There was a burst of condemnation over the August Rolling Stone and its cover, which featured a portrait of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, one of the accused bombers of the Boston Marathon. While the magazine saw sales double, many retailers in New England sought to boycott the issue. The boycott had a pretty wide effect, as far as I could tell, because I didn’t see the issue anywhere while I was living in Cambridge. In fact, I didn’t see it until I came home to New Jersey a few days ago and found it waiting on my bed.
When I heard about the cover and the boycott, I asked my mom if she could pick up a copy for me. In the midst of the denunciation of the issue, I heard that the cover story was actually pretty well written. I felt that it was something I needed to experience, though I couldn’t quite explain why. The Marathon still felt as raw, sometimes, as it did that first week. There had been a lot of cathartic events for me since then, from the first Culture Shock meeting after the attack to joining my city for the fireworks on Independence Day, but I hadn’t had my closure yet, not completely. Part of me thought that the story, some insight into the life of Tsarnaev, would bring me there.
I didn’t get as emotional as I expected as I read. No – that’s not quite right. I was emotional, but they were not the emotions I expected. I thought reading about Dzhokar’s life might inspire the feelings I’ve associated with the bombs: fear, anger, overwhelming grief. Really, though, I just felt sad. Dzhokar - Jahar – was an extraordinarily average kid. He was someone who could have done better in school, who was a pretty good wrestler, who probably smoked too much, who had a pretty good group of friends. On a thousand different levels, Jahar was the quintessential American teenager.
An American teenager. Really, Jahar Tsarnaev could have been my brother. He could have been me. But I did not watch my family disintegrate during my most delicate years, like he did. My father and mother never left the country, and I never had an older brother who turned to radical ideas when his aspirations were crushed. While I learned how to become my own person and form my own thoughts, Jahar was taught to be passive. He followed in the wake of his brother’s broken dreams, and I do not believe that he was doing anything more than mirroring someone else’s opinion when he wrote “Fuck America” on the wall of the boat where he hid in Watertown. I don’t think that he ever learned how to have such a strong opinion.
I think that, with this story, I finally got my closure with the Marathon. Rather than hate or fear the people who tried to terrorize us, I pity them, and with that there is no more terror. I still grieve for Martin, Krystle, Lu, and Sean, and I hope that, by living a good life, I can honor their memories. They can be my focus, the heart of my memory of April 15th. And with that I can move on.
You can find the Rolling Stone profile on Dzhokar Tsarnaev, “Jahar’s World,” in the August 2013 issue of Rolling Stone, or online here.