The urgent text from The Chicago Tribune showed up on my phone at 2:13 p.m. while I was speaking with a friend in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago.
Explosion at Boston Marathon. Latest from Chicago Tribune: http:zzvbs.cm/W0m4Xw. Brt 2 u by Comcast. Txt STOP 2 cancel.
I glanced at the screen and read it to my friend.
"God," she said.
I shook my head, then apologized for the interruption as I put my phone away. "Sorry. Where were we?"
Still, I was distracted and couldn't wait to get in my car and turn on the radio. I wanted to know it was something benign -- like a mishandled oxygen tank at a First Aid station. But I knew it was more. All I had to imagine was the crowd, and I just knew. Americans gathered everywhere.
How perfect, someone must have thought. What a perfect place to do this.
Later, CNN satellite radio confirmed my fears. News trickled in as audio from the thunderous blasts played on a near constant loop. Two blasts, possibly more, near the finish line of the marathon.
How do I talk to my kids about this?
When I picked up my 4th grade son on the playground after school, mothers whispered about the situation. "Did you hear?" "Sickening." "What more?" We didn't say a word to our boys as they jockeyed for "best seat" in the car.
Arriving home, I greeted my daughter. She was her typical, 7th grade self on a Monday after school, tired and glued to her mobile device. I'm still learning the art of not pushing too hard in these moments, and I have such a long way to go.
"Good day?" I asked.
"Sort of," she said, not looking up.
"Need a snack?"
"Need a snack?" I said, my irritation obvious.
"What?" she asked, as if I'd just banged on a door marked private.
Hands on hips, I walked up to her. I wanted to say, "Do you have any idea bombs just went off in Boston at the marathon?" Instead, I said, "Do not use that tone with me. I'm heading to the store in a few minutes, then I'll pick you up at 5:05 for piano. Please be ready."
"Just text me when you're outside," she said, not looking up.
I clenched my teeth and walked upstairs to ask my older son, a high school freshman, if he'd heard about the situation. He had not. We turned on the television in my bedroom, away from his younger brother. Video loops showed runners approaching the finish line. Plumes of smoke whipped international flags toward the racecourse over a scramble of dazed humanity.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Someone set off bombs at the marathon," was all I could say.
"Why?" he asked as he left the room.
"Because people are crazy," I said, staring at the screen.
A few moments later, he called to me from the hall. "Is Dad okay?"
At first I was confused, since my husband works in downtown Chicago. Then I realized he'd mistakenly thought this was happening here.
"It's the Boston Marathon, not Chicago," I said, recognizing his confusion. I couldn't stop thinking of the years I've stood on similar sidelines with my kids, waiting for my husband to pass by while he ran in several Chicago Marathons.
My 20 minute race to the store took 40 since I checked my device every few minutes, hoping for updates. Please don't let it be horrible. Please.
But it was, and by the time I texted my daughter multiple times for piano (then went inside because she didn't have her phone on her), I was clearly agitated. I just wanted to sit in a room and watch the news coverage.
"I'll be in the car waiting for you!" I yelled up the stairs, then hustled back to catch some more updates on the radio.
A solemn announcer's voice: "CNN has learned that an eight-year-old boy was one of two individuals confirmed dead."
My daughter breezed in on the passenger side so I turned off the radio. She began texting the second her seatbelt was fastened. I know she's no different than girls her age, but I still spoke up.
"We have a 3 minute drive to your piano lesson. Do you mind not texting during that time?"
Wide eyed and silent, she laid the device in her lap, staring straight ahead.
No radio. No mobile devices. Just a chance to catch up, but instead, we drove in silence. I couldn't think of anything else besides the bombing, but I knew not to bring it up moments before her lesson. She's an old soul and I wanted to ask her, "Did you hear about it?" "What do you know?" "What are people saying?" Instead, the only noise inside our car was a turn signal.
During the 30-minute lesson, I sat in my car, listening to the radio and checking for updates on my phone. I was obsessed but I couldn't help myself. I scrolled through my emails and found this one from 4:01 p.m.:
Evanston Patch: Breaking News Alert The Boston Marathon was rocked by explosions about three hours after the winners crossed the finish line. Several Illinois runners participated in the event.
Another email alert mentioned 17 runners were from our town.
When the lesson was over, we drove home to find my sons lightening tension with their boyish antics. When my husband arrived home, he graciously warmed up leftovers while I watched news coverage in the living room. My daughter retreated to her room for homework and more texting while the boys worked on homework while occasionally asking questions about the tragedy:
Q: "Why did it happen?"
A: "They're trying to figure that out right now."
Q: "Are those people going to be okay?"
A: "I hope so. They didn't do anything to make this happen."
Q: "How many people have died?"
As many parents do these days, I texted my daughter to come down for dinner.
More questions from the boys:
Q: "How many are injured?"
A: "Thirty or more."
Q: "How many people have died?"
Q: "Are there more injured?"
A: "They're still counting. It's more than 100."
At one point, I said to my husband, "Watching this makes me want to move onto a boat and just get away from all of this..."
"Funny you should say that," he said, warming up some pasta. "I had the very same thought listening to updates driving home tonight."
Q: "Can the hospitals take care of all those people at once?"
A: "Yes," I said, picturing the strength of trauma surgeons, trained specifically for events as horrific as this.
Q: "Did they say ball bearings?"
A: "I think so," I said, my stomach turning.
I picked up my phone and opened my Twitter app. I've never used Twitter to follow an event before, but I typed in #BostonMarathon and came across scores of updates and horrifying photos I never wanted to see. As the news continued, my husband handed me a bowl of pasta and sat down near me.
"Some of these pictures on Twitter are unbearable," I said, handing him my phone.
After seeing a photo of a man in a wheelchair -- both legs apparently blown off -- he handed the phone back. "Unbelievable," he said.
"What?" my daughter said as she walked into the living room.
"Just some of the pictures of the tragedy," I said, quickly closing the app.
"Did you see the one of the guy in the wheelchair?" she asked, sliding her phone in her pocket.
This was not the America I grew up in, nor the America in which I'd planned to raise children. It's a scarier America, for sure, facing scarier acts of violence than we'd ever thought possible.
As bedtime approached and my husband and I cleared the kitchen, I felt utterly helpless. I felt so much shock and love for Boston, even from 1,000 miles away. I'd seen a Google doc online where hundreds upon hundreds of Bostonians opened their homes to runners and spectators stranded near the marathon. I had an insatiable urge to do something but I had no idea what it was. Then, I asked my husband, "Did you call your mom? She wants to schedule a visit this summer."
"No, but I will."
His comment was innocent enough...but the events of the day had woven into my psyche.
"Let's just call her now," I said, reaching for the phone.
"It's late," he said, his hands up. "I'll call her tomorrow."
His was a reasonable, rational plan, one I knew he'd honor the next day...but I kept on thinking, "You just never know..." and "Don't put off today what you might not get a chance to do tomorrow..." I wasn't in a good place.
"Then can we at least figure out a good weekend?" I said as I opened the calendar. I was driven by an urgent need to do something about anything...even bringing my mother-in-law here for a weekend.
It is now Tuesday, the "day after".
I'm forcing myself to stay off Twitter and social media as much as possible, though it's stories of heroes like Carlos Arredondo that I seek, not replays or pictures of the devastation.
My daughter is home sick today, though I don't know if it's illness or sadness or a combination of both. To be honest, I'm actually relieved. I feel so guilty for not talking to her more yesterday. I want to let her sleep as long as possible, then bring her some lunch and gauge how she's doing...both physically and mentally.
My boys seem to ask many more questions than my daughter, at least for right now. She reaches out to her friends and social media.
But if she's anything like her mother, she dreamed of that nightmare in Boston, tossing and turning, wondering what the world's coming to.
If she's anything like me, she retraced our steps through Boston's Freedom Trail last fall, wondering how close we might have been to the events of April 15, 2013.
And if we're anything alike, she'll need to process this event in her own ways on her own time. Whatever those ways are, I want her -- as well as my boys -- to know I'm here, and that not everyone in this world hates Americans.
Even if we only communicate via text, I'm okay with that. I just wish we could Txt STOP 2 cancel...
HOW YOU CAN HELP: This story is developing. Please check back for updates on how to help.
- The Red Cross says the best way to help right now is to get in touch with loved ones through its Safe And Well Listings. The organization is not asking for blood donations at this time.
- The Salvation Army is offering food, beverages and crisis counseling to survivors and first responders. Find out how you can get involved here.
- Some marathon runners are stranded in Boston and in need places to stay. Find out how you can offer housing here.
- Anyone with info about the incident can call 1-800-494-TIPS.
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