Last Monday, I was looking out at the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico near St Petersburg, Florida. The scene was idyllic, the weather warm on the verge of hot. I wasn’t complaining, after a long New England winter, though I did feel a bit sad, reflecting on my trip and a missed connection.
I’d met Jason on line, three years earlier, on my first visit to Tampa Bay. We got together, half a day or just one night, on several subsequent visits. Though (or maybe because) we spent limited time together, we talked about our lives, shared some of our hopes and dreams, and got along famously.
Still, there were a few ‘red flags’ along the way. I found Jason to be elusive, hard to pin down, hesitant to commit to getting together at a specific time, on a specific day. Though I didn’t have a hard schedule for my days in St. Pete, I did want to schedule something, to have an actual date to look forward to.
Though we did get together once for dinner, our plans for a second rendezvous didn’t come to pass. He’d suggested Sunday; I’d said ‘yes’ until those plans morphed at the last minute into an offer to meet him at a local bar for a few drinks and a late dinner. Today, in my 50s, I’m no longer interested in hanging out in clubs, screaming over loud music, or communing with intoxicated men.
And so we went our separate ways, each frustrated with the other. Our first, and probably last fight in a virtual relationship, and yet I felt sad and disappointed. Spending time together, just hanging out, had been so easy on my previous visits –- after all, I was on vacation –- and now he was pissed off, blaming me for being too set in my ways.
I was frustrated, too. It seemed Jason had expected me to read his mind, to know his motivations, to intuit his wants and needs. As I stared out at the Gulf of Mexico, I listened to a gray-haired singer do his best James Taylor impression, spinning out JT’s tales of love gone wrong, and bringing me back to my college days as he sung songs like “Mexico,” and “Wandering.”
Eventually, I wandered back to my car, checked my messages, half-hoping for a make up voicemail from Jason, and saw a text from Lesley University’s alert system –- two explosions rocked the Boston Marathon at 2:50 PM. My brother was running, and doing some mental math, I determined he was probably still on the course at the time of the blasts. Just as that reality sunk in, I saw another text from my sister-in-law, which said simply, “We’re OK.”
As I drove back toward my hotel, I fielded a few texts from friends, checking up on me, making sure I was safe and unhurt. Eventually I got on line and discovered that my brother had crossed the finish line just three minutes before the first explosion. I was caught up in the coverage, the pictures of the carnage, which I tried not to view too closely, and the sense that my city was changed irrevocably, that things would never be quite the same.
I returned to Boston on Wednesday, curious to see the differences, and hoping things were getting back to normal. I took the Silver Line to Red Line up to Davis Square. Maybe it was just my imagination, but people seemed a bit kinder, made more eye contact, as if we were all in ‘this,’ together: a new world where things like 9-11 and the Marathon bombings could occur.
As I walked through Medford Square, a noticed a small white sign, flowers attached, dedicated to Krystle Campbell, who grew up in Medford, and whose family still lives there. Throughout the week, I watched the coverage, saw the pictures of the bombing suspects, and was swept up in the drama of Friday’s manhunt and the virtual lockdown of the city and surrounding area.
My own drama with Jason receded, crowded out by the life and death drama playing out around me. I was simultaneously thankful that my friends and family were safe, while angry and sad that two young men could bring a whole metropolitan area to a virtual halt, could cause pain and suffering to innocent men, women and children, and to their families.
On Saturday morning I drove into the Back Bay to prepare for my show at Arlington Street Church. I saw remnants of the week’s events: several national guardsmen in full battle fatigues; an armored humvee like the ones we had in Iraq; police cars, and roadblocks. Down at Berkeley and Boylston Streets, where one of our main streets was barricaded –- still an active crime scene –- the locals had erected a makeshift memorial to Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, and Lingzi Lu, as well as to others injured by the blasts. In the distance, I could see crime scene investigators in white Hazmat-type suits still combing through the wreckage.
Long blocks of Boylston Street, virtually deserted except for the police, an open wound in the heart of our city. After 25 years, I finally felt like a Bostonian, proud of the city’s collective response, determined to keep going, and knowing that this resilient community of which I am a part will heal, will move forward.
I turned around and headed back toward my life, my show, and my small, often petty concerns, knowing that for the friends and families directly touched by the events of the last week, the wounds will never fully heal.
Postscript: Judah Leblang is a writer and storyteller in Boston, and the author of the memoir, “Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond.” He will be performing his stories at Bestseller’s Café in Medford Square on Sunday May 5 at 2 PM. For more info, go to judahleblang.com or call 617-466-9637.
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