I drive a shitty Honda Accord. One side of the bumper sags, a cleft lip frowning at all the convertibles and hybrids, their handsomer, healthier smiles. I love this feature of my car and have elected not to get corrective surgery.
Long before I bought the car off my Dad, Dad bought it from the dealer -- bought but not leased, because it was 2002, and I don't know, people were buying things, trying to. Feeding the hungry wartime economy. That first weekend we did two things with our Japanese import. We drove it around the suburbs and we bought a sticker, an American flag decal.
It was very #American. It was an echo of 9/11 sentimentality. It was $.99 cents! It was also visible patriotism cause hell, Dad has a beard, an accent, and we've all got darker complexion. But it was Dad's placement of the sticker that has always made it stick out to others and to me -- not on the back windshield or front, not on one of the back windows, but high atop the driver's side, an eye-level reminder so that even when the window dropped, that flag was visible.
My Dad's an engineer, a planner, the kind of man who has a back-up sump pump. So yeah, he planted that sticker strategically.
The flag of his adopted country: Over head, over heart.
I don't know if anyone else in the world feels this way, but I believe the events in Boston warrant opening up, so I'll admit that for the last twelve or so years, I wake up every morning expecting exactly Monday. Or at least some horrific form of it. Looped feeds, eyewitnesses, social feeds feeding. And after Monday, I know, now more than ever, that for every day for the rest of my life, I'll wake up and look for those headlines again and again, always the first thing, the breath-held thing, and I'm not bitter about this, I don't even live in fear of it, but it's the reality of my reality, and for as much as I want to believe that Dad's flag throws a patriotic red and white film over everything I see, that I'll always find broad stripes and bright stars in my blind spot, I know now that I will always see shades of that red, my country and its price, and that for all the platitudes of good and evil submitted to Facebook, all the optimism and well-wishers ejecting timely prompts into their timelines, it will always be that split vision: Dad's flag, and why Dad hung it in the first place. Or rather, that split of head versus heart.
Before "The Marathon" is turned into something feel-good by the screenplay guys doing their screenplay thing and John Williams' score turns it anthemic and aspirational and Ben Affleck decides to direct -- before we all sign up for next year's race, flag pins pinned and flag capes caped, I guess I'm just realizing that maybe we've all been part of this race for a very long time, and we've felt it in very different ways.
And maybe some of us are bonking. It's a term for the point at which a long-distance runner knows no amount of endurance or fitness or strength can propel him or her forward -- at that point, it's will and will alone. Because maybe after twelve years, our own half-marathon of war on a global front, it's time to pause, reflect, remember what propelled us into the race in the first place. Why we adorned Hondas with stickers, why we told the car wash guy to keep it, and why he eventually knew to stop asking.
Because you know what comes next. A finish line will be renamed to honor victims; two sides will unite to one side; you'll be introduced to new restrictions, new rules, new things your kids' kids won't experience; your friends who are parents or soon will be might too buy a $.99 sticker, slap it on future hand-me-downs; you'll wait, and wait, because one more thing will come, and then another; and maybe I'm rambling because I've run a 103 fever since Friday night (flu season's a clingy bitch) but I think it's because in three days I never shook as hard as I did Monday morning; because there are no finish lines for ideologies, but there is a finish line for life; and because the legs of men running for charity are getting blown off, and because the legs of strangers cheering for total strangers are getting blown off, and because the legs of parents spending Patriots Day with their families are getting blown off, I choose to do the one thing the runners did every day before their race, and the one thing we all need do in our own private races, and that's go outside, breathe some air, and continue to set new personal bests.