I live less than five miles from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, so it’s embarrassing to admit that the attacks had almost no tangible impact on me. I don’t watch the race– I have for the past 25 years now held a job in an industry (banking) that does not take Patriot Day off– and I didn’t know anyone who was at the blast. (Aside from a high school classmate of mine.) Basically, it screwed up my bike commute, which would have gone through the crime scene.
I’m not saying I had no sympathy or empathy for the people wounded and killed, I’m just saying it was hard to feel like this was happening to anyone around me because even though it was, I didn’t have any personal connection to it.
And then came Friday, when Watertown was put on house arrest and everyone in the metropolitan area was told to stay where they were for the foreseeable future.
On the one hand this seemed extreme. On the other hand, there was an armed 19 year old throwing bombs at law enforcement, jacking cars and running over family members to escape custody, so who knew what could happen? Nineteen year olds are scary enough, frankly, but the ones who manage to combine terrorism with MarioKart can also be wildly unpredictable.
I had no problem, then, with the idea that maybe none of us should go outside for a little while.
This is when it hit home for the first time how up-close this all really was, because the denouement of the Marathon bombing was going to be taking place in Watertown involving a couple of kids from Cambridge. I grew up in Watertown, and I live in Cambridge, and so I spent the day playing How-Is-This-Directly-Connected-To-Me Bingo.
This game began when I learned that my mother–who still lives in my childhood home–was only four blocks from where the shootout-involving-actual-bombs ended up. She could smell gunpowder in the air and heard the gunshots, and had to make sure she was dressed for when the SWAT team showed up to search her house.
It just got crazier from there.
- Police closed down the entire town and set up camp in front of the Arsenal Mall, which I drive past daily because wife Deb‘s employer is across the street from it. Her building was in view in some shots. A few blocks down is the gym I go to and the Panera Bread I wrote about 1/3 of my last novel in, and where I was the night before until 9 PM.
- A little further past that is the School Street intersection, on the other side of which is the apartment where Deb lived back when we were dating. The firefight happened a block off of School Street.
- For a good part of the day police had a house surrounded that was one block from where a woman who babysat my sister and I used to live. I rode my bike past it routinely on my way to the mall, and a little ways further down was a bar called Donahue’s, where I often spend my Friday nights.
- When the bomber fled the shootout he ended up on Franklin Street. I played with a kid who lived on Franklin. We used to play army in the small wooded area behind his house. It was scrub brush, really, that I guess the town owned and didn’t know what to do with once the train stopped going through, and I only mention it because reports came that police were searching a “small wooded area” in Watertown, and since there are maybe two of those in the 8 sq. mile town, this was probably it.
- Cameras spent the day showing the world places I spent my entire life, basically: the block where the Friendly’s I worked at used to be; the section of Coolidge Square that has the pizza I grew up eating (which is consequently the best pizza I know of, because isn’t that always the case?); here a diner, there a cemetery fence, and so on.
And then they started bringing Cambridge into it. We knew the name of the street they lived on before we knew their names, so the observation that the street was only a few blocks from the high school was only something to note in passing. We do not live near said street, so that was okay. But then the names came up, and the ages, and it turned out my kids both went to school with the at-large MarioKart terrorist bomber.
And that hit home: this happened here, in the middle of my life and the lives of my family. And it was still happening.
When the name of the at-large suspect was learned, every media outlet in the country that wasn’t actively tailing a police officer spent the day looking for the angle. The angle would be how to reduce the bombers to something that we can all make sense of, and the best way to do that was to find someone who could give them a thing that was different, that stood out or somehow made it possible for all of us to say, if we had only not ignored THAT this never would have happened.
So they worked as hard as they could to find people that grew up with these kids. Now I happen to be friends with a few of my children’s friends (on Facebook, and only because I am the cool adult you hear about sometimes) so I got to see them complain about media contact. There is a girl who lives across the street from us who was contacted via Facebook for an interview after which they showed up at her front door, even though she declined all requests.
Why? Because she had nothing to say. She had nothing to say because there wasn’t any one thing. There was no angle.
We’re still going to hear a lot of this. They were refugees from Chechen, so maybe we shouldn’t let refugees in any more. Except, okay, the youngest was nine when he came here and he lived here for an entire decade before this happened. If you want to blame his upbringing on how he decided to bomb people one day, Cambridge had a larger influence than Chechen did on the man he became. Go ahead and add Cambridge residents to no-fly lists and see how far you get.
They were also white, which is extremely confusing for a lot of people. They were U.S. citizens. At least one of them was a Muslim so good lord knows that’s going to be coming up, logic be damned.
I don’t think there will be an explanation that satisfies anybody, not really. I think at the end of all this their behavior will track more closely to the behavior of a school shooter than a fanatical terrorist. This is not to say that what they did was not an act of terrorism– it certainly was– only that maybe there isn’t a huge difference between the psychological profile of a school shooter and a suicide bomber.
This will not stop us from looking. Because as long as we can find a thing that explains this all away it’s easier to accept than the idea that sometimes the kid who lives next door to you goes wrong, and on even rarer occasions that kid goes very, very wrong. And there’s no way to predict or prevent that from happening.