I had planned on penning a lighthearted post for this afternoon about the fun (and exhaustion) of volunteering at a Boston Marathon water station. The post, as written in my head circa early afternoon, would have read like this:
7:35 am: bakery run for extra coffee, muffins, scones, and croissants with my boyfriend. (For my Facebook friends, yes, this is the bakery of yesterday’s discussion of “do I change out of my jammies to go for croissants?”, which lead to the conclusion that I should have put a mink coat over the jammies, donned bunny slippers, and gone out for a croissant.)
8:07 am: checked in at the Hydration Station just up the road from my house. I did this about twenty years ago, back when the course was full of bandits, the cups were tiny (about the size they give you in the dentist’s office to rinse your mouth), and they let middle schoolers hand out water.
9 am – 10 am: I missed the memo about wearing galoshes; am drenched. My arms are starting to hurt from lugging 30 lb bags of ice and 5 gallon jugs of water to the tables. And bend, and fill, bend, and fill. My table had approximately 1,000 cups on it, ready to be handed out. The hydration station has another fifteen or so tables, on both sides of the road. My boyfriend has his sign: “Run faster, the velociraptor is gaining!”
Various ROTCs and National Guardsmen walk by; they are delightfully polite and refuse to litter. Then it’s marathon time: go, hand-cyclists! go, wheelchairs! (Watch out for the velociraptor!)
Then it’s time for elite women’s. A SWAT team in a van passes, followed by the staties, then the women’s media crew, then the fifty fastest women. I watched the marathon the last few years and didn’t remember the SWAT team. Raised my eyebrows at Mr. Velociraptor. Yay, elite women!
Brief break. First wave of elite men are heralded by another SWAT team, then staties, then press. I jokingly hid behind Mr. Velociraptor when the SWAT van passed. “Hiding behind the guy in a trench coat isn’t going to help you, dear” says he. Still not remembering the SWAT van from prior years.
Yay, elite men’s! Then twenty-five thousand runners pass by in an hour and a half.
I handed out water as fast as I could, blindly groping for the next cup with my left hand while my right hand was outstretched. One shirtless man pointed at his sternum as he sprinted by: “Hit me right here!” I snapped my wrist and nailed him with water in his chest. “Thank you!” Woman next to me: “I didn’t know what he was saying.”
A man in a Michigan shirt started to walk. “Keep running; Ohio State is right behind you!” He laughs and starts to jog. One man with a home-made t-shirt: “I [big red heart] Wellesley College!” Go Eagles, Geaux Tigers, go Children’s Hospital, yay Wake Forest, Team Griffin’s Friends, go Jen and Amy and Steve and everyone else who wrote their names on their shirts, oh there’s the hot dog and people in tu-tus. Go Jumbos! Keep making eye contact, guide the cups into their hands, make sure the runners don’t drop them.
My arm hurts from holding it outstretched and the water is moving uphill, taking the cups with it. No, wait, I have vertigo. “HI, BRIDGET!” yells my friend Ryan, running to raise money for a homeless shelter. I screamed and cheered until he was at least 200 feet away.
Mr. Velociraptor has a few people taking his picture. Some guy with “Go, Studmuffin” on his shirt ran by. “Go, Studmuffin!” I yelled. “Thank you!” responded a totally different man. Many of the runners are also thanking us for the water, for volunteering, for cheering. The crowd began to thin out, making it easier to hand water to the runners. Some stopped to talk, fill up their own bottles, or stretch. They are on pace to finish in about four hours.
We cleaned up the water station, threw away the cups, and decided against the finish line party and the reception.
The post in my head would have ended here.
Ten minutes after I arrived at my house, the phone rang. My sister, calling from Florida, asked if I was okay; she said that there was an explosion at the finish line, and boston.com and bostonherald.com were both down.
My boyfriend and I went downstairs to watch the news. We saw runners whom we remembered from the course. A lady who stopped at our water station crossed the finish line right as the bombs went off; she was being interviewed. Mr. Velociraptor had chatted with her.
Someone’s legs got blown off. I remember thinking how strong and healthy everyone looked out there on the course; some victims will never walk again. An hour prior, we had been raking and shovelling cups off the road so that the suburbs could be all clean; now the Boston Marathon sidewalks are covered with blood, glass, and shrapnel. None of us – spectators, volunteers, friends – congratulated those who finished; we only told them how relieved we were that they were okay. There should have been parties, dinners, and kudos; instead, the news showed people being loaded into ambulances like boxes into a cargo truck.
There is really no way to reconcile the beginning of the day – what the Boston Marathon always has been – with that act of terror. Yes, it is a terrorist act: it is designed to scare the s–t out of anyone who hears about it, making everyone think, “We could be next.” It is frightening to look at someone on the news, who barely escaped death, and think, “I handed her water a few hours ago; I joked with him; I called her name as she ran by.”
It does not make logical sense how we got from Point A (cheering on thousands of athletes on a sunny day) to this horror. I have absolutely nothing enlightening to add to the discussion. It simply does not compute who those two events are related. It’s a marathon, a fun family event, a time to be proud of the people in our lives who do great things. Yet Boylston Street is covered in blood and people lost legs, arms, skin, and their lives. The big news should have been Tatyana McFadden’s win, the heartwarming story of a woman with spina bifida, abandoned in a Russian orphanage, who won the Boston Marathon’s women’s wheelchair race. But the real story, what will always be remembered about the 117th Boston Marathon, is the murder and the mayhem.