About a month ago, Michelle asked if a couple of us from the blog would help her friend’s daughter with a project. The kids in her first grade class each have this little stuffed dog called Paws that they mail to different people around the country, and each person is supposed to take the dog to a variety of locations in his or her city, take some pictures of it at local landmarks, and then write up a little blurb in the dog’s travel journal about the city and the dog’s experiences there. Of course, I was proud to show Paws around Boston and the city just outside of it where I live, Watertown.
And then, this last week happened.
Probably some of you had never heard of Watertown, MA, until late Thursday night, and frankly, that was fine with us. Sure, some famous people have come out of this city (shout out to Eliza Dushku, who I have a soft spot for thanks to her irritable gymnast in Bring It On), but generally, it’s a pretty quiet community. It’s also fairly diverse and, in my immediate neighborhood at least, friendly. Other than that one time my neighbor’s home was raided by the cops and the DEA, there is not much excitement to be had on an average day. It’s the kind of city where the police blotter usually reads, “Someone stole something at Target.” It is definitely not the kind of city where you think you might someday be woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of an explosion, followed by a lot of gunfire.
My house happens to be on a street almost exactly between Dexter Street and Franklin Street, where the standoff between the Tsarnaev brothers and law enforcement began and ended. I heard the noise from all of it, which sounded mostly like firecrackers in the distance (cliché but true) – except for that first explosion, which sounded like, well, an explosion. It woke me out of a sound sleep, and I am a heavy sleeper. After that, I was up all night, texting with my neighbors, watching cop cars race down Mount Auburn Street, watching the news, and checking Twitter, trying to keep up with it all and figure out if the danger was imminent enough to wake my kids and take them to hide out in our rather uncomfortable basement or equally uncomfortable, and decidedly more rickety, attic. I will note the unfairness and the blessing of the fact that they slept through the entire thing, even the baby, who is typically up a couple of times a night.
To make matters worse, my husband was a couple of states away on a business trip, frantically texting me while attempting to stream the news on his hotel’s bad WiFi, trying to decide whether to head right home. But no one could figure out what was going on, and that was the worst part. We were all just waiting, in limbo, and we stayed there all night and all throughout Friday, under lockdown while the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev continued. My husband stayed at his conference because, until the afternoon, he couldn’t have come home anyway; no one was allowed into or out of Watertown before then. Luckily, he got home about an hour after Dzhokhar was captured hiding in a boat on Franklin, a mere third of a mile from our house. He had to drive back roads to get to our place because there were throngs of people lining Mount Auburn, cheering for law enforcement like they were at a parade, which I guess they were.
The entire experience was both odd and disconcerting. Thanks to the fact that I had constant contact with friends and family who were checking on us, I didn’t go too crazy. Thanks to the fact that my 4-year-old son didn’t ask too many difficult questions, I didn’t have to give too many difficult answers. Thanks to the stream of texts flying back and forth between me and my neighbors, I felt surrounded by people who were watching out for each other, literally, from our windows and keeping each other informed. Thanks to the police cruiser that was parked at the foot of my street from about 2 a.m. until the end of the lockdown, I felt as safe as was possible. That is, I felt just safe enough not to panic, but unsafe enough not to be too mad about being stuck inside all day with two antsy kids, which is decidedly unlike me.
But I’m a pragmatist. I know there are worse situations than the one I found myself in. I don’t live on Dexter or Franklin, so I wasn’t evacuated. I wasn’t in the crowd at the finish line last week. I don’t live in a war-torn country. Three times in my life, I’ve gotten phone calls about shocking, unexpected deaths, two of them murders, and one time, I got a call that my mother had been literally two minutes away from walking into a courthouse where someone pulled a gun and shot three people dead. I think of these things, and in an odd way it helps me keep my shit together. I’ve trained myself not to anticipate the worst because if the worst comes, there is a lifetime to mourn it afterwards.
Of course, it also helped that there were some moments of comic relief, such as the neighbors who spent the entire night, Thursday into Friday, standing on the corner of our street and Mount Auburn, drinking and smoking and watching the cop cars race by, with the noise of the standoff only blocks away. There were the neighbors on Friday who ignored the directive to stay inside to toss a football in their yard. There were the neighbors who helpfully left their house unlocked while they went away for the weekend, resulting in the cops swarming and searching it while we all shook our heads over the idea that anyone was naive enough to leave their home open for days. There were the texts my neighbors and I sent each other, joking about using a machete, a baseball bat, or a cast-iron skillet to protect ourselves (apparently that is the sum total of our arsenals, but no, Nate Bell, that doesn’t make me want an AR-15). There was me and Erin KLG, joking over text that we’re going to write a screenplay about this and all rolls will be played by Matt Damon. (Call us, Matt! We’re really good writers!)
This morning, I put Paws in the mail to go back to PA, which I’d planned to do last Friday afternoon. On the 17th, I’d written up a nice little blurb in his journal about Watertown and Boston, and when I reread it, it felt like I was missing part of the story, almost as if I’d written about different cities. What I wrote is still true, of course, but more than that is also true. We saw our cities band together in an extraordinary way. By now everyone knows the stories of the first responders downtown at the finish line, but there are smaller, less publicized examples of this here, too. We got a robocall from the Watertown police department telling us when the lockdown was starting, when it was over, and then last night, we got one last call thanking us for our patience and support, and also thanking the fire department and the public works department for their help throughout the lockdown. That is banding together. Red Lentil, our local vegetarian and vegan restaurant, offered free brunch to all Watertown residents who wanted to come by between 10 and 3 on Sunday. That is community support. We had this string of sidewalk chalk art along a stretch of Mount Auburn, started by Holly, from my krav class, who owns Always & Forever Tattoos. That is a shared, public show of appreciation.
Life trumps fiction, every time.
A P.S. – If you want to help out the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, you can donate here to The One Fund.