From Boston, With Love

by Holly Brockman-Johnson

Here’s your Kentucky Derby Week fun-sucker:

It’s been a rough week for Boston.

Now, a week and some days out, I’m beginning to form a cogent thesis in my mind about not only how I feel but how the city seems to be taking it.

Boston is not immune, nor is it new to terrorism.  Remember, their connection to the 9-11 acts of terror was that the planes flew out of Boston toward their intended carnage. The pilots walked through security checkpoints, watchlisted or not, undetained at Logan Airport.

So, as I walked around a mall last Monday — the first day of Massachusetts school vacation — with my daughter and her friends an hour or so away from a town I call home 6 days a week while my daughter studies ballet, my phone started to explode with phone calls and texts.  Then, came the Facebook posts.  Later, in the evening, as the depth of the destruction came more to life, the deeper connections I share with those I love (and who love me back) began to pop up.  I guess the people who love me most knew they’d hear from me if something was really up with us.

The first call came from my son.  My “I can do everything without you” son who is even further away from us than we are away from home. His sophomore year of college in Milwaukee has made him more independent but more aware of just how much he loves and is grateful for his parents.

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to the little bubble with a larger number than usual on my iPhone indicating a significant number of texts, but then my daughter drug her friends nearer-by to me to hold tight my forearm and announce the big news.  My first thought was to stay in the moment: say a prayer and move on with our lives.  We weren’t impacted; I said to myself, don’t get involved in the drama of something that really didn’t impact us.  We aren’t in the thick of it.

But, then I began to think about all of Laney’s friends.  The connections she’s made with friends and many of those friends live in Boston, and, many of them live there with their friends.  One set of friends was waiting for other friends at the finish.  I started to panic.  It’s not so much that I was worried about them being nearby to the carnage, (most dancers don’t run) but they live and get coffee and buy things and shop at H&M and congregate at Copley Square catching the Green Line from here to their jobs or other activities.

I had Laney send a group text and I did, too, to check on everybody.  I cook and bake and send chili in when it’s cold to these kids who have to do their own grocery shopping and their own cooking.  I didn’t learn how to really cook until I was well into my 30s.

Everybody present and accounted for … others with short snippets (42 characters or less) that they were there but not close enough or their friends had already finished the Boston marathon.

Secretly, I remembered a conversation I’d had the previous Friday on an airplane from Chicago to Boston with a woman who was coming to visit her grandchildren and babysit while her daughter and son-in-law ran the marathon kid-free. I also stopped and remembered how when she told me she was coming because of the marathon, how I looked around the plane, front and back, and wondered which one of these hundreds of people (it was a big plane and it was full) would change Boston and its marathon forever.  I don’t think I’m the only person with thoughts like that.

But, it had been a while.  Nothing had happened stateside for a while, right?  Maybe all those patdowns at the security checkpoint (because my bras are fitted with underwire that evidently is a tip-off to terrorism to the TSA officials) have been worth it!  All those confiscated water bottles I bought but and lost because I thought I could finish before I got through the line at the security checkpoint weren’t for nothing!

So, now, it’s a week and a few days.

Law enforcement gave back Copley Square and the rest of the city and the American flag flown at half staff in the area to Mayor Menino. A suspect is in custody and charged with the crime.  His brother and alleged accomplice is dead. His Russian parents are being questioned by the FBI.  We’ve learned at least one of the brothers has been on a watchlist with hundreds of thousands of others since 2011.

I spent my entire Friday last week glued to the television and staring at an online police scanner watching the matter unfold.  I managed to work all day, but I never got out of my pajamas.  I had a backache from sitting on the sofa with my laptop. I wondered all day if I were home in Louisville, would we all be indoors as directed or would we be running to Kroger for milk and bread as if another snowmageddon were imminent.

So many things – protective things that a parent thinks about – kept coming up in my mind.  Then, I began to wonder how?

How is it that I stand arms up and spread eagle at an airport, birth date captured when I book a reservation, no water, touchy-feely when I’m wearing underwire … how is it that millions of travelers, American and otherwise are subjected to these personal space invasions and bombs can explode like this anyway?

I’m still a little flummoxed.

But, the real thing that I’ve noticed in the just the few days that we’ve been back in Boston since the bombings was that Boston may overtake Philly in being the city of brotherly (and sisterly) love.

Watertown neighbors will know each other by name now and not just their face.  A gutted sense of safety is gone now as is the snarky, I’m smarter than you attitude and awful traffic manners from the Massholes (bumper sticker identifies them) around me.  There’s a sense now that we’ve all been in this together.  On the street, on facebook, glued to the television like I suspect many other Americans or just with a smile or nod that didn’t exist before now when walking down the street.

I guess what the folks who commit aggregious acts like this don’t know is that no matter how many people they hurt, kill or mame or how long but for a brief period of time they are infamous, the terribleness binds us.  It could be a lab experiment in any high school classroom studying the bonding of compounds.  Acts of terror create in us a sense of community … a nation.

As I process the heinous acts, I wonder what it possibly does for the perpetrators.  We glue ourselves to the TV for a day?  Miss a beat, close a public square … I guess what makes the bombings of last Monday so at the forefront is that none us understand the why.

Perhaps, it gets our attention.  But to what?

For me, it’s brought my attention to a city that I’ve come to love over the years and for different reasons.  When I’m homeless while my daughter is in ballet class, it’s my home.

If there’s any comfort for little Martin’s family, for the many who will leave the hospital without a foot or a leg or with an extra bb or piece of shrapnel they didn’t have before, their loss and their new way of life has given the rest of us pause … has gotten our attention to that that already connected us.

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