On March 22, at 5:45pm, I had dinner with my mother at Max Brenner at 745 Boylston Street in Boston. Twenty-four days later, the sidewalk out in front of the restaurant would go up in a ball of fire. To get there, I climbed out of the now-closed Copley T station and walked down the north side of Boylston Street. Not one to make eye contact on the street, I stared at those square gray tiles underfoot now immortalized in red. Before sitting down to dinner, I crossed the street to meet up briefly with my girlfriend and her sister in front of the Pru. Their arms overflowed with shopping bags as we chatted in the same spot where innocent eyes would, 24 days later, be witness to this.
Yesterday, this was what affected me the most. I'm sad for the victims, of course. But no more than I was for Newtown, or Oklahoma City, or Iraq, or Israel. It turns out there's something else at play when your turf is the one being attacked. Instead of being sad, I find that my dominant emotion is anger. I am pissed, furious that someone would think to do this to my home, enraged that they could succeed in altering it.
No people I knew were harmed yesterday, but a place I knew was. I don't mean to say the two are equivalent; I know I'm lucky that this is the closest a tragedy has ever hit for me. But, at 25 years together, Boston has been my oldest and dearest friend. We went to school together; we went through puberty together. We shopped at the same stores (Jordan Marsh) and liked the same food (Santarpio's). Neither one of us really liked staying up past 1am, except when the Red Sox were on the West Coast.
So when Boston was attacked, I felt attacked, even though I was 500 miles away at the time. While I didn't lose a friend like too many others did, mine was defiled. To those who love Boston, the feeling was of a violation of something that was ours, shared among millions but strictly off limits to those who would do it harm. It was the theft of the Make Way for Ducklings statue, the Gardner Museum heist, and the Harvard dorm shooting combined—then amplified by about a thousand. It was a desecration of all the psychic imprints we've left behind on those blood-stained sidewalks.
Places don't die. They do something much worse. They mutate. I'll never be able to walk down Boylston Street again without stepping over spots where people died. Patriots' Day in Boston will live on, and I have no doubt it will very soon return to a festive and joyous occasion. But people on their way to watch the marathon will always remember this attack in the back of their minds. I'm not talking about some nebulous sense of security being gone; I personally don't place a lot of stock in that. Just the knowledge that it happened, and that it's now as inseparable a part of Patriots' Day as reenactments and a morning baseball game. I hate that we have to face that truth now. I hate the people who introduced terror to this joy.
Boston is a city of history—history of 200 years ago and the personal history of two decades. That history is imbued into every cobblestone, brownstone, and corner. Now an act of evil is one of them, on a holiday when only happy memories have ever been deposited. That's it, isn't it? They attacked our memories. Memories, which we are supposed to be able to keep preserved forever, which are supposed to be untakeable from us. Memories of happy marathons past, of every sunny day on that stretch of Boylston Street, are tainted. That's why it feels different to Bostonians. Tragedies ruin victims' futures. Now I see that they also ruin ordinary people's pasts.
On April 1, I moved away from Boston for good. My memories were casualties of the Boston Marathon bombings, but those memories are all I have now. That's probably why, when I heard initial reports of an explosion, my first instinct was to get on a plane and head back home. Not only did my city need me, but I needed it—to leave me with more than the pieces of my broken memories. To give me the embrace of home, and all that was still the same about it.