Terror on a Grey Sweatshirt

If you’ve ever seen a finger painting, you can picture what I’ve witnessed.  I can still see the four swipes in red that moved from the man’s chest and angled down toward his side.  It wasn’t the only red on his grey sweatshirt. But, it’s the pattern that I see. I didn’t witness the person making those swipes. I didn’t see the fingers.  I do find myself getting flashes of that person in my mind.. I do see their terror as they reach out for help from a stranger.

The man caught my attention by yelling out, “Everyone move now. Give blood at Mass Gen now!”
I couldn’t follow. Not, right then. I had a mission to complete. I was frightened that I wouldn’t find what I was looking for.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. I’d spent my day on rails. First, I rode mass transit to downtown Boston with my wife. She’d qualified and registered and trained and was ready to run The Boston Marathon.  We waited in line on a beautiful April morning for her bus ride to the start line. She talked about the normal nervous twist you get in your gut before a race.  Then, she made a connection with another runner. A woman from Canada helped ease the worried mind of the rookie.

As she jumped on the bus, I raced for an Amtrak train. I made it in time to see my wife Melissa cross the 5k mark. Raced to the train and made it to the half-marathon spot to see her again. I jumped on the train again and rode back to downtown Boston. This time.., I didn’t see her cross in front of me. I stood near the 26 mile mark and wondered if she’d passed me by—or if something happened and she had to walk the course home.

I didn’t have to wait long. I got one of those text alerts you can get at most major marathons. It said she’d finished. My biggest worry at that point was the fact that I didn’t get to cheer her to the finish line and didn’t get a picture. I didn’t worry about that for long.

Behind me, I heard sirens and thought I saw white smoke.  The reporter in me drew me toward the commotion.  I faced a crowd of people going the opposite direction; some people were crying. Then, I heard the words that put fear in my soul. A woman said, “there was just an explosion at the finish line.”

It took just seconds to make the connection. The timing of the runner text alert and the explosion were too close together.  I had to find my wife.

I ran into a Boston Police officer close to the finish line. I told him I needed to get past him to find my wife. He shoved me and said, “it’s not safe, get out of here.”  I turned back and went inside a building. I think it was a mall. I remember seeing stores. I came out on a new street and turned left. That’s when I saw the guy in the grey sweatshirt. I also saw the medical tent.  You could see people on stretchers, paramedics and ambulance crews scrambling. You could also see people limping toward help.  I couldn’t look there for Melissa.

I turned back, hit another road block and grabbed a map out of my backpack. Hit another roadblock. Then, I searched the map for a way to get to the pre-arranged meeting area.  Hit a third roadblock.  I don’t remember, how I did it. But, I made it.

The marathon had an area set up by the letters of your last name. That’s where you could meet and greet and congratulate your runner. I looked at the faces near the letter, “A.” I didn’t see her. I walked back and forth twice and still didn’t see her.  I prayed that I wouldn’t have to find that medical tent again. In desperation, I cupped my hands to my face and started screaming, “Melissa” on the crowded street.  She heard me; relief.

We’d soon learn that our Springfield friends were all safe. We’d learn that my wife’s friend from the bus line was safe. We’d wonder how we got so lucky when so many others did not.

Back home, we have unfinished business handed to us by the man in grey. My wife is scheduled to give blood. I will give blood soon. First, I’m running a marathon. I plan to wear a shirt that says, “Boston, Strong.”

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Ozark Mountain Ridge Runner's Newsletter.