It’s cold in Boston today, and damp and grey; the sort of unredeemable weather Boston is known for. I read the forecast from my iPhone as I drank my coffee this morning. I knew I should dress warmly, but it felt wrong to wear fleece tights and boots in April. I pulled on my blue tights with stars and crescent moons, slipped my feet into warm weather flats that don’t support my floppy ankles. Dressing for warm weather is a sort of hopefulness we Bostonians force upon ourselves – even if it doesn’t come to pass, at least we know we tried.
It was sleeting when I got off the train at Longwood, pebbles of ice bouncing off the pavement, cast aside by passing cars. My legs and feet were cold; I rubbed my fingers together to warm the tips. I put my head down and walked fast to the closest hospital entrance, running through a held-open door under the carved words, “The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital”.
People come from thousands of miles away to be seen here, at my local hospital, Brigham and Women’s. I was born in this hospital. Out of towners call it “Brigham’s”, but anyone from Boston knows that Brigham’s is an ice cream store. No, this is “The Brigham,” because it used to be two separate hospitals, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and the Boston Lying In Hospital, where the discipline of obstetrics was first practiced as a medical science. The Lying In Hospital was a women’s hospital, and when the two merged, it became Brigham and Women’s.
I know lots of these arcane trivialities because I have lived in Boston all my life. I am a Bostonian; I am from Boston. This is my city, and it is part of me.
I rubbed my calves together while waiting for the E line train, my music in my headphones loud enough for a Deaf girl to hear. As I stood up to board the approaching train, I realized it was snowing. I climbed aboard and paid the fare. I folded myself into the smallest shape I could make and sat in the first empty seat, the one closest to the driver. I pulled out my phone and opened the browser. I navigated to CNN, read the banner in bright red.
“They found him guilty,” I said to an E line train car full of strangers. Everything stopped talking and looked at me; they knew who I meant. It is April 8th and snowing in Boston, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of all thirty charges in relation to the Boston Marathon Bombing.
The day of the 2013 Boston Marathon was warm and sunny. I was babysitting my friend’s daughter that day and I had walked her over to my mother’s house to run around in the yard. I carried the baby into my mother’s living room, where the tv showed live coverage of the finish line. As I sat the baby on the sofa, the bombs exploded.
In the beginning, there was some speculation that this had been a gas explosion. I walked the baby home to make her dinner, watching the muted news from another room as I fed her chicken nuggets. There were early reports of explosions at the JFK Library, which later turned out to be an unrelated electrical fire. I texted, emailed and called everyone I thought might be near Boylston St.
Within a couple of hours, it was obvious that this was a terrorist attack. I packed a bag full of the baby’s things and my father drove over to get us. It didn’t seem like the time to be alone with a toddler.
The news coverage was harrowing. It was uncensored and so graphic and so bloody. The insides of ruined legs, shorn blood vessels, shrapnel. And people who ran to help, regular people picking up the injured and running with them to safety, regular people pinching the ends of veins and holding wounds closed with their bare hands. Not just regular people. Bostonians.
I didn’t think it would be worse the following day, but that was before I knew my mother would call me in the afternoon. “They are showing the names of the people who were killed, and the girl… who died… it’s Krystle Campbell,” she said. I was holding the baby, same baby, on my hip. I packed her things up again and we went back to my parents’ house to think about Krystle Campbell and how she had been murdered by a bomb in our city.
One of my father’s best friends when he was growing up was Billy Campbell. They both grew up and had families; my father had two daughters; Billy had a son, also named Billy, and a daughter, named Krystle. Krystle was my friend when I was a little girl, when we were both little girls together. We spent most warm weekends together for several years when we were kids, swimming in the lake, riding bikes on dirt roads in the woods, sitting by campfires on summer nights. We went to each other’s birthday parties and watched fireworks together on the Fourth of July.
We got older and started doing different things and lost touch. Suddenly it was April 16, 2013, more than half a lifetime later, and Krystle’s face was on the news and on the internet and all I could think about was that she used to be really proud of the streamers she had on the handlebars of her bike. And that that same little girl with the streamers lived for another twenty years until one day when she stood at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and someone killed her and two other people.
Two nights later, the entire city watched the press conference in which they released the pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers. Hours later, an MIT police officer was shot and killed. I knew right away it was connected. I don’t know why I assumed that, but I went to sleep that Thursday night feeling like I might wake up to a very tense situation. I was not wrong.
By Friday morning, residents were being asked to shelter in place and to stay off Boston streets to assist the police in apprehending Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. News crews broadcast images of Faneuil Hall, the Boston Common, Kenmore Square, the Esplanade – all still, completely vacant.
That night, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended, found hiding in a boat in a backyard in Watertown, a mile from my grandmother’s house. And I was happy. I was really happy because two days later I went to Krystle’s wake and hugged her parents and her brother and thought about her bike streamers and I was really happy that they had caught him before her family had to say their final goodbye. I was happy that he wouldn’t be able to blow up anything else in my city and that those four people were the only ones he would be able to kill.
If I could point to any one quality that defines Boston and its people more than anything else, it would be the ability to keep going when bad things happen. We are not people who give up. We are not people who let things get to us. We are ordinary people who run towards the sound of explosions in case people need help. We are police officers who chase terrorists through city streets while they throw homemade bombs at us. We are citizens who shovel off the Boston Marathon finish line in the middle of a recordbreaking snowfall in memory of those who died there. We are runners who minutes after finishing the marathon run to Mass General and the Brigham to donate blood to explosion victims. We are first responders who ensure that every person who made it into an ambulance survived their grievous injuries. We are medical professionals in world class hospitals who saved the lives of 264 people in a matter of hours. We are Boston.
The day of the Boston Marathon the year after the bombing, the spectator turnout was great. I never doubted it for a second. Because this is Boston and that’s what we do. Because fuck terrorism. Because fuck Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Today is April 8th, and it’s snowing in Boston. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of murdering Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, and Officer Sean Collier, and injuring 264 other people.