Fred woke up yesterday complaining of a headache and tried gently to twist my arm into letting him stay home from school. And yet, he was sitting up, smiling and, later, even laughing during sillier moments in our conversation. I said to him, “You know, when I broke my leg, all the doctors would ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Getting you out of me was a 10, so I would tell them 7.”
He liked the scale, admitted he was a 2, and trotted off to school.
At around 3:00, I flew down the stairs to look for Max to tell him there had been an explosion at the Boston Marathon finish line. My high school friend had posted on Facebook that she was praying her sister, who had run in the marathon, would be okay. I was not getting any of this – why was everyone worried if the runners were okay? – so I googled the Marathon, and then turned on the t.v.
I watched in horror and indescribable sadness as the city that raised me went up in smoke. The historic library on the left of the scene that is replayed again and again on t.v. – that is where I fell in love with books for the first time. I went to the prom, met up with friends, had my first date, attended family and friends’ weddings, and transferred trains to get home from school daily all within a 2-block radius. A year ago to the month, Max, Fred and I went on an Easter egg hunt at the church down a little ways.
Watching my expressionless sadness and tears, Fred asked, “Mommy, how do you feel, on a scale of 1 to 10?”
I was not really up for talking, but I grabbed the opportunity to be consoled.
“Umm…I guess I would say an 8…I want to say 9 or 10 but that’s for the people who were actually there, who saw it happening, or for those who got hurt or had a friend or family member get hurt, or…”
“Die,” said Fred.
“Yes, the 10 is for those people who lost someone.”
“So you’re saying 8 because you grew up there?”
“I think you can take a 9.”
I am grieving because, indeed, so much of who I am is tied up in this beautiful city and birthplace of America. Over San Francisco where the rest of our family was, my parents chose Boston – after fleeing China and Peru – to start all over again and to feel real hope for the first time.
Though we immigrated during a time of heated racial tension (I started school right at the explosion of the notorious court ordered desegregation in the 1970s), not once did Boston ever turn its back on us, not when my parents were struggling to learn English, not even when they had no legal right to even be here. Boston gave my parents work and community resources and a chance to rise out of their initial jobs as restaurant dishwasher and garment factory worker. By the time I was in junior high my father opened a new restaurant with a group of partners, and was now fluent enough in English to work the bar and to chat up all the customers. He became a loyal fan of both Boston sports and the Kennedys and is proud of the following four highlights in his life: 1) waiting on former Celtics great Dave Cowens in his restaurant; 2) shaking hands with former Patriots coach Bill Parcells in the Cleveland Circle theater restroom (my father is not shy); 3) shaking hands with Congressman Joseph Kennedy along the Charles River; and 4) being granted US citizenship after 20 years of waiting. His approval was held up in the red tape of the INS for years, until we wrote to Congressman Kennedy, who pushed his application through. Well into their 70s now and armed with a shed full of shovels and snowblowers, they refuse to accept my invitation to join us in a warmer, slower, gentler part of the country. But then again, my parents cannot move even if they wanted to; my mother is still working for the city, and she refuses to retire.
And the Boston Public Schools’ mission to elevate its working class children through opportunities and dedicated teachers allowed my brother and I to eventually attend colleges and universities that my parents never even dared fantasize about. My own greatest memories of childhood include piano lessons, advanced classes, trips to see the Nutcracker and the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, a 4 year scholarship to study studio art at the Museum of Fine Arts, a chance to design floats and costumes and march in the city’s Walt Disney Parade, an invitation to become a cast member of a PBS talk show with Dr. Tom Cottle…all of this came not from my parents but from the schools. The Boston Public Schools gave us what our parents wanted to but didn’t have the means to.
Boston is my adoptive parent, my angel, and today I miss it with an ache I can’t describe.
Yesterday so many either lost or are now clinging to the hope that my family has had in abundance. I grieve for those children, those runners, those spectators, and those families whose dreams were unexpectedly cut short in this magical city. That the city that gave us so much reason to move forward could be juxtaposed with scenes of danger and fear is mind-boggling.
But Boston is nothing if not fearless. And resilient. And loyal. We know her winters. We know her schools. We know her sports teams and her fans. We know her history in the formation of this country. Most of all, we know her people. They are people like my parents, who have soared on hope during their own periods of danger and fear and who in turn will stand by Boston’s side to the very end.
On a scale of 1 to 10, today I feel a 10: for sadness, for anger, for hope, for gratitude, and for pride.