Cambridge, MA – It’s the end of a long lockdown/lockdown-lifted/suspect-located/suspect-captured-alive kind of day here in the greater Boston metropolitan area. And of course it follows one grueling week.
The phone rang just before 6:30 this morning. I picked it up to hear the blare of an automatic announcement by the city of Cambridge to “shelter in place” due to ongoing security events. Residents of six other towns and cities were also put under lockdown. There was no public transportation running and soon enough no taxis either.
Quickly reading up online, my husband padded into our home office after hearing me blurt out, “Oh. My. God.”
A student at MIT, he had spent most of the last week having late nights at the library not far from where the campus police officer was shot in his vehicle. We had heard of the shooting late the night before, but no news was available and we fell asleep to the sound of sirens, wondering what might be unfolding outside.
It was an eerie sensation, that inkling that we might be reeling from one big news event to another and something that I last experienced almost a decade ago in my Jerusalem apartment; lying awake at night wondering how many sirens meant another bombing attack.
It felt so incongruous to be experiencing anything like that here in the Boston area, which can feel staid, almost sleepy.
And so Lockdown Day began, with the radio on low so our young children would not pick up on the news, their delight in suddenly being granted a cartoon marathon while my husband worked on his thesis and I reported this story from inside. I was “working the phones” as we hacks say, trying to piece together information about the two brothers that had spun Boston out of its regular orbit and into a violent, breathless Quentin Tarantino movie.
Peter Payack, 63, a veteran of 21 Boston Marathons and a wrestling coach at the local high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin, where Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev had been a captain and one of his star team members, told me in a shaky voice: “The wrestling team feels like one family … it’s like the bomb blew up in my heart this morning.”
“I hate to say he was such a great kid because he went out and killed people but he was,” he said, just as my own kids, aged 3 and 5, came to investigate why I was hiding away in my office.
Between phone calls I helped them bake a vanilla cake for Shabbat dinner, a belated Yom Haatzmaut concoction, topped with white icing and New England blueberries we fashioned into an Israeli flag. My husband helped my daughter assemble a wooden race car. We even tried to make a game of cleaning the house and enlisted their (briefly eager) help in washing down the floors. For most of the day they seemed to buy our excuses that schools were closed because of repairs; that we would go out “later”.
But at home for so long on our Cambridge street where apple trees have begun to blossom and daffodils beckoned from the garden, but on this finally warm day we could not go outside, they began to protest. We broke down and told them – in brief – that there was a “bad guy” outside that the police were trying to catch.
This “bad guy” had appeared like anything but in my interviews with those who knew him. But now our friends closer to the apartment he and his brother shared on Norfolk Street were getting announcements of “controlled explosions”. Norfolk Street is the road directly in between our children’s two schools.
And by nightfall came word of crackling gun battles and the booms of stun grenades back in neighboring Watertown, a small suburb now overrun by police and even special operations army units, the radio told us. Helicopters hovered overhead. The suspect was soon reported to be “sheltering” himself, in a boat in someone’s backyard not far from the local Target.
Then the news came of a capture. Tsarnaev was bloody, wounded, but alive.
Cheers and whoops could be heard by residents standing near the scene. Applause, relief, pride.
And then came the release. Boston Common, the historic center of the city that dates to Colonial days, packed with revelers cheering for the city’s police officers and a triumph over the uninvited visitor named Terror.
“It’s over,” cried out a woman in Watertown amid the blue swirling lights of cop cars and a festive, almost parade like atmosphere.
“The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won," the Boston Police Department said on its Twitter account.
Although I’ve admired the strength and communal feel of Boston and the people who live here in a new way this week, as someone who has seen and reported on the nasty tendency of terror to linger, not vanish like a perfect Hollywood ending, this rush to publically celebrate, while understandable, felt nevertheless foreign.
Perhaps I was too focused on this feeling of a landscape transformed, touched now by the hand of violence on a grand scale. I thought of a Watertown woman who told a local radio station: “You hear that gunfire and feel that innocence of your town is gone.”
I suppose along with the relief, I grieve for that innocence the Boston area has lost and places like Israel and Palestine lost so long ago: something even a made-to-order finale cannot fix.
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