Posted by: mariabro | May 1, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

The sound of the blast and the smell of the explosion continue to haunt me. We were in the grandstand seats at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bomb went off.  I heard the massive boom, saw the smoke and felt the debris rain down over the finish line.  A tragic end to an epic event.

We had spent the day watching our first ever Boston Marathon and were privileged to have seats right at the finish line.  All day we cheered the extraordinary athletes who pushed themselves to the limit.  The first to cross was Yamamoto, the Japanese wheelchair athlete.Image

We were so proud to see him accomplish such an amazing feat and to watch as they played the Japanese national anthem.  After spending seven years in Japan, we shared the country’s pride in watching one of their own win such a prestigious event.  Then came the elite athletes, the women’s winner Rita Jeptoo, Kenya

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and the men’s winner Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia.  Here is a picture of my husband placing his medal on him.

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It was a beautiful spring day with a slight chill to the air.  After a couple of hours watching from the stands with our friends and our children we headed back to the Fairmont hotel for lunch.  My husband, daughter and I decided to go back about the four hour mark of the race to continue to cheer for the runners.  Two of my younger children decided to stay back at the hotel since they were a little tired and cold.  Just as we got back to the stands and turned to watch the race the bomb went off.  Directly across the street.  I remember it was silent for a few seconds, everyone was stunned.

I think it was my training as a flight attendant many years ago that came back and helped me react. I am the type of person who always watches for unclaimed bags at the airport, always like to figure out my escape routes etc.  I immediately knew it was a bomb.  I also knew we had to get away as I was pretty sure  it was a terrorist attack and I felt there would be more bombs.  People were saying “Get down”, but I said, “No, it’s a bomb, we have to get away.”  I grabbed my daughter’s hand and yelled at my husband to “GO, GO!”  My daughter seemed a bit dazed and said later she thought maybe a speaker blew up and did not realize the severity of the situation.

I remember thinking “if this was a bigger bomb the buildings would have come down and everyone would be dead.”  So many thoughts raced through my mind, but the certainty I had that it was a bomb and it was an attack, remain with me.  My first thoughts were that I had to get to my younger children who were at the hotel.  We ran to the hotel while the first responders ran towards the blast.  No one on the other side of Copley Square had seen what we had just seen.  I tried to be calm and said to the hotel security guards.  “I think it was a bomb, you need to do something about security at the hotel!”  They looked at me somewhat skeptically but then realized what had happened and began to lock down the hotel.

When we reached my husband’s staff we told them what had happened. One of them became frantic as her son was running in the race.  I tried to help her get him on the phone but the cellphone lines were overloaded and the call would not go through.  I raced upstairs to get the boys and, still in emergency mode, outlined what had just happened.  They started to cry and we tried to reassure them. But at this point we had no information and were not sure there were not more bombs at the hotel, the race headquarters.  We went to the lobby, kids and dog in tow, to decide what to do.  Then we went back to the room and tried to keep the kids occupied while we watched the news and reassured our friends on Facebook that we were safe. I felt trapped in the hotel but was not sure what else to do.

It was just two years ago that we had been in an equally traumatic situation.  March 11, 2011 we lived in Tokyo and experienced the Tohoku earthquake.  There were many similarities that day, but this time it was not a natural disaster, it was a terrorist attack.

For me writing is cathartic. I wrote about the earthquake just as I am writing about the bombing.  It helps me process and express my emotions.  Here is an excerpt of my blog post after the earthquake. Many eerie coincidences, the bombing was at 2:50 and the earthquake at 2:46.

 At 2:46 we felt a little rocking, which is pretty standard when you live in Japan.  But it kept going.  And getting bigger and louder.  My son ran up to my room to get me up.  I told him to let me rest a little while longer.  Then I realized this was not a “normal” earthquake.   I kept saying “OMG, what should we do?”  When my 7 year-old son could not give me an answer I turned to Facebook.  My postings during the three minute earthquake were as follows:
  • Omg how long will this earthquake last? Longest ever? March 11 at 2:48pm
  • Omg
  • omg this is scary
  • drawers opened, pictures rocking and things falling off the counter
  • its still going, craig work is being evacuated
  • our alarms are going on, I’m going to school
  • Picked up the boys at school, have grandma and yuki in the car. Brittanys on the bus and craig’s at work. Still rocking
  • Thank God for Facebook as we can’t call or text

Again, it was the sounds that continue to haunt me.

The tick-tick-tick sound of the windows and the rumbling, like a train rolling through the house, are of some of the things I will never forget from that day.  My first inclination was to get out and go to an open, flat area.  That is not what you are supposed to do, they teach the kids to “duck and cover”.  But when things are shaking and falling around you, you tend to want to get away.  We jumped in the car to drive to school to pick up my older son.  The parents lined up in a fairly orderly fashion to pick up their children.  But as it was only 3:00pm they decided not to let them out until regular dismissal time at 3:30.  So, we stood in the street waiting nervously.  Then the first aftershock hit.  The utility poles swayed and the electrical wires waved above us.  I heard an announcement in Japanese over the public address system.  I asked someone what it said.  ”A Tsunami warning”.  I wasn’t worried as that is standard procedure after an earthquake.  Then they decided to let us take our children.  I guess two earthquakes and a tsunami warning were enough.  My son came out to me and hugged me.  Some of the mothers were crying.  The children had ducked under their desks and stayed there for over half an hour.

Finding an area that is open and flat in Tokyo is not easy.  I decided to drive to the Imperial Palace in the centre of town.  It took about 20 minutes to get there.  Traffic was very orderly.  Then around 4pm we saw people in suits and hard hats start streaming out of the office buildings.  The trains were all stopped so everyone was trying to flag taxis on the side of the road or resigned to walking home.  Traffic started to build.  We had the radio on and it kept transmitting more tsunami warnings.  My older son started to cry.  It finally hit him.  I turned off the radio and decided to head home.  We live in one of the highest areas of Tokyo so I felt that may be the safest place for us to be.

We have a three story house so we headed up to the third floor and set up camp.  The boys brought snacks upstairs, and played Wii.   We sat upstairs in the playroom for 6 hours waiting for more news, waiting for my husband and daughter to return.  The aftershocks continued.  Cellphones and texts were not working.  The only way I could reach my daughter was on Facebook on her iphone.  I could email my husband on his blackberry.  thank God the internet was working.  My husband arrived home around 10:00pm.  My daughter was on the school bus.  It took them 8 hours to get home.  I walked to the bus stop at midnight to meet her.  Along with a small group of parents.  We clapped when they got off the bus.  As I was waiting there for her I noticed salarymen wandering around with maps in their hands.  I don’t think they had ever been above ground in this neighborhood.  They were walking home and had no idea how to get there.  Many walked for 6 hours to get home.  My daughter said she saw them walking away from Tokyo while  her bus was driving into Tokyo.  Lines of men in suits walking along the darkened streets trying to get home.

No one was rushing or looting or shouting.  The Japanese people accept this as part of their lives in Japan.  Shougani.  It can’t be helped.  This perfectly describes the Japanese mentality for better and for worse.

My family has been through a lot in the past few years but we were the lucky ones.  We continue to think about all the lives lost and people injured in the earthquake, tsunami and now the bombing.  But it has affected us all deeply.  We question why we were on the other side of the street, we struggle with survivor’s guilt. We wonder why things like this happen.

When my daughter was very young, maybe 5 years old she was thinking deeply about something and in her childlike words, she asked me “What is this world and why am I in it?”

I hope I can figure that out.

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Responses

  1. This is an extraordinary post, Maria. So grateful that you’ve shared this with us.

  2. The thing is not to over analize in life ,, life is life , we are here because we are here , at thats it , and its a very modern world and whatever is thrown at us we ned to accept and carry on or become a hermit or nomad .
    so take these things in your stride , i was in an earthquake once with three young children to cope with , alls well that ends well.


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