed, taking turns again sitting with him and singing over the sound of the helicopters. He fell asleep during “Edelweiss,” and my husband hugged me when I left the room — it was over. The outstanding men and women of law enforcement, aided by a calm and cooperative citizenry, had arrested the suspect.
On Saturday, we went to Russo’s, and never have I been so happy to be there on an (incredibly) crowded morning. We took out the trash, and even that felt good. We ate lunch (homemade pita chips with zatar and tzatziki, for those who remember that this is a food blog) on the porch, chilly as it was, because we could. We drove to Mount Auburn Cemetery, and felt elated to see its familiar trees and stones.
We share the sorrow of our city and pride in our town.
We are grateful, grateful, grateful:
for the friends and family who kept us and our whole community in their thoughts on Friday,
for our neighbors who made us feel like part of an extended family,
for the people of goodwill, of faith and no-faith, who prayed and hoped for Boston and Watertown,
for the reporters and camera operators who stayed at their posts to help us know what was happening around us,
for the police officers, state troopers, ATF and FBI agents, emergency dispatchers, firefighters, EMS teams, nurses, and doctors who stood at the ready, for hours upon hours, to keep us safe from harm.
Thank you all, so much.
To donate to The One Fund, which will provide help to those most affected by the tragic events of April 15, please visit http://www.onefundboston.org.