On Sunday, April 14th, 2013, I stood in my kitchen and told my husband that I wanted to start running seriously again.
The next day, when I was serving jury duty, I glanced at my phone during a break. My cousin, who lives in Roslindale, posted: “Explosions in Boston at marathon finish.” Because he’s a runner and I’m an English teacher, I thought he was speaking figuratively. Like there was some kind of upset or underdog winner. I didn’t think he meant explosions that actually explode.
But then there was a text: Did you hear about Boston?
And so, when it was lunchtime, I traveled down the four floors of the courthouse to my husband’s office. “What happened at the marathon?” I asked, rather casually, because there’s this strangely idealistic part of me that doesn’t ever think the worst. The receptionist turned to my husband and my husband turned to me, and there was that look again. The one that says without words, “I’m going to tell you something sad. Really, really sad.” I’ve seen it a few times before. And it always makes me feel worse for the person telling me than it does for myself. Because they have the information, and they’re somehow obliged to impart it. And that one moment when they know and I don’t, that one moment just before they tell me, that moment must be torturous.
“Somebody tried to blow up the finish line,” he said. He followed it quickly with, “But Anna’s okay,” as if he knew, already what my brain was doing. That afternoon, I sat in his office as someone at a desk nearby played the video over and over again. “Watch! You have to see this!” She said to anyone walking by. I kept hearing it: explosion one, explosion two. Explosion one, explosion two.
I moved to Massachusetts before I turned two, and grew up in a suburb twenty-five miles south of the city. I went to Emerson. My first teaching job was in Charlestown, at a tiny school toward the top of Bunker Hill. I have done my fair share of Friday afternoon (and well into the evening) drinking at the Warren Street Tavern, Sissy K’s and Sidebar.
But my Facebook feed was flooded with posts from friends back home, and I felt like a phony. My hurt was on my sleeve, but it didn’t feel justified; I had left in May of 2004 (of all years, right?), and they were still there. They would stay there.
It’s a difficult thing to be so far away when catastrophe strikes. I felt untethered. I wanted my world to stop, for just a few minutes, so that I could catch my breath. I wanted to be near the other Bostonians at my work (there are four of us, including one student). I realized that there was some part of me still rooted in that place, too deep to be dug up.
I remembered what I had said to my husband the day before. And so on Tuesday, I ran. And on Wednesday, the kids and I made a Run For Boston sign and I ran again. It’s what made sense. And I started with three miles. I couldn’t run the whole thing at once. But now I can finish in twenty-seven minutes. A nine-minute mile is fast for me. And I’ve even added more miles. (The last time I ran five miles successfully without stopping was when we lived in Quincy and we ran the Harpoon 5-miler in 2003 — my favorite part was running through South Boston while someone on the third floor of a duplex blared “Eye of the Tiger” from a boombox in his bedroom window — and the reward was the two free beers at the end. It turns out that one can get pretty drunk off two beers after running five miles.) I’ve gone 58.82 miles since Tuesday, April 16th. I’m up to more than six miles on Saturdays, and anywhere between three and five miles at least three times during the week. I can’t seem to stop myself.
I don’t do it to lose weight. I don’t do it believing that I will someday run a marathon (though I do like the idea). I do it because it makes me feel strong. I do it because it’s a tiny piece of my world I can control.
I do it because there are people who can’t, people who wish they could.