By Rivkela Brodsky
— Monday started as a normal day.
But there has not been a normal day since.
I woke early this morning to an emergency call about a manhunt underway. The trains aren’t operating. Emerson College, where I am a graduate student, is closed for the day. We have been asked to “shelter in place” or stay inside with the doors locked.
The city is shut down.
My roommate and I have been glued to the TV, watching in our pajamas, and answering texts and calls. She said the city never closes like this except for snow—and it has to be really bad.
My landlady knocked on the door around 8 a.m. to make sure we knew not to leave the house. “Nothing like this ever happens in Boston,” she said. Her husband, a security guard, worked last night at Newbury College. That’s frightening because a young officer at MIT was killed last night by the bombing suspects. A transit officer, also young, was shot and injured by the suspects last night. My landlady’s husband is OK and waiting to be relieved from duty.
One of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings is dead, and the other is still being hunted.
It’s all very shocking and unnerving.
And the week started so well. Monday was Patriot’s Day. It’s a holiday in Boston, and there were no classes. A re-enactment of the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place, marking the beginning of the American Revolution against the British. And there was the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.
How often do you find yourself in Boston to see this world famous race? It’s an event about working to achieve your goal, accomplishment and freedom―attributes I think Boston represents.
I debated that morning whether to go. My roommate, who grew up south of the Boston area, told me it’s definitely something to see at least once. It just happened to be in my backyard this year. The only thing standing in my way was a final project for a class that has been weighing on me.
I spent all my life in Albuquerque until I moved to Boston almost a year ago to attend Emerson College to get my master’s in writing and publishing. My second semester has reached the final stretch―just a few more weeks to go.
On Monday, I streamed the race from my bedroom as I tried to work on my project. I got to see Lelisa Desisa Benti of Ethiopia, who won the men’s race, cross the finish line. I heard commentators talking about it being a perfect day—perfect weather for running, they said, and there was a triumphant, happy air to the event.
After coverage returned to the mass of runners at Heartbreak Hill, I returned to my project. But I was not getting much done. I thought to move my studies to Emerson’s library Downtown, and on the way there, I would check out the marathon. Emerson is a few blocks up the street from Copley Square, where the finish line was located. I could get off the train a couple of stops early, check out the marathon and walk to school.
But on the train, the weight of that project really sank in. It was time to stop avoiding it and get some decent work done. I made a quick decision on the train to continue to Chinatown, two more stops up from Back Bay and just a block or so from Emerson. It’s a ride I take all the time.
I got to the library around 3 p.m. and sat down in a chair near a large window overlooking Boston Common and Boylston. Two students came up to the window and looked out, one asking if the other could see it. I could hear sirens going by but figured there must be some fatigued runners.
Then I started to piece together other conversations, “I have a friend there,” and “I’m fine mom.” Something bad was happening. I quickly looked up a Boston news website. Two explosions had detonated at the Boston Marathon course near Copley Plaza, the first at 2:50 p.m.
First, the shock sank in. Then I did the math.
If I had gotten off the train, I would have arrived at Copley Plaza right before or right as the bombs went off.
I emailed my parents to let them know I was fine.
Not much of the news was clear, the information not told as one concise story. But I knew something scary was happening just down the street.
I got a text from my roommate asking where I was. She remembered encouraging me to check out the marathon that morning and was hoping I hadn’t gone.
We met up outside the library and headed back to Chinatown to try and make our way home. The trains were still running. It was a relief to get off just blocks from our apartment. We made it home safely.
We streamed the news and answered phone calls, texts, Facebook messages while watching the news. It all seemed unfathomable, unreal.
I kept thinking about how strange it must be to see this from the outside. Until now, I have only experienced tragic events like this as a viewer, knowing I can turn off the TV, stop reading the news, and it will disappear. Life will return to normal. But this week, I have been watching it from the inside. I can turn it all off, but I can still see it in everyone’s faces as I ride the train to school or my internship. And normal is still unknown for most of us in Boston.
I woke up on Tuesday not knowing what to expect. Part of me was nervous about leaving home and venturing out into the city. Part of me really wanted to make sure to get up, get dressed and go about my day as usual. I wanted to be doing something normal.
Copley exit on the green line was still closed, as much of the area around Copley Square still is; it’s being called a crime scene. But the orange line was still running. I can’t tell you how comforting it has been this week to hear the sound of the train just a block from my house in Jamaica Plain. It means life is normal. Boston is running.
The train was not as crowded as it usually is. Faces were serious and somber. And it was quiet. A violinist who plays at South Station every Tuesday was not there. Neither were any other musicians who often line the Downtown Crossing corridors. But military personnel were present. And transit officials. There were police all over South Station and riding motorcycles outside.
By Wednesday, the musicians had returned. Military presence was lighter but still there. People’s faces looked a little less frozen in shock.
Yesterday, I went for a run from my house to Jamaica Pond. (In New Mexico, we would call it a lake.) It was a beautiful day. I rode the orange line to Emerson College and worked on that project for hours. I was starting to think that life was returning to normal.
Today is not normal. We are all in our homes, waiting and hoping that the suspect is caught so this week of tragedy can end.
Those of us who live here, work here, go to school here, who go for a morning run here, we would like our lives and our city back.
And from what I have learned about the spirit of the people of this city, I know Boston will be up and running again.