April 15, 2013, started like any other day. I got up and started working, not having lived in Massachusetts long enough to remember the state holiday, and my daily routine not taking me anywhere near the marathon route (I work from home, so I mostly go to and from the coffee pot in my kitchen on work days). No, I remembered the marathon when my best friend posted a picture on Facebook, of her view of the finish line, standing right under the Canadian flag.
Every person in America saw the pictures of that flag, less than five minutes later, when the bombs went off. Now, my friend got lucky—she posted that picture, said good-bye the people she’d been chatting with, turned around and walked home. When the bomb went off, she was more than a block away. I have no idea what happened to the strangers she was talking to, but there’s a good chance they weren’t so lucky. Dozens of people at the site were injured, three were killed. She easily could have been one of them.
She posted moments later, “Was there an explosion? What happened?” I googled frantically, then sent an avalanche of texts. “Go home. Get away from the marathon route. Go home and stay there.” I checked in with everyone I knew in Boston, and sent the next few days reassuring everyone I knew elsewhere that I hadn’t been anywhere near the bomb site. In my spare time, I thanked every deity I could think of that my friends and family were safe. Other people were not so lucky.
That Friday, I woke up the constant buzzing of my cell phone. Message after message said the same thing: Do not leave the house today. Where are you? Are you OK? Stay inside. These are confusing messages at any time of day, and I hadn’t had my coffee yet. Finally, thanks to social media, I figured out what was happening—in a completely unprecedented move, the entire city of Boston was on lockdown, including the neighborhood I lived in.
Like everyone else in Boston, I turned on the TV. One of the bombing suspects was dead, the other in hiding somewhere in Boston. Reporters were carefully not disclosing the location where they thought the remaining bombing suspect might be, but I’m pretty smart, and I heard the police helicopters circling overhead, so I could do the math. The newscasters on one station were broadcasting from a “secret, undisclosed location,” near where police were searching. One of them was also standing in front of an unmistakable sign, posted on a building near the mall by my house. And when I say “by my house,” that’s not “a ten minute drive.” That’s Boston nearby – the mall where the reporters were gathering, near the action, was located less than a mile from my house. A fifteen minute walk if you were tired. Most Bostonians think nothing of covering that distance by foot regularly.
I spent the next nine hours expecting to hear gunshots through my window, worried a terrorist was about to come pounding on my door. I’ll never forget how that felt. And now that the verdict is in, I’m reliving the whole thing.
I’m not sad that Tsarnaev was sentenced to death. I’ve always supported the death penalty, but now… I don’t know anymore. But I’m not happy about the verdict, either, and I thought I would be. But it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t bring back the three who died at the marathon or the police officer murdered when they fled. It doesn’t help regrow limbs for those who were lost. I’d be happier if the government took all the money they’ll spend on appeals, jail, and housing Tsarnaev and donated it to the victims and their families. But that can’t happen, either. Not in our system. So instead, I’m feeling this weird emptiness.
Maybe I’ll feel differently on execution day, but somehow, I doubt it. More likely, I’ll turn off the internet and television, hug my loved ones a little closer, and try to remind myself of the finer things in life.