Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boston: The Next 24 Hours

Last Friday I left off writing at the point where I'd found Brad and Eli.  People have asked me how long it took to find them after the bombs went off, and the truth is I had no clue.  It could've been five minutes, it could've been an hour.  Time lost all meaning.

What I recall of that time is my mind bouncing back and forth between "they wouldn't have been there, they would've left Boylston Street after I ran by" and "they were there because of ME; if anything happened to them, it was because of ME."

I finally looked at my cell phone today to see how long it had been.  As soon as I found Brad and Eli I sent a text to my friend Christine, asking her to let me know she was alright.  Out of all my friends who were running Boston that day, Christine was the only one who I knew planned to finish after me.  That text was sent at 3:20 Boston time, so it had taken me 30 minutes to find Brad and Eli.

After the bombs exploded, I became disoriented in the chaos and didn't recall in which direction was the family meeting area.  I asked a race volunteer and he pointed in the direction of the finish line.  He told me he didn't think I'd be allowed to go that way, since they were trying to move people away from the finish line.  But he also seemed to understand I had to go that way, and didn't try and stop me.

When I saw Brad, we threw our arms around each other and, with Eli sandwiched between us, we stood on the sidewalk clutching one another like one of us was dangling off a cliff.  The rush of relief I felt upon seeing them is impossible to describe.

The three of us started making our way back to the hotel.  Brad and I each had one of Eli's hands and, for probably the first time ever, Eli held onto me as tightly as I to him.  I recall there were people heading in all directions, but mostly away from the finish line, making it difficult to navigate through the crowd to our hotel near the finish line.  I remember seeing a group of college-aged guys running by, urging people to follow them to Mass General to donate blood.  Every person around me seemed to wear the same expression of dazed confusion mixed with panic.

Our hotel was only a few blocks away, so we reached it relatively quickly.  The lobby was full of people and the hotel staff were trying to hustle the guests directly to the elevators and up to their rooms.  I would learn later that many people were unable to make it back to their hotels, which is probably why our lobby was so full.  As soon as we walked in, I was asked for identification or a room key.  I pointed to Brad, but before I could say anything the hotel manager saw us and confirmed for the employee we were guests of the hotel he'd seen for the past few days.  Being a conspicuous family will sometimes have its perks, apparently.

When we got to our room, we turned on the t.v.  Eli hopped up on the bed to play with his Nabi (kind of like a kids' version of an iPad) and put his headphones on.  Brad sat on the edge of the bed while I paced the room, checking my phone, desperate to hear news of Christine.  We watched the finish line video of the bombing several times before the image of the runner in the bright pink top and baseball cap caught my eye:  Dear God, was that Christine?  I checked the photos on my phone from that morning and knew it was.  That was her hat, her bright shirt.

With my family safe beside me, my prayers turned to Christine.  Please, God, let her be alright.  I lost one of my best friends on 9-11, and couldn't bear that happening again.  The news coverage showed that finish line video over and over, and each time I told myself to be thankful that it showed her running from the blast.  Toward the finish line.  That if she'd been hit she wouldn't be running.

An hour or so later I reached Christine's dad in her hotel room, and knew she was safely back at the hotel.  I took a long shower, standing in the tub in a daze, trying to rinse off the layer of anxiety and guilt-infused relief that was making me tremble.  How could a day that started so brightly, with such hope and anticipation, end so horribly?

When I finally emerged from the shower, the t.v. was off.  Brad told me that, although Eli was wearing his headphones, when the news reported an eight-year-old boy had been killed, Eli pulled his headphones off and asked "little boy hurt?"

At this point, dinnertime was approaching and we decided to try and get some food for all of us.  I hadn't eaten a real meal all day.  We suspected it would be difficult to leave the hotel, so Brad cancelled the reservation he'd made for our nice post-race, celebratory meal and went online to book a 6:00 reservation in the hotel restaurant.  Looking back, this seems a little silly, like we were oblivious to what was happening.  But doing something normal, like booking a table at a restaurant, was a soothing act.  Like order would be restored if we just went about our business normally.

We went down to the hotel lobby at 6:00, and were greeted by the hotel manager as we stepped off the elevator:  Can I help you?

The lobby was empty.  Through the glass front doors, we could see the SWAT team posted outside our hotel, the police crime scene tape spanning the length of street in front of our building.  We had no idea our hotel was on lockdown, and seeing this was like someone taking our world that was already on edge and tilting it another fifteen degrees.

We told the hotel manager we had a reservation at the restaurant, and he calmly and pleasantly told us the hotel was on lockdown.  The police department had ordered that nobody be permitted in the lobby.  The restaurant was closed.  He warily told us we could leave the hotel if we wished, but we would not likely be able to return.  He said room service was operating, but to expect long delays because they were very busy.  Of course they were, in a hotel where most rooms were occupied with runners who also hadn't eaten all day long.

Looking back, I appreciate so much the calm manner with which this hotel manager addressed us.  As I was standing there, taking it all in, my emotions threatening to spiral out of control--lockdown! SWAT! police tape!--his calm voice brought me back down to earth.  And he seemed to appreciate that we had a small child standing there.

Nevertheless, Eli saw and heard all of this, too.  As we stepped back on the elevator to return to our room, the questions from him began.  His fear and anxiety were palpable.

He was most concerned about the armed SWAT team.  Who were they?  What were they doing there? Where Eli is from, men in uniforms bearing guns hurt his people.  They are feared.  We explained to Eli that those men were there to protect us.

Protect us from what?

That's the question we couldn't answer.  Not really.  We told Eli that there were some bad people in the world, and they'd done something bad that day near the race.


That we didn't know.  We told him sometimes only the bad people know why they do things.  We tried to reassure him that although there are bad people in the world, there are so many more good people.  People who will help you, people who will protect you.  Like the men in front of our hotel.  That he wasn't to worry.  We were together and we were safe.

The next morning we ventured out of the hotel for breakfast.  The streets and sidewalks were eerily vacant, a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle we observed in the days leading up to the race.  There were police vehicles on every block and several news crews clustered at one intersection.  More SWAT teams.  A (presumably) bomb-sniffing dog and his police handler.  A few other pedestrians were out; mostly people with their suitcases, who were trying to leave the area.  It was somber.  Desolate.

We left early for the airport, not knowing what chaos we'd find there.  Just prior to checking out of our hotel the news reported a "security incident" on an incoming flight at Logan Airport.  The live video feed showed a plane grounded at the end of a runway, with all the baggage removed and sitting off to the side.  A safe distance away?

Our taxi driver apologized to us for the incident.  He seemed personally offended that guests of his City had to experience the tragic events of the previous day.  Surprisingly, the airport was relatively empty when we arrived and security screening was fast.  Homeland Security officers were there, and interviewed Brad about what he'd seen at the race.

Since we've been home, I've asked Eli if anything that happened in Boston was scary.  He said yes, but when I tried to talk further with him about it, it was clear he wasn't ready.

It breaks my heart that this boy, who lived among violence in his country of birth, was again so close to violence.  Brad told me that when the bombs went off, they were so close they could hear and feel the explosions, but Eli didn't react at all.  We don't know whether he didn't react because he didn't understand what had happened, or if the explosions didn't seem all that uncommon to him.

When we adopted Eli, I had the notion we were taking him away from the violence of his birthplace.  I won't use the word "rescue;" that makes me sound noble, and the simple fact is we adopted Eli because we wanted to have a child.  But I did think we'd be able to provide Eli with a safe home, in a safe country.  I now see how naive I was, because none of us can ever know we are truly safe.

I don't know whether it's the innocence of youth or Eli's incredible resilience, but he wants to go back to Boston.  If asked about his trip, he'll tell you about driving the Duck Boat and about our visit to the Children's Museum.  He brought my marathon medal to show and tell at school; he's proudly worn his Boston Marathon t-shirt.

And I agree with Eli.  I want to go back, too.

Grosz family of three, checking in for Boston 2014.  Join us?


  1. Thank you Kathleen!

    Christine's Mom

  2. Read this through a link by Headless Mom...we also have adopted internationally and your comments regarding safety and taking your child away from the violence of their birthplace really hit home. I also cried at your account...mostly because I share a little of your innocence in thinking our country is safe. So happy to hear your family is safe and that you will run again and hopefully in Boston!! Wonderful post! Ann Woodruff awood5410@verizon.net

  3. Thanks for sharing this blog.

  4. thank you so much for sharing your story Kathleen, when I first heard of the bombing my thoughts went directly to my sister (watching the race) and to you.
    my little family of three is planning to spend a month in Boston this summer, maybe next summer too, we would LOVE to meet up with you on this continent :)