Where is he?
"Where are you?" I texted my son at 3 p.m., right after I heard that bombs exploded at the finish line of The Boston Marathon. There were injuries, perhaps deaths, at that time unconfirmed, numbers of victims unclear. Confusion. Chaos. I made an instantaneous inventory, literally in the blink of an eye, I saw each child clearly: daughter one, at work in Worcester, daughter two working at home and her babies with her, daughter three at work in Marlborough -- all far from the horror. But my son... Where is he? It's the only thought that fills my head as something fills my throat, something that feels heavy, thick and searing.
My son is 26, athletic, lives in Boston and it's his day off. The Marathon would draw him on this beautiful early spring afternoon. On a day like today -- crystal clear, cool and sunny -- what could be more perfect? Boston is a fun city, medium-sized, very walkable -- user friendly. Cheerful, expectant crowds of people from all over the world line the Marathon route, fill the streets of a welcoming city, congregating with excitement in Copley Square in support of... whoever: family, friends, co-workers, Kenyans. On this day we are all family and the city belongs to everyone.
Small patches of ground would be sprouting daffodils today, yellow stars full of optimism in the cement sea, something I'd appreciate if I were there. But that's not something my son would notice, he'd be looking up, along the race route, craning his neck to see a friend maybe, to cheer on the wheelchair participants, the inspirational father and son team -- hometown favorites -- Dick Hoyt and his wheelchair-bound son, Rick. So many heartwarming participants: fierce competitors, the elite runners and the amateurs that run for charities, for their children with disabilities who cannot run themselves, for the exhilarating experience of achieving a noble goal. Some don't finish until after dark, but they finish and that's the point. And there are always people to clap for them, to greet them, to acknowledge the achievement; well done, good job, you made it! Goodwill fills the air.
Normally reserved Bostonians bust out of their wintery doldrums in scores on Patriot's Day. It's a state holiday and a day off from school. Kids love to watch the runners, give out orange slices and Dixie cups of water, clap for their favorites who are never the elites -- we love our underdogs the most. Rain or shine, sunny or dreary, raw with icy winds or hot as blazes, we love our Boston Marathon. Not to mention the Red Sox game that follows. It's a day brimming with pride; a great day.
This year, the race started with a 26-second moment of silence for the 26 victims of the Newtown shooting. A group of Newtown parents were in Boston for our 26-mile marathon. Some formed a group, Team Newtown Strong and entered the race to raise money for local charities. Some were there to cheer them on and watch for them to end the race under the Newtown banner waving over the finish line. Such a perfect tribute, such a perfect day.
I text the words, Where are you?, and wait.
Meanwhile, the scope of terror unfolds. Two confirmed dead, the injured are too many to accurately count as yet, the numbers keep going up. Rumors spread. My youngest daughter, twenty-two, calls to say she doesn't want to go back to her apartment tonight, she heard they are evacuating the city and I know that's not true, but I don't tell her that because I don't want her to go there. I want her home with me. She tells me that on the Internet you can see pictures of the street filled with blood, pools of blood, blood everywhere she says. Newscasters at the scene report seeing body parts on the ground, a little boy of about five sitting, dazed, in front of his mother whose leg was blown off. No one knows if any of the Newtown parents are among the dead or injured. But it is reported that many were sitting in the grandstand directly across from the blast zone.
The "blast zone?" But this is the Boston Marathon. This is about Patriots and spring and orange slices, clapping for strangers, wishing the other guy well, good job, you made it! I turn on the television to see people running toward the smoke and screams. Not only first responders and BMA officials, but bystanders, runners, random people running immediately toward the danger and destruction. The crystal clear day, now obscured by smoke while people, lots of people scale the temporary fencing put up to keep the crowds from interfering with runners, tearing at the partitions, frantically tossing sections out of the way in their fight to get to the injured on the other side. Later, my heart will be brimming over with pride for them. But at the moment there is only room for fear and dread.
Where is he? I look down at my phone as a little bubble appears in the lower left hand corner. It hangs there like a tiny dirigible, a hopeful little cloud. The wait is far too long until the letters form, "I decided not to go today. I am home."