(Please excuse the non-California, non-nature post. But I grew up in Boston, and how do I deal with grief? I write.)
When 9/11 occurred, the tragedy resonated with me fully, and I recall escaping to hike in Yosemite a few days after to make some sense of it, away from the media images of murdered souls and a murdered city. Three months after the tragedy, my partner at the time and I visited New York City and the site. Tears streamed down my face as we walked and stared at the yawning, dark hole where the Twin Towers had once stood, the area still an open wound, raw and insistent, and it spoke to the thousands of people who had died.
My tears, though, also came for the city, a city dazed and mourning, stricken by an unfathomable blow. People were not the confident, arrogant and rude New Yorkers I had come to know and love (of course my perceptions are clouded by being a lifelong Red Sox fan), but en masse stunned and bewildered over this monumental loss. I left feeling like I had visited a distant relative I didn’t know very well (I had only visited New York a few times prior to 9/11), one subdued from mourning and who I fervently hoped would overcome their grief so I could get a glimpse of their true self that I suspected to be outgoing and vibrant and remarkable.
Boston, however, is no distant relative. This is my city, my ideal, that first love you idolize and put on every pedestal you can, and never quite lose that worshipful slant. This is my city of youth and young adulthood. My father rode the train to South Station to his job on Boylston Street. My parents took my brother and me to the Public Gardens to ride the Swan Boats and read us Make Way for Ducklings. I watched with my family Carl Yastrzemski play at Fenway Park, and devoured too many Fenway Franks over the years to count. I attended the University of Massachusetts at Boston and rode the T almost daily back then. So many dinners at Ye Olde Union Oyster House (my dad’s favorite), No Name Seafood (my favorite), and endless pizza slices in the North End, along with too many drunken nights at the Black Rose and Foley’s in college.
And then there is the Boston Marathon, so inextricably linked to my childhood that it ranks up there with Christmas and Easter as a sort of holiday we celebrated. My dad became an avid marathon runner in his 30’s and ran the Boston Marathon unofficially in 1979. We made regular family trips to watch the finish. The names Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter were just as familiar to me as Larry Bird and Yaz. The race has become etched in my memory as a wonderful bonding experience between father and daughter, and I keep thinking of my young self at the finish line waiting for him.
This young self flashed in my mind as I read about the eight year-old boy who was killed waiting for his dad to finish.
Boston is my city—I still get teased after over twenty years in California about my accent (please say ca-ah)—so although I empathized and sympathized with New York and New Yorkers (and I am in no way comparing tragedies here), this attack seems intensely personal. I didn’t know the New York streets by name, nor had stumbled out of any of the bars in that city in college with friends after last call. My dad hadn’t held my hand at the finish line of the New York Marathon. 9/11 was awful and terrible, but this tragedy in Boston has the added affect of disturbing all of my safe and cherished memories of youth. Like looking up your high school sweetheart years later and finding out that he died young.
The Boston Marathon every year reminded me of my dad and his ambition and sharing such an amazing accomplishment with him. Now these images of horribly mangled people in what must have been terrible pain have subsumed those jubilant scenes from youth. All I see now is those poor people, just moments before they should have been celebrating such a remarkable accomplishment, who had probably been thinking how they could proudly share their race finish photo on Facebook, thinking about the well earned victory meal that evening with family and friends, and how they would laugh and observe that ‘Heartbreak Hill at mile 20 really was a killer.’ I keep thinking of that eight year-old boy and how he might have hugged his dad when he finished, it should have been a lifelong memory for him into an adulthood he now will never have.
Something so quintessentially Boston, so threaded through my strands of memory, it’s difficult to have to reknit them all to conform to this new ending. I can’t quite add this yet to my montage of Boston, the Swan Boats and my dad running along Boylston Street, and Fenway Franks and pints of Guinness at the Black Rose, all showing while the Standell’s Dirty Water plays in the background. I can’t switch the montage music yet to something mournful and urgent, can't bear to add these new terrible images of human suffering, and a dead eight year-old boy.
Boston, you’re my home. I want to reclaim my city from these terrible criminals. I know I will--at least partially. Yet the legacy of terrorism, whether it turns out to be foreign or domestic, is that after something like this, as Thomas Wolfe said, you can’t ever quite go home again.
“Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul - but so have we. You found the earth too great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the hunger and desire that fed on them - but it has been this way with all men. You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us - we call upon you to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.” Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again