Finding What We All Need

It was the sight of the large satellite dish on top of news vans that took me back to more than a decade ago. Seeing row after row of the various media vans lined along the sides of the Boston Common and Public Garden, all of them willfully disobeying the city's persnickety parking regulations; my body had already begun remembering a different place and time.

I didn't realize that afternoon, the day after the Boston Marathon bombings, that I felt transported back to a moment when regularity turned into uncertainty, and also great sadness. A time when my morning routine involved watching the Disney Channel or waiting to hear MTV play Matchbox 20, because back then they played music. I was in the eighth grade. My favorite activities included nerf gun fights with friends, playing MASH during science class, sneaking friends (*ahem* boys?) into the school elevator, and zooming away from my aide. That was pretty much the extent of my day. I wanted Airwalks, Vans, or Sketchers because I liked that they had the 'S' on the sides - in my mind it was still cool to wear clothes that had the letter of my first name sewn on them.
"It's such a nice day out, let's just stroll through the Common and the Public Garden." I said to my friend, a little more insistently than necessary. She didn't argue with me so there was no reason for me to repeat myself, though I did.
"I really would rather not be riding the subway today. There's too much going on." I told her again. We had both left the office located near Downtown Crossing, on our way towards the same general direction of Back Bay in Boston. It was the day after the attack on the Boston Marathon.

Spring in Boston has a certain routine that I have come to incorporate into my own illogical, half-superstitious, bandwagon-rider traditions. It's a time when I don't consider the spring season to have ended until I have finished a questionable looking Fenway frank. It's when students are sprawled on college lawns, ducking deeper into textbooks every now and again to avoid an over-head flying frisbee. Spring in Boston is when the more beat-up and faded looking a Red Sox hat, the more you probably really know your shit when it comes to baseball stats. This is the season of street festivals in Jamaica Plain and Harvard Square. You don't know what spring in New England smells like until you've spent hours at a farmer's market, buying fruit you've never heard of before because some guy pulled your appetite out of your ear holes as he hollered his fresh! fresh! fresh! prices. I need to have a Sam Adams Summer at Cask'n'Flagon, and during the middle of the day at least once. I need to give a dollar to that lady in Harvard Sq who pretends she is a statue, then watch her give me a borderline creepy statue wink. I need to get completely soaked in the fountain at the Christian Science Plaza. There are things I need to do because it's spring in Boston.
There are things I needed to do because I was an eighth grader at Oak Hill Middle School in Newton, MA. I needed to find ways to chat with my friends in the hallway instead of sitting in study hall. I needed to find a more efficient way to copy my friend's Spanish homework, while we sat in class. (Eventually we just formed a factory line and sent his copy of the homework down the row..) I needed to tell the sixth graders they didn't know what they were in for if they got Mrs. Carven for Social Studies - "she's going to make you sing Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start the Fire.'" I needed to use the band saw in Industrial Tech just one more time! I needed to have our Vice Principal sing Happy Birthday to me over the microphone in the school cafeteria. I wanted Mr. Darsa the librarian to read one more book during story time at lunch. I needed to spend as many more days with my friends who had known me since Kindergarten, with those new ones who I met in sixth grade, and the clique that I had been accepted to in seventh, and those who grew on me later in eighth grade.
What I didn't need, and what nobody ever needs - never mind an eighth grader - is to show-up at school on the morning of April 27th, 2001 to find news vans with enormous satellite's and cameras crowded around the parking lot. Although I rode in an accessible van by myself, and the bus driver had turned the radio down low (on purpose I presume), I could still just barely make out the snippets of newscasters on the radio. Something about my middle school, something about 42 kids on a bus that had crashed on its way to a band trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our Principal Mr. Shapiro usually greeted us in the lobby of the school, a man with graying hair but always dapper with a bow tie and forever cheerful. Staff openly called him "Murph," and he'd nod in their direction with a smile. I don't remember who greeted us in the lobby that day, but surely someone did. There was confusion that ranged in size from whispered gossip middle school kids swapped, to the magnitude of confusion that I imagined was going on behind closed doors in the administrative offices. There was confusion in my mind because I hadn't put on my hearing-aids yet, they were in the nurse's office where they sat next to an FM system that charged there every night. Mrs. Mitchell's door was closed, grown-up murmurings could barely be heard on the other side.
As we strolled through Boston Common the day after the Marathon bombings my body felt that same confusion, but I didn't know why I felt it that day. I didn't immediately remember why it felt oddly, and wrongly familiar. The tenseness in my shoulders, the way I kept my eyes on the pavement, the tight knot in my stomach. A general air of apprehension and nervousness surrounded me. At thirteen years-old, it was the feeling of confusion unfolding into sadness as I saw my friend burst into tears in her mom's arms when we found out four students, our classmates, our friends had lost their lives in the bus accident. One of them was a friend of mine and also in the eighth grade, another seventh grade boy I remember had been in the same after school program as me in elementary school. There were two other seventh graders who lost their lives that day as well. They were more than just our routine, they were our familiarity, the things we needed most. I remember my math teacher had left the middle school later that morning and driven to the scene of the accident, to be a face of comfort and recognition for my classmates.
That afternoon as my friend and I went past the familiar statues in the Common - I tried to keep mental blinders up; it was the feeling that it's okay to remain on the outskirts looking in, processing tragic events however you felt most comfortable. More than a decade ago I had sat on the radiators in the back of a classroom with my best friend from elementary school. We watched and sat there silently, probably not fully understanding what was going on but realizing our routine of him riding on the back of my wheelchair to classes wouldn't be the same anymore.
Going through downtown Boston on Boylston Street and Copley Square isn't the same anymore. It's not just the place where my grandparents had worked for decades at the Boston Public Library, the cheers that erupt when those Duck Boat tours cross the marathon's finish line will mean something different now. The place is better even if it's different. The things that are familiar have become more so, those things that have been recently added have been welcomed with open arms. It'll be a place where I will think about community and the comfort found in remembering. I'll remember because that's what my body is telling me I should do; to reach out across tense moments to create community, and find more of those things that we all need, together.

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