TRIGGER WARNING: The following column is a graphic retelling of what my friend and I saw at the finish line at the Boston Marathon.
I went to the marathon with my best friends Alex, Paul, Leah and Sam. We started out on Beacon Street, headed through Kenmore Square and found a comfortable place at the Prudential Center. There we watched thousands of people begin beaming when they saw the end of the race. Their perseverance got them to the most coveted end to the most prestigious marathon in the world. They were almost there.
When Leah, Alex and Paul left to go back to Kenmore and Cambridge, Sam and I stayed, pressed up against the barrier, screaming and photographing the marathoners. He had his camera; he was taking photos for a class. He had a long telephoto lens that obstructed some people’s view of the marathon.
Two women next to us asked us to move over a little, their friend Tina was just about to finish. They told us to look out for a woman wearing a peach tank top, black capris and a blonde ponytail. That was really helpful considering every other woman in the race sported the exact same clothes. But we still kept an eye out for her. We had a specific runner to cheer on!
I shouted praise to everyone running. I saluted and shouted, “U.S.A.” to the Syracuse ROTC, led by a woman with a blonde ponytail. I praised the woman pushing her daughter with cerebral palsy in a stroller. I can’t begin to imagine how much she loves her daughter. I cheered for the man with a limp, he was so close to finishing. She could do it.
Then I heard a cannon fire followed by a shockwave. I felt it in my chest. It smelled like fireworks. Is this a celebration?
I turned to Sam. I hit his arm saying “look,” and pointing. “Look. There is so much smoke. That building is engulfed with smoke. Sam, look.”
Then we saw the second explosion. A football field away, people were flattened by a fireball. People all around shuddered and everything fell silent. Smoke filled the street. Then pandemonium reared its ugly head.
We ran to the smoke. Sam had to take photos. We had to see the news. He had to document it. I couldn’t let him go alone. We pushed past people running the opposite direction.
Paramedics and police officers were diving into the cloud. People emerged one-by-one, each carrying their own victim. Paramedics had already begun CPR on a boy with charred clothes and singed, matted hair and a pair of batman sneakers. People were being helped onto stretchers, the victims writhing as they were strapped down. A woman behind me sat against the wall, her leg bleeding, her marathon number barely pinned to her yellow shirt. A man lay in the street, one of his legs somewhere in the rubble. His marathon number smoldered. Nobody was around him. I couldn’t help. My knees were clattering, my fists were clenched and my heartbeat so fast it hummed. Everything smelled like blood.
Sam darted through the chaos. I stood by the curb, still, not sure how to help. My inner journalist screamed at me to cover what I saw. My phone was dead. I don’t have a pen or paper. Then my Eagle Scout senses reeled. How could I help? What can I do? Don’t be useless!
I wasn’t wearing a belt and couldn’t put a tourniquet on the man bleeding in the road. I had no knife to tear the sleeve off my shirt to do the same. Can I do CPR on someone? Who needs it? Let me help!
Sam grabbed me, shouting to follow him. I couldn’t hear anything except for his voice. All I know is that that boy in the middle of the road, the one wearing the batman sneakers, now had a tube in his chest.
Officials began to push us back. We stopped so my friend could change his camera lens. He asked me to attach the lens hood but my hands were shaking too hard to do it. We proceeded to run.
I needed to call my parents. I needed to let them know I survived. I had to tell them about all the people I saw, all the blood that stained my shoes.
When I reached my father, I lost all composure. All I could say was, “Dad, I was just in a terrorist attack. Sam and I saw it. We experienced the carnage.” When I hung up, Sam embraced me. I disintegrated in his arms. He stayed so strong. I just crumbled.
When I got home, I realized my phone charger was on the other side of Beacon Street. I had to go back out to Kenmore. So I walked through a barren Kenmore Square. All I heard were the sirens and helicopters.
I knocked on Leah’s door. She broke down as I walked in, “I’m so glad you’re ok.” It hit me. I was there. I experienced it. People were worried.
Soon I crawled into her roommate and my close friend’s bed. For what seemed like hours I drank in the silence and the comfort. I have never felt closer to my friend Ilana.
I spent the next few hours texting and calling my family, friends and colleagues. My grandparents cried. My aunts, uncles and cousins cried. I cried.
The only way I could get through the night was thinking about the paramedics ready to risk their lives to save strangers and the police officers gathering limbs. People always say they lose faith in humanity when something like this happens, but there are so many good people out there ready to help.
Boston is resilient. I hope I keep up with that vibe through the coming weeks.