By Julie Hennrikus
I live in Somerville, which is just outside Boston, next to Cambridge. I live on an MBTA route, and walk, train, and bus everywhere. I work in Boston–both at StageSource (a service organization for the New England theater community), and at Emerson College, where I teach classes in arts management. I went to Boston University, graduated almost 30 years ago, and have made my home, and my life, here.
Though the date anniversaries were last week, for me the emotional anniversaries of the Boston Marathon bombings are today. For today they are going to run the Boston Marathon again. I can’t help but forget that day, and that week, a year ago. I remember reading a book, falling asleep, and all of a sudden my phone ringing, buzzing, and beeping with texts, alerts, and phone calls from friends and family checking in. Yes, I was fine, I kept saying, catching up on the news. Horrified, but fine.
But that next Wednesday, when I taught my class at Emerson, I realized that the effect of the bombings were going to ripple. Emerson is two blocks away from the finish line. Some students were there, hit by shrapnel. Other students were forced to shelter in place for hours, some in the midst of rehearsals, others studying, some student teaching. Emails were flying about support options for students, staff, and faculty. I wasn’t sure how to handle the rest of the semester, but knew when I went to class that Wednesday that it couldn’t be business as usual. Especially when I saw the twenty-five faces looking for me to help us all process what had happened. Or let them process it with me. I decided to scramble the rest of the semester classes, not add to their stress by giving a final. I let them go early, encouraging them to go outside, reclaim the city, get an ice cream. I would see them on Friday.
But I didn’t see them on Friday. Because that Friday morning, I was again woken up by buzzing, ringing, and beeping alerts. The city was in lockdown. I was catching up on the news, fielding phone calls, assuring my father that the street the bombers lived on wasn’t my street, it was a couple of blocks away.
“It looks like your street on the news,” he said.
And then the BANG, BANG, BANG on my door. I opened it, and there was a huge man dressed in a SWAT uniform, telling me that I had to leave my home. Immediately. He stood there, waiting for me to follow. I asked for a minute to get dressed, and he moved on to the next door. The rest of that Friday is a long story of having to leave my home because I lived close to the bombers. Too close.
We all know how that story ended. But as this anniversary week has come and gone, capped by today in many ways, I have specific memories, thoughts, and feelings.
Pride. I am proud of my city, and the way we handled this event. I am proud of the teams of people who took care of each other on that day, and during that week. And I am proud, very proud, to know Patrick Towle, Laurie Andersen, and John Andersen.
Connectedness. Throughout that week social media became a lifeline. But especially that Friday, I felt very connected and supported, especially through Facebook. I have many friends in Watertown, and will never forget the posts of people hearing gun shots after the shelter in place had been lifted. One friend reported that she, her husband, and their dog were hiding in a closet, so afraid. The virtual community was there with them.
Kindness. My friend who came to my rescue, and took care of me that Friday. Jessie Crockett and her husband offering their house in OOB to me, if I didn’t feel comfortable being home. My students sending me emails, asking how I was doing. Being at a crowded event for work, and having a friend come over, squeeze my arm, and tell me to leave–she would tell anyone who asked that I had gone to the ladies’ room. The hugs from friends. The list is long, and will never be forgotten.
Questioning. I write mysteries. Though cozy, they are about a world being unsettled, and needing to find order again. My amateur sleuth is drawn into the story because of a connection to the victim. One year and two weeks ago, I would have written that differently. Now, today, I understand that we get beyond traumatic events, but they are a part of us. As a writer, empathy is part of my toolbox. But that empathy can get in the way of the work, at least for the short term. I know it did for me.
Long term? The traditional mystery took root after World War I. It was a way to deal with the chaos of that war. For me, reading and writing cozies does the same thing. Terrible events told as a story that brings order from chaos. In an interesting way, the construct of the genre brings comfort.
And a word of thanks to my Wicked Cozy sisters. Jessie, Edith, Liz, Sherry, and Barb–you helped me get through.