I couldn't wait to get to the ballpark Monday, the excitement pouring out of me like someone wringing a soaked cloth. It was damn-near 50 degrees already and it was only 9 a.m. I rarely get a chance to see my Rays in person living in the northeast. Having left ESPN last August, I rarely get to watch them at all. There's some sort of strange connection between a fan and his team, especially one that you don't get to see often. Those games you do see, be it on TV or in person, take on some larger significance. Needless to say, I was pumped.
We headed to the ballpark with seats I couldn't believe. We sat just left of the right-handed batter's box roughly seven rows off the field. The sun crept over the first-base side of Fenway Park and it felt 65 all of a sudden. It was a perfect spring day, expect for the baseball, which, well, left a bit to be desired. There were a combined eight hits in nine innings of play and the Red Sox countered the Rays' ninth-inning rally with their own, walking off on a Mike Napoli double to left-center field. Disappointing to be sure, but we bounded out of Fenway excited for rest of the day.
"I can't believe I've had five beers and two hot dogs and it's not even 3 o'clock," I told my friend and kindly host, who provided the tickets as well as a place to sleep.
We walked down to Kenmore, one of the final stretches of the Boston Marathon. I had a call from my Dad. It was 2:25 p.m. but we were about to walk into the T station, so I let it go to voicemail, figuring I'd call him as soon as we got back to the apartment. I stopped to take a picture of the one-mile sign and turned to my friend, remarking how that sign must energize a runner, push them to finish knowing they're so close to the end of this massive undertaking. I took one more photo of the runners jogging toward Copley Square.
We went underground, smartly snaking the elevator to avoid the massive rush of people cramming their way down the stairs. "I need a ticket," I told my friend, further delaying our trip home. We found a machine and after a moment of reaching for my wallet, I bought a $5 pass. It was around 2:35 p.m. by the time we walked past the ticket machines and into the station. We arrived on the platform for the Green Line, which runs along the marathon route, the train cars and the runners separated by a fair bit of concrete and steel. The train was about the leave with conductors and metro police telling would-be passengers there was room up front. My friend and I ran as they yelled "We're leaving!"We made it a minute or so before they closed the door. It must have been around 2:40 p.m. by the time the train left Kenmore station.
My friend and I transferred from the Green Line to the Red Line at Park Street without incident, although he did fall asleep on the Red. I couldn't blame him. He'd taken a red-eye flight from Colorado just to be back in time to go to the game with me. We had cell service again and I checked my voicemail from my Dad. He wanted to wish me a happy birthday. I figured I'd call him when we got back to the apartment. We walked above ground from the Red Line station in Harvard Square, trying to figure out whether we should go for more beers and more food or regroup at his apartment in Cambridge. Regroup, it was. After all, he did just fall asleep on the Red Line. A nap was probably in order.
My phone rang as we entered the apartment. It was 3:14. It was my Dad, again. This is convenient, I thought.
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. We just got back to the apartment. Why?"
"There were explosions at the Boston Marathon."
He just wanted to make sure I was OK. At first, it didn't sink in. It was more stunning than anything. "What? What do you mean?," I asked him. He told me there were reports of two explosions at the finish line. He didn't know where I was, but he knew Fenway was close to Copley Square and wanted to make sure I was safe. I told my friend, who was just as stunned as I was. Neither of grasped the magnitude at first. He retired to nap. I retired to the couch to figure out what the hell was going on.
I couldn't move. I was glued to the couch. Seemingly transfixed by the horrible images and reports. First, no one knew what it was. A manhole explosion? Something in one of the shops or restaurants? They'd show the overhead images of the finish line and the damage was hard to watch. You could see the red-stained concrete from the sky, the blow-out barriers and windows. It was a terrifying thought. I sat, and watched, alone on my friend's couch in a suburb of Boston, feeling almost detached from the events. It felt like 15 minutes had passed when I looked down at my watch and realized it had been over an hour since my friend went to sleep.
"Crap, I should check my phone," I thought.
There were text messages and emails asking if I was OK. Friends, family members and colleagues checked in. One of the calls was from my friend's wife, surely checking with me since he was asleep and not answering her texts and calls. I can't imagine how she felt or how so many others who couldn't reach their loved ones felt. I remembered my time in the library at Xavier High School on September 11, 2001, desperately trying to reach my Dad, who worked within blocks of the Twin Towers. The lines were dead, my Mom was frantic and the library was filled to the brim with students of all ages going through the same harrowing minutes and hours. It felt like 9/11 all over again.
Like 9/11, I felt incredibly lucky. My Dad eventually came home, covered in ash and dust. Monday, I answered every text, email or phone call I could, knowing how many texts or emails or phone calls were currently going unanswered on Boylston Street or at Massachusetts General Hospital. They asked where I was when it happened and I told them on the train. They asked if I heard anything and I told them I didn't. With every text I answered, the pieces started to fit.
A 2:25 phone call from my Dad above ground. Rushing to board the train at 2:40. Passing underneath Copley Square and Boylston Street between 2:45 and 2:50. Wait, the bombs went off at 2:50. How do you compute that? How do you understand how unbelievably lucky we were? It floored me. I spent another two hours on the couch, watching the news, answering messages and trying to process the day.
I'm still processing.
We went for dinner last night and then to a bar, trying in vain to decompress. We were the lucky ones. We didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. The miles of concrete and steel protected us from even the sound of the blasts. We watched the news reports and the press conferences at the bar and finally, we had to stop. We left, walking home along the nearly deserted streets of Cambridge -- normally a bustling college town. There were no sounds of college kids laughing or stumbling home. No airplanes flying overhead. Not even tourists taking in the sights. It was silent as an entire town tried to process what happened to their city, to their community, to their friends and family members and colleagues.
I didn't write this to make anyone feel sorry for me or worry about me. I wrote it to try to help myself process, to share what I experience, what it was like to be in Boston on Monday, April 15, 2013. I'm not special. I'm just a very lucky guy who got to wake up today and know that his friends and his family were OK. There are hundreds of people who can't say the same. I'm grateful I'm OK, but I'm still processing.