“What was your first thought right after it happened?” I have never responded with the truth. I could only see an imperfect being, with his blue eyes, running towards me; he had darted out from a nuclear, pumpkin puff of smoke. In a terrifying moment, an execution of life, limbs, and rhythms of pace ceased to breathe. I was not expecting it; nobody was.
Some people check their horoscopes every day. Not I, I check the weather. Not just the daily, weekly, or monthly weather, but also the hourly weather. I have determined that AccuWeather.com, for its cheesy graphics and its “real feel” tell-all degrees, is by far the best online weather site available. The real feel is the real truth, an accurate conveyance of variables within the weather. Life is unpredictable, unnoticeable, and full of uncertain realisms; we should be fully prepared for the self-condemnations it creates.
I know that there are four seasons in a year, but there are many weather variables within a season. For that matter, there are many weather variables within a day. I check the weather because I expect the unexpected. I plan my life around the weather, dress according to the weather, and my demeanor is affected by the weather. I adapt with umbrellas, snow boots, blankets, and sunscreen, which are packed in unevenly stacked, smelling of back-door-grocery-produce-moving-boxes. A series of cubed time capsules. They are marked with delightful, seasonal, colorful, hieroglyphic drawings by a capricious nine-year-old. Seeing cardboard as a categorized canvas, she draws a snowman for “winter,” flowers in a basket; “spring,” a happy sun; “summer,” and falling leaves for “fall.” I have grown comfortable in believing the weather will transform — and to comply with this transformation is as easy as putting on an extra pair of socks. I know change is coming, and my life is prepared for weather metamorphoses.
However, when it comes to non-weather variables, we are suspect to anomalies. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had an app for life’s unexpected fumbles? For instance: if there were a robbery, we could check a robbery app and see when and where that robbery was to happen. If there were a homicide, a kidnapping, traffic accident, airport shenanigans, or even a terrorist bombing, we would know ahead of time and make the adaptable changes according to the event. But life’s not like that, is it? There is no app for life’s temperamental barometer.
After the second cannon went off, standing there unable to move, my body shaking, cold, trembling with complete uncertainty, I had become a misplaced stone. I was completely alone. In a crowd of thirty-five thousand people, I was imperfectly alone. My mind racing and in a quick slit of time, with the whole world watching, there were screams, cries, sirens, blood, and death, yet I could not see any of it, nor could I hear any of it. I could not move. I was an anchored iceberg of Boylston Street — with the city swiftly swirling around me like a locomotive train without a destination.
All I could see were his bright, blue marbled eyes getting bigger and bigger, closer and closer. I will never forget those eyes; they were beautiful, but they were evil eyes. I knew it in my heart. I couldn’t turn away. He caught my stare, and his blurred, shadowy figure was headed straight for me. Another one was following right behind him. Now, both of them in chickenpox bleeding limbs, their blown-out shattered clothes, and their faces covered in soot were coming to kill me. I was certain of it. “Oh, God. This is not good. This isn’t a cannon at all. This is real. Those guys are coming for me, andI’m going to die,” was my first thought, “I’m going to die right here.” I did not think of my family, my friends, I did not pray to God, nor did my life go flashing before me. I thought of death by the man with the masked blue eyes. My only thought was, “Why are you coming at me? Why?” Sweat salted with tears was descending upon my face, and I was shaking, shaking with an extreme fear I had never known.
Another revelation occurred, “You’ve got to get out of here before another one goes off. Run, Cindi, run!” But in which direction did one go to avoid a bomb? Cluelessly, I ran my exhausted, wet body around and headed for an unknown target, knowing their hands were about to grasp my neck. I was so scared that I couldn’t even open my throat to scream. Awakened, as if a switch flicked on from a dark closet, all sounds re-entering, I heard everyone screaming and crying. I could see the confetti colors of running apparel and the chute of street-lined flags misted by gray smoke. I smelled the fumes of horror surrounding me. Passing quickly, a woman swooped up her crying toddler and trying not to trip, ran away, freeing herself and child from the mayhem. I rapidly wobbled over thrown-down barricades and fell into a surprised spectator talking on his phone. Responding to the caller, he said, “I don’t know,” aware of my presence, “I’ll call you back. Are you ok?” I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Deeply concerned, he repeated louder, “Are you okay?” “I, I don’t … I,” pointing behind me I managed to utter, “There’s a man running…” He calmly interrupted, “Do you want to call someone?” I was confused by his lack of concern for the men running towards us. Crying and whimpering uncontrollably, sirens blaring, I answered, “Yes.”
I turned around and saw the man with the blue eyes and his partner face down on the pavement being questioned by police. Suddenly, I have become frighteningly aware, “My family! Oh God, where is my family? I don’t know where my family is. Can I please call them?” He handed me the phone, and as I looked down at this convoluted piece of equipment, I realized that I had absolutely no idea what the phone numbers were. With the bewildered look of a young child, I looked back up at the young man, my voice shaking and yelling, “I don’t know how this works. I don’t know any of the numbers.” The young man, voicing complete compassion and sincerity, gently took the phone back and asked, “Do you want me to call?” With my eyes fixated on the bloody chaos, I responded, “Yes,” but before I could finish, we were pulled into a wave and swept frantically into the nearest building by armed forces.
The day after the Boston Bombing, through the constant airing of hamster-wheel T.V., I found out that the man with the blue eyes was just another victim injured by the Tsarnaev brothers. I had run 26.1 miles, and two extremists had twisted my Boston Marathon dream into a knot.
Just like that, during a jest, a conversation, a flirt, or a celebration, a gun in the shape of a bomb could come and blast its way through our living lives.
I have often questioned my own guilt for believing the blue-eyed man and his partner to be the terrorists and for not thinking of my family first. They tell me it was normal. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think, “Isn’t the normal response is to think of your family first?” I am uncomfortable with my emergency of thoughts, so I pretend: “I thought of my family.”
Leading myself back to normal, I begin again with a daughter’s graduation. A day such as this deserves ice cream, and as my family ambles into an adorable malt shop called The Chocolate Shop, in a New Haven borough, we are engulfed in smells of honey sepia. I notice that the ice cream soda jerk has enamored my son, forever, until tomorrow. The professional young maiden, a little waif elf with magenta-tipped hair swept to one side and tattoos along with several piercings, does not seem to notice his smitten pleas. The Ms. Masters, my husband, and I are too busy choosing from the flowerbed of deliciousness to be concerned with his attempts at flirtation. We’ve seen it before; we ignore it as much as possible. We have all selected our choices: I dribble over Bedazzle Double Dark Fudge; my husband, predictable mint chip; and my daughter’s, Sea Salted Caramels. We sat and talked of the happenings of the day and did family inquiry catch-up. Feeling tenderness at this intimate, jovial reunion, I paused; and, without control, my thoughts unapologetically meandered to the previous month’s events, “It could happen right here, right now. At a snap of a backpack, a bomb could just go off on this little family, this tiny chocolaty palace, and the lovely young lady so adored. Like a hole punched in paper, it would be gone.”
As a seasoned runner, I am usually prepared for many different obstacles: weather conditions, terrain, injuries, and wardrobe discomforts, but never did I ever believe that a man with blue eyes would now be something I would have to consider during training. This is how my mind pilots: “Run away from garbage cans, look away from the lonely backpack. Is it safe in the library, grocery store, at the ice cream parlor, or at another marathon? Is it?” These are my variables: terror nesting in my brain. It is not overly imaginative, it is real, constant, and it has unexpectedly changed me, but where can I go to hide from the real truth of terror? I will never know, but these are new items I add to my “Race Day Check List:” Band-Aids, muscle relievers, Aleve, and oh, yes, packed is a new seasonal box marked with a hieroglyphic “terrorist” drawing, stowing away my mental protective armor.
(3/2014) Northeastern Illinois University 2015 First Year Essay Winner