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Columns

A Bizarre Week in Boston

Last week’s events imbued familiar surroundings with unwelcome significance

By Wyatt N. Troia

I frankly don’t have the energy or desire to try to draw conclusions from last week’s events in Boston. My own hunch is that there is little we could have done to prevent them from happening (though I defer to others for more researched conclusions). Instead I just want to leave an honest account on my own reactions to it all.

Terrorism has always felt very distant to me. Growing up in the Midwest, I knew no one remotely near Manhattan on 9/11. Terrorism was something that happened on my television screen. To have what appears to have been terrorism pierce that mental cushion and come to the town you live in is a strange thing. The collision of the normal and the bizarre is jarring.

Last week reminded me of a time when I was in high school. A teenage boy with a rifle shot and killed eight Omahans doing their Christmas shopping in a mall minutes away from my house. He killed himself near the customer service desk that wraps my presents for free each year. Right by the place I stand to pick out wrapping paper. That still seems so odd to me.

I felt the same way last week, as place after innocuous place that has been a part of my life in Boston took on a darker significance. I street viewed the location of the bombings on Google and saw a strip of sidewalk I walked down once with my father, he giving me unintentionally humorous girl advice. Maybe he knows more than I give him credit for; I took a girl out to dinner two weeks ago.  She works with a woman who lost both of her legs at the finish line and whose daughter suffered severe shrapnel injuries.

The bombing suspects lived near Inman Square, past which I bike to get costume supplies from the Garment District each Halloween. Dzhokhar attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where a few weeks ago I watched CityStep, a Harvard student-run dance program for Boston youth. I spent last Thursday night (and Friday morning) glued to the police scanner as dozens of police, SWAT, and FBI cars zoomed past my house on Massachusetts Avenue with sirens blaring as they pursued the Tsarnaev brothers.

The brothers killed a cop at MIT, where we have all vainly searched for a good party as freshmen. They shot at other cops from their getaway car, blocks away from the Quad, where I play football on nice days. They engaged in a massive gunfight with police in Watertown, near the Arsenal Mall, where I shop at the beginning of each school year.

I’ve never been to the marathon and was not there this year due to Harvard being among the only universities in town to have classes on Patriots’ Day (unsure whether to still be upset at Harvard for this or not). But I had friends, some with their families, who attended or ran the race. All were fine.

It was all so…weird. The self-ordained Facebook preachers raking in likes with stilted expressions of grief and canned reminders of how this tragedy had shown us “both the worst and the best of humanity.” Harvard’s emergency alert system maintaining that there was “No impact on Harvard” even hours after mid-chase gunshots rang out a few blocks from the Quad on Garden Street. The raucous post-capture celebration at Boston Common, even as a cop and three bombing victims lay dead and hundreds of others remained injured, some horribly. The consistency with which people who knew Dzhokhar described him as a nice, normal American teenager. His Twitter feed that could have been one of my friends’. That he was radicalized in one of the most tolerant cities in the country.

Also strange was the unwelcome excitement I felt during most of it. There’s a guilty high that comes with living through a noteworthy emergency. A feeling of having been there when history happened.

But I would have felt no excitement if I had been close to someone injured or killed. It is remarkable how easily we harden our hearts to traumas that befall strangers. I suppose we have to. No one heart is big enough to contain all of the sadness in the world. After last week, though, too many in Boston are filled to the brim.

Despite last week’s invasion of the bizarre, we will move on. Life will return more or less to normal, as it fortunately seems to always do in America.  But from now on I’ll have more than Halloween on my mind when I ride by Inman Square on my way to the Garment District.

Wyatt N. Troia ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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