5 Years Later

April 15, 2013, was the day I realized that we never really grow up.

It was Marathon Monday, Patriots Day, and I was at my babysitting job for a family from my synagogue, who have 3 adorable daughters. The older two were in school, so it was just me, a 19-year-old, and the youngest, a 4-year-old who looked enough like me that people often thought she was my little sister or daughter.

I don’t remember much of the morning; the Red Sox won, we ate lunch and went by the marathon route, part of which was near their downtown home. We stayed for a few minutes, but the crowds were overwhelming, and I was worried I’d lose track of this blonde wisp of a child. I remember thinking at the time how that would be my worst nightmare.

The two older girls had gymnastics in Newton, so we headed out of the city in the early afternoon. As we drove to the suburbs, I heard my phone vibrating in the cupholder. Over. And over. And over. Texts coming in from friends, family, and people I hadn’t spoken to in months. When I finally peeked at my phone at a red light, I clicked on the most recent text in my inbox. A bunkmate from camp who now lived in New York had written, “explosions in the city?! You okay?”

“I’m in Boston,” I wrote back, assuming she thought I still lived in New York.

She responded something along the lines of, “I know – bombs going off in Boston.”

I remember going completely cold inside. You never think something like that is going to happen in a place like Boston. It doesn’t seem possible. But my shock and confusion were somewhat irrelevant; for the time being, there was nothing I could do but keep driving. I was 19 years old, in the 1996 Mercury Sable my grandmother had given me, charged with caring for three girls under the age of 10, and I was wondering if the world was ending.

We made it to gymnastics and I sat with the littlest girl in the room reserved for parents and babysitters, watching the two older girls in their classes. The news had reached the studio right around when we arrived, but while the staff was aware of the situation developing downtown, the unspoken consensus was that until we knew more, we had to proceed, business as usual. The “adults” spoke in hushed tones and checked our phones for news while small children and babies moved amongst us, but I didn’t feel like one of the adults. I was just the babysitter, still technically a teenager. I sat with the littlest sister on my lap watching Disney movies on my iPad and felt so old and so young at the same time.

Instead of driving them back into the city as usual, the girls’ father came to pick them up; half of the city was shut down, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to even reach their apartment. I went home to my parents and sister. That evening and the following days are a blur of information, sadness, anxiety, and finally, relief when the bombers were caught.

I don’t think anyone feels like a grownup on a day like that. The magnitude overwhelmed all of us. All I wanted in the world was to crawl into my parents’ bed and feel safe, but I’m sure my mom and dad wanted to do the exact same thing. We all want someone to tell us that everything is going to be okay.

No one in Boston felt safe; however temporarily, those monstrous brothers (I won’t glorify them by naming them) robbed us of our freedom and happiness that day. What a cruel thing to do on what has always been such a joyous day for our city.

One of my best friends ran the marathon. We’ve been best friends since we were six years old. From first grade through high school graduation, we’ve been together. He finished less than a minute before the bombs went off. The idea that I could’ve lost someone I love so much still shocks me. The fact that anyone lost someone they love that day is unbearable.

And yet from such darkness came the most blinding, overwhelmingly beautiful light. Our city, our fucking city, became more unified than you could write about in the most utopian Hollywood script. With the unbridled passion and perseverance that defines ‘Bostonian,’ we rose up together in the face of utter terror. The first responders, the police, our mayor, our sports teams, our citizens. Our oneness still shocks me, today, five years later.

I was fortunate enough to both experience the aftermath from both sides. I navigated it as a Bostonian in Boston, and months later, witnessed the culmination of our rebirth from afar when I moved to Israel in September 2013 for my semester abroad. Getting out of my comfort zone and going overseas was an important move for me, but I was apprehensive, to say the least. Baseball was my way of staying connected to my city. Despite the 7-hour time difference, I remained, as always, a Fenway Faithful. When I arrived in Israel, the postseason was about to begin, and we were front and center. I knew how much it would mean to our city to bring home the ultimate prize. It meant everything to me.

Winning the World Series did not bring back the people we lost on that terrible day. It did not repair the shattered windows on Boylston, or put back together the brokenness inside of us. That day will be with all of us forever. But for me, and I hope for you, what the Red Sox did for Boston went a long way to bringing joy back into our lives. The 2013 season inspired feelings of hope and possibility in the face of the complete opposite. It taught me that we can not only survive anything, but more importantly, live and enjoy life.

On the night that Koji threw that last out at Fenway Park, I felt like a child again. I screamed. I cried. I jumped up and down. Only months before, I’d felt like a kid in the worst way, helpless and scared. But on that night, it was the complete opposite. Maybe we never really grow up, but we grow.

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