Today I got vampired too early. Drained of every physical sign of life through the tidal wave of information assailing me on Patriots’ Day from a city notorious for harbor outcry and dumped tea. Boston is forever locked at 1770 and 1773 in my brain, having never explored its modern day incarnation and choosing to favor its place in the history of rebellion and unfair taxation angst. It’s forever white wigged and powdered in the memory of me; my apologies to the aliens left to dissect this.
Anyway, as I sit in this coffee shop watching people wander by in the green and white and yellow scarves that are the calling card of a local soccer fan, I search myself for the center of this storm, the calm part of my consciousness better equipped to process the too much information. Though it happened hours ago, I still have not released the memory of blood splattered streets, a fluid filled abstract expression, a collection of ink blots with DNA imprints a doctor will press to medical files if you’ll just offer what you think it looks like. That one looks like a butterfly…like a man on a horseback…like a viking raider…like a rose cut off at the petals.
Yes, please go on.
American martyrs tallied on the screen, portraits of violence in the street. Cops grasping radios and guns hunting frantically for the source of smoke and fire. People wrapping belts and ties around legs to secure gruesome wounds until emergency workers arrive and offer boards and syringes and speed. These faces offer no anger or resentment or fear, just the locked expressions of people high-tuned into urgency. As of this writing three people are confirmed dead, and approximately 100 are being treated at area hospitals; 15 are in critical condition. In the coming days these numbers are likely to rise, and more information will be released regarding severed limbs, permanent loss of faculties, ongoing surgeries and treatments, and what exactly shook people off their feet and switched cheers to screams.
Meanwhile, frantic social networks spool public reaction, even before Google News begins reporting the first embers of St. Elmo’s fire. Major news sites choke on the flood of inspectors tallying information about the outcome. Many will read exactly enough to feed their faces a full second, and will then post lengthy complaint about the coverage, their feelings about who did what and the Great Big Why. It’ll be like school shootings, only with less wonder of how someone could do such a thing, because whoever did this is definitely Not Like Us.
Everyone is busy today. One: people who perceive this as a great opportunity to talk about the capitalist/imperialist tyranny of America, pointing to instances of especially violent political idiocy (both previous and ongoing) to underscore the sentiment that citizens should get over this through acknowledgement that our own government is dastardly on the daily. Two extremes should cancel each other out and set your cry meter to neutral; you’re a terrible fascist if you feel otherwise.
Two: people using this as a chance to express personal prejudices with new justification, despite an absence of information regarding the identity of the perpetrator(s). The (insert religious/political/nationalist group here) are exactly the sort of sand demons we’ve always imagined them to be, so let’s launch a campaign with a title plucked straight from a video game and packed with onomatopoeia until their death toll defies numeric descriptions. Operation Whistle Bang. Operation Fist of Death. Operation Fizzbang. More than one online source has already called dibs on Operation Tea Bag.
Three: conspiracy theorists, currently gathering and simmering just the right stew of information and speculation, likely to be served with a side of photographs blown up in isolated places and hastily circled with editing tools. Conspiracy theorists need to set every dot on the table before connecting them, before they’re certain the event exists to distract from another event, and while frequently there’s a nugget of terrible truth the full truth often emerges as more warped and depraved than what can be conjured by all but the most creative minds. I learned this lesson reading the book Area 51, which poses the theory that the so-called aliens occupying the dark corners of Hanger 18 are actually the unfortunate results of Russian genetic experiments that created creatures to capitalize on War of the Worlds hysteria. This was beyond what my own brain could cook. I actually like the aliens idea better. I will likely also like aliens better than whatever truth emerges about Boston.
The speed with which people enter a place of criticism and speculation with no opportunity for mourning leaves me lingering on the emotional constipation of our nation. Armchair utterances often erupt from angry self-righteous places, perhaps perpetuated by people who find compassion in the immediate aftermath uncomfortable. Empathy is not a comfortable feeling; it challenges your own shoes, where the emotional pallet is familiar and organized. Empathy is spontaneous. It’s derailing. In this instance, it requires the acknowledgment of pain. Still, it is possible to simply feel, even when it’s inconvenient, unscheduled, and awful.
And yet, I get it. This isn’t easy for me, either, and I’m not discounting anger as a valid emotion. Can feel snark gurgling in the back of my throat and threatening to surface in a blast of adolescent expression. There’s a desire to carve distance from people who live in another city and another state that I can’t verify the existence of unless I fully trust the narrative of headlines and history books. With such energy around this event, this isn’t just distance, it’s isolation; it’s preservation of the personal sphere to a degree that strips the existence of something greater. These thoughts of anger and confusion and bitter humor exist but won’t yet leave my mouth, because today is for Death to complete his horrible harvest, while we hold space and offer help and accept that no scientific innovation or preemptive strike or isolation will spare us from surprise.