Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"I'm ok".......6 months later

Still hard to believe, still hard to talk about, still try to avoid thinking about it, still breaks my heart, still struggling to understand it, still moving forward, still staying positive, still cherish every moment with friends and family, still BOSTON STRONG and getting STRONGER! 

It is difficult to put into words the thoughts and feelings that on any given day can overwhelm my brain and my body when I remember the events that occurred in Boston on April 15th.  It can be on my commute into work, seeing a Boston Strong ribbon on a State Trooper's cruiser.  Or in a race as I approach the finish line.  Or watching the news (which I have avoided for months) listening to a beautiful story of overcoming obstacles and recovering from tragedy, they replay the footage of the first blast and I am instantly transported back to that day. 

I am on Commonwealth Ave. checking my phone for text alerts of friends running the marathon.  Doing the math in my head based on their pace and the last checkpoint they passed, trying to figure out when I might see them run past.  I am excited and inspired by all of the energy in the crowd.  I am ringing my cowbell and holding a sign I made for Joey McIntyre from the New Kids on the Block.  I watch the crowd and cheer for runners as they pass by with only a little left to travel until they reach the sacred ground on Boylston and cross the finish line of all finish lines.  There is a family nearby lifting a small boy over the barricade so that he can run to the finish with his father.  There is an older woman to my left asking me what pace the runners passing by might be running.  There is a young man behind me filming a piece for a local public access channel.  He asks me if I could help him and push a few buttons for him to set up the shot.  Initially I accept the task, but after he explains in lengthy detail the order of buttons to push and how long it might take, I look at my phone again and kindly decline saying my friend will be running by any minute and I don't want to miss her.  I roll up my sign and put it in my bag and scan the runners as they go by looking for my friend Denise and prepare to run her into the finish to celebrate an incredible accomplishment with her and be there with a congrats hug when the dream is realized.

Then in all the noise of the crowd and the runners, I heard the noise I will never forget and I cannot remove from my memory no matter how hard I try.  It sounded like a cannon went off.  It was loud and low.  It stopped time and slowed everything for a moment.  I looked around and confirmed that other people had heard it too.  We all wondered what it was and sort of shrugged it off at first thinking they must be doing something special at Bunker Hill for Patriot's Day.  Then it happened again, louder and closer.  In that instant it was clear that it was not something special and it was not supposed to happen and something very very bad was happening.  I looked at the woman to my left and we both agreed something bad was happening, but no one knew what to do.  Just then a cop appeared out of nowhere and calmly walked into the street just before the dip in the course that goes under Massachusetts Ave. and asked all of the runners to hold up for a second. 

I don't think the runners had heard what we heard.  At first they tried to get around the cop and started jumping the barricade.  You cannot stop a marathoner 4 tenths of a mile from glory and tell them to wait.  Some had time goals, some were running Boston for the first time, some saw the seconds tick by on their watches and kissed new personal records goodbye, but none of them knew what horror and devastation was just around the corner.  Most just obeyed the cop and stopped assuming that the course would reopen shortly and they could continue on to the finish.  A large crowd of runners began to gather at the bottle neck that was created by the one brave cop that stood between them and the unknown.  Runners started asking me and the other spectators if we knew why they had been stopped.  The only answer we could provide was that we had heard two very loud explosions.

Soon the area was flooded with more police on foot and in cruisers, then ambulances and fire trucks and unmarked police cars.  Sirens and lights flashing.  We were in the shade and it was a cool day, perfect for running, but not perfect for standing still after running 25+ miles.  Runners were shivering and dehydrated and we were all confused and concerned.  After waves and waves of emergency vehicles went by it was clear that whatever had happened was far worse than anyone could imagine.  I tried texting my friend Jenine.  She was parking her car and on her way to the finish area with her two daughters just before I heard the explosions.  I tried texting my friend Steve that was running, but still hadn't passed the 30K mark.  Nothing would go through.  I tried calling....nothing.  No one could get their phones to work.  I was surrounded by people but I have never felt so isolated and alone in my entire life.  And more than anything else I felt completely helpless.  There was nothing I could do and I didn't know what to do.

I offered my phone without hesitation to anyone that wanted to try and reach someone.  Maybe they would have better luck.  With the help of other spectators nearby we opened the barricade and guided runners to the sidewalk.  I gave my jacket to a young girl in running shorts and a singlet because she was freezing.  We tried and failed to contact her family.  I hugged her and reassured her.  All phones were down and just because we did not get a text message back from her husband didn't mean that he wasn't ok.  Next to us there was a girl on the ground crying, she had trained for months and was not going to get to finish the best marathon in the World.  I felt crushed for her.  I felt the frustration and fear and worry of everyone there.  I was ok, but I didn't know about anyone else and I couldn't tell anyone.  Someone in the crowd mentioned that emails and wifi was working.  I sent a message to my coworkers and asked for information and posted to Facebook to let my friends know I was ok.

People started coming through the crowd from the finish area, terrified and shocked.  It was true, it really had happened, there were explosions near the finish line.  It was unclear exactly what happened and who did it and how large the bombs were and how many people were hurt.  The information we got from passers by varied from blood every where and hundreds killed to mostly wounded no dead.  My coworkers were able to send me the article posted to CNN's website immediately following the explosions and even that was full of uncertainty and fragmented information.  Fenway was evacuated and people started coming towards the finish area, we tried to tell them to turn around and go the other way, but beer clouded their judgement and they ignored our advice stumbling toward unknown danger and destruction.

Eventually, the crowds were dispersed and people cleared the area heading out and away from what was now a crime scene.  Kenmore Square was a ghost town except for a few stranded runners and a lot of cops clearing the course and tapping it off section by section.  I was lost and alone, not literally, but emotionally.  I still couldn't contact any of my friends that were running and I couldn't reach Jenine to find out if she was ok.  I decided to walk back to work and at least get somewhere safe where there were other people and maybe even go home.  I made it back to work and then home to Lowell.  I was ok, but not really.  I was shaken and sickened with fear and anger and disbelief and anxiety and sadness.  It hurt so much that someone would do something so horrible and senseless to MY city and MY marathon and MY favorite stretch of road.

6 months later it is still sickening and it still hurts, but I was not injured.  I did not lose limbs or loved ones.  I do not have scars and I did not spend months in surgery and rehab.  I read an article on yesterday about some of the emergency responders and they struggle to admit that they too are victims of the attack.  I can empathize.  Everyone can claim to be a victim to one degree or another, but it is hard to come to grips with the damage that was done and the lasting effect the events of April 15th have had when they seem so insignificant in comparison to those that were closer to the explosions and severely injured or killed. 

Fireworks scare the crap out of me now and sometimes I can't sleep.  Sometimes I wonder about the little boy that was lifted over the barricade to run to the finish with his dad and pray that he and his dad are ok.  I wonder about the girl that wore my jacket and used my phone and I hope she was reunited with her family.  I wonder about the cop that stopped all the runners and hope that someone thanked him.  I wonder about all of the emergency responders that day and hope they have the support they need to deal with the traumas they witnessed.

In the last 6 months I have done a lot of wondering.  I try not to get stuck on that sidewalk in Kenmore Square lost and alone.  I focus on the future and the possibilities and forget the what ifs and whys.  I am looking forward.  I am alive and I am doing my best to make the most of every moment I have.  I am jumping out of planes and spinning around poles and drinking beers in Germany.  I will be learning to ride a horse and maybe even going on a duck boat tour in Boston and running the freedom trail.  I can't wait to run 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston in 2014.  I hope that I can raise a lot of money for innovative cancer research in the process and help make a difference.  I hope that I make some new friends and share some amazing experiences along the way.  I am looking forward to where ever my journey takes me because I know it is far from over.  

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