Strange Encounters
 

24 Hours After a Tragedy

by Amelia Wright

 
  Winter 2015 Fiction, Memoir & Poetry Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |  echapbook.com

 

9:00 a.m. April 16, 2013  

I have sweet dreams that night, until I’m as young as I feel. In this second life I'm getting ready for a party and I can’t choose between a navy cardigan and a purple one. My little sister does my eye make up. We fight and tease and blow bubbles in gum while I comfort her chocolate curls, cooing like a dove into her ear. Eyes open and I see sunlight and severed limbs. The sky is an impossible shade of blue.   

I learned that my poetry would be published for the first time the same day pressure cookers filled with workshop scraps peppered Boylston Street and sent Boston running. A California-based literary magazine wants to send my words, bound and tied with other pieces of my peers souls, onto paperback and out into the world. I haven’t wanted to write anything since. There is nothing poetic to be said.   

 

1:15 p.m.  April 15, 2013  

Merciless shoes nip at the back of my heels like angry lap dogs. There’s a raw, red, heart-shaped patch of exposed skin kissing back at the chaffing canvas. We walk forward, coaxed by the wave of spring that’s liberated our city. We are young and foolish, talking about boys while we walk, minds off of our physical suffering and onto a much different and more potent kind.  

“Boston’s so beautiful on days like today.”  

“So many people are here.”

The roar of the crowd draws an image of the river behind the house I lived in as a teenager, of its constant applause to the audience of the trees.  I used to take grainy Kodak images of the rapid’s constant tripping and falling over cool brown rocks because I was determined to be interesting. You could never feel alone because of that noise. We sound the same, nature and humanity; our difference lies on what you decide to nurture.   

“Boston’s so beautiful on days like today”  

We stop and cheer on the runners breathing heavily in sun. We’re proud of them, we envy them but it still doesn’t make us want to run. We walk instead. From where we are in Brookline, we can follow Beacon Street all the way down to the finish line. We haven’t said aloud where we’re going but our feet take us in that direction to follow the current of hearts while talking and tucking hair behind our ears, turning to face the marathon every hundred feet or so to make sure it’s still there. A spectator holds a sign, “Don’t stop, you’re amazing!” I take a picture of the inspirational message and we keep walking. I don’t want to commit to Instagraming it yet, in case something better comes along.  

Familiar faces spring like flowers out of the crowds to embrace us while we go. They offer us their food or alcohol; they clutch at our backs or drape arms across our shoulders like vines. We’re all bone-white toothy grins and love. We all say the same thing:  

“Boston’s so beautiful on days like today”   

 

4:00 p.m. April 15, 2013

Everything is different and slower than it was in fifth grade, back in 2001. There is no yellow classroom, no teacher closing the door and telling us what we know and to be calm, just the yellow patches of sunlight that invade Meg’s apartment and the roar of the television. Names come in waves of people who I need to get in contact with, of people possibly hurt, or alone, or scared. Our parents call, voices rattled and far away. It must have been easier back in that September when they could rush to our schools and scoop us up in their arms, return us to our nests so they could decide the best way to explain terror to children who have it written on their faces. But they settle for text messages and phone lines, for dial tones and silence when the police shut off cell phone service. We don’t want to detonate any more bombs, but they’re going off all over our city. Suspicious packages scatter over our hub, reports flooding in from Tuffs, Harvard Square, JFK library and no one knows anything except the constant sound of sirens heard from our window and that the sun is setting fast.  

We’re too young to really know how to love each other yet, but we’re learning how hard—but necessary it is today when we talk to friends and loved ones to confirm safety and wholeness.  

Don’t stop, you’re amazing.  

My sister’s boyfriend fights fires. He’s at the finish line now. I don’t know what he’s doing; I don’t know anything except the sound of all his brothers’ sirens outside my window. Tears are quiet reverse exclamation points pouring from our eyes, quiet because I can’t hear myself over the roar of the television.  

It reminds me of the river behind the house I lived in as a teenager.  

I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the next wave of destruction, for the names of neighbors and lovers and friends to be burned onto my screen, until no one is left. I look for my sister’s boyfriend’s ladder number on every live feed we see.  

Don’t stop, you’re amazing.   

Meg makes us pasta while she fields calls from all over the world.  

“No, we’re okay.”  

“No we just missed it”  

“We don’t know. We don’t know.”  

We can’t think of anything else to do—there is nothing that we can do except watch screens and wait. We can’t begin to mourn, we can’t even fathom grief until the dust has settled and the sun has gone down. So we blink wildly at each other and chew.   

 

11:00 p.m. April 15, 2013  

We’re quiet now. The burning has stopped, but we’re all still smoldering.   

 

3:45 p.m. April 16, 2013

I move like I’m walking through syrup all day. I don’t respond when my name is called. My humanity drives me to be with people, to surround myself with muscles, blood and bones that are still intact. Cartilage. Respiratory systems. Veins like the tangled roots of dead flowers. I crave body heat, like a newborn spider.  But I don’t want to talk to anyone.  

I’m secretly composing this in my head all day. I have so many things I want to say but I’m not sure how to do it yet. I’m older now, 21 years gone, but I wish I were as young as I feel in my dreams. I’m a walking dichotomy of age and youth, wisdom and foolishness. My legs ache and creak underneath me while newborn eyes flutter frantically trying to understand everything I see. Children and animals bounce back from tragedies faster. I am neither. I can’t bounce back because I wear these instances of senseless violence on me like tattoos; scars reminding me to lock my doors at night, to trust no one, to see something and say something.   

Despite this feeling, Boston has not given up on me. It contradicts my longing to be pessimistic, to be forsaken and broken with every act of faith and kindness reported back at me over these past 24 hours. Carnage is no longer breaking news. Now we tell stories of the goodness of our people, of selflessness and beauty until that’s all I see. Boston is beautiful on days like today, despite terror and heartbreak, because Boston embodies the American spirit. We live in the perfect state of grace.   

 

4:25 p.m. April 16, 2013

The underground has been changed into a military state, but I ride along comfortably because I’m moving through syrup today and the calm controlled surveillance becomes me. There are certain songs I can’t bring myself to listen to on my Ipod, so instead I swim through the grey in silence over to Lesley University’s campus. I crave silence in the wake of so much noise; I chase it all the way to the quad where I’m met by fifty faces of my academic community, all in a circle, all quietly waiting for me to arrive. I melt into the crowd because I’m still craving body heat and I stand there waiting, too.  Clouds gather overhead. The thunder has come to pay its respects to the departed. We’re the same, humanity and nature.

Someone speaks her anguish. We nod in agreement and look at the stone beneath our feet. Some people are embracing, some people extend their hands to grope towards their neighbors, just to check to see if we’re all still there. I don’t have anything to say because I don’t know just how to say it yet but I nod along with every syllable spoken. I can’t hear their words because their pain makes them speak so soft and a chorus of birds has opened their mouths above us. They’re the voices of the dead and they have more to say than any of us.  

A group of students starts to sing, so quietly at first that it sounds like wind but then it grows until it surrounds us. It’s haunting, sad and perfect. The birds join in. So does the rain, matching the staccato beat formed by the union of voices. We have the courage to look at each other now, amid this rush of noise. It reminds me of the river behind my house, of an applauding and silent audience of trees, of poetry.

 

1:00 a.m. April 17, 2013

I’m drifting into a sleep much sweeter than I expected, just as sweet and young as the night before. In this violet hum, this twilight between unconsciousness and sound, I’m thinking about the finish line. They tried to pervert that image, to bastardize and warp its meaning but we didn’t let them. All they did was reroute us; the finish line became Massachusetts General Hospital where athletes and spectators ran to give blood, it became the hotels and buildings where loved ones gathered, it transformed into crossing whatever finish lines, mile markers and hills that we needed to in order to help victims and unite together as a city. They didn’t break us. They won’t break us. We rewrote the ending to their story.

 

end of story

© 2015, Amelia Wright Go to top