July 3rd, I stood on the T with one hand clinging to a metal pole and the other scrolling through my phone’s Twitter feed. On the way to work that morning, I opened and read three links.
The first was an informative BostInno article about the enhanced security measures taking place at the Hatch Shell the next day, the Fourth of July. Security was really strict. Understandably. It made me so sad that it was understandable, because – still, it’s not. I mentioned to my father on the phone that I might go to the Hatch Shell celebration. He quieted a little, and just said he’d heard about the event on the news – he heard it was the Boston Marathon bombers’ original target. He’s not a worrier; my mom is. So I worried.
April was a bad month. May was a little better. June was so much better. When I went out onto the Esplanade on the Fourth and heard the constant sound of helicopters, the cannon-like sounds of early celebration – I tensed up. I relaxed. I tensed up. I wanted to relax.
That evening, on a different spot of the Esplanade, I leaned into my boyfriend and waited for fireworks. The crowd made me nervous. The crowd made me happy. The crowd made me nervous. I wanted it to make me happy – I wanted to be strong.
We have defined strength in so many different ways.
The second link I read on the crowded Green Line train that day was an article about new security measures at Fenway Park. Fenway. Minutes away from where I live. Fenway and me: just wanting to feel safer.
Sometimes I struggle with how I’ve changed. How when I see a person looking a little bit nervous or off, I memorize their clothes, apparent height, faces, just for as long as it takes to move on. As long as it takes for nothing to happen. Then I get so mad at myself. What are you doing? These people are people just like you. We all have things to do, feelings to have. We’re all in this together.
I never wanted to be a cynic.
The third link I opened up that morning, after feeling these flashes of worry and sadness on a crowded train, was a short story in the New England Review called My Mother, Gardening. I read it on that train, eyes locked on a screen and mind locked on these words, and started to feel a familiar shift.
It happened from the start, at the mention of Scrabble: “Without a doubt she would have her Scrabble board folded up and set beside her, the soft old cotton sock still filled with worn tiles, the little wooden racks on which she’d sorted and re-sorted so many letters, made so many words.”
The shift: things started to fall back into place. Wherever that is.
When I got home from the marathon I wrote. And wrote. Then, finally, I tucked the sounds from an old playlist into my ears and tried to sleep. It was less of a shift then, of course – a nudge, maybe. The following nights and weeks when I felt like I was breaking, losing, not being strong (we have defined strength in so many ways) I wrote pieces of a poem. It was all I knew to do. The poem became my recovery. When it was finished, I could breathe. When it was finished, I would be okay. Things would fall back into place.
I finished it in May. I’m okay. I won’t forget. Boston can’t forget. Boston’s okay. Not everything can fall back into place.
It’s always literature that pulls me out of pain and worry – we have defined strength in too many ways – and I remind myself that not everything has changed. I still have faith in words. Letter for letter, everything else will get better.