At Large in Ballard: Looking at Boston from Ballard
A few months ago a woman in my Cancer Lifeline writing class described crying at an oncology appointment. The nurse tried to comfort her but my friend said, “You don’t understand. This is good. Yesterday I couldn’t get enough breath to cry.”
I thought of my friend this week, if only to keep my own discomfort in perspective. The particularly cruddy virus that made the rounds in Seattle this winter/spring finally got me. The more I cried reading accounts of heroism and injuries in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, the more that I sneezed. When I tried to watch the Interfaith Service on my laptop, my inability to breathe through my nose got me coughing. Yet being personally, temporarily miserable seems indulgent.
I haven’t left the house for days. Yet from my Kleenex strewn nest next to our newly plugged fireplace I have watched my old stomping grounds by live feeds on Boston.com -- and daily life from my picture window.
My neighbor’s older Volvo, parked within my line of vision, is often filled with boxes of prosthetics. Once when I got a lift from him he instructed me to just push aside some of the legs. He works for a non-profit called Prosthetics Outreach Foundation and he specializes in lower limbs. POF trains locals how to make and fit economical prostheses based on available resources in developing countries. My neighbor’s work generally takes him to places affected by civil wars or natural disasters, Sierra Leone and Haiti. This week I kept thinking about those limbs in his passenger seats.
When the manhunt intensified after the FBI released photos of the suspects and police officers were shot I knew that my mother would not be able to tear herself from news reports even though she lives 20 miles north of Boston. My sister’s next-door neighbor was covering the Marathon for Associated Press, while at home the kids were roasting marshmallows in the backyard. The week of Patriot’s Day is always the same week as spring break. This year it was Seattle’s spring break too.
On a normal week I would investigate a strange noise, but either my ears were too plugged or my senses too dulled by an overdose of online media coverage. It wasn’t until I watched a tug push a conveyer freighter into Puget Sound that I noticed a car at an odd angle and another on the parking strip, on my very own block. Compared to the further insanity beginning to unfold in Boston the collision outside my window looked almost innocuous. No injuries, just dented metal and a toppled stop sign.
As Boston stayed in lockdown on Friday morning, Ballard neighbors touring colleges on the east coast sent out a Facebook message asking about alternatives to Boston. At last something I could do from my perch. Alerted to their proximity my daughter soon spotted them on a tour of her campus in Western Massachusetts and sprung them for a look at the astronomy tower.
Friday morning I watched Angelo Sacco walk to work with his unfurled umbrella held straight overhead. How will I tell time when Angelo no longer walks to and from his salon on Tallman Avenue when it closes after a quarter century at the end of April? I’m sure The Viking regulars will ask similar questions about their routine when the tavern also closes its doors at the end of business on April 30th. I wonder how many people are left to ask. “But where will I get my eggs now?” Or even what that means in association with The Viking.
All week I’ve turned my eyes to the street and then back to the computer screen. I hate that I can’t stop watching. Are there people watching without any connection to Boston? Or are we all connected this week? Logan Airport is where I land when I return to what was home. It’s where my mother’s car approaches the curb at baggage claim. My dad, so small now in the passenger seat, asks, “How was your flight?” offers me a Dunkin’ Donut and then criticizes my mother’s merge onto Route 1. In Boston I’m a child forever in the back seat.
I couldn’t cry on the day that l learned my student had died, my friend, my fellow writer, the one who couldn’t cry because her lungs were filling up with fluid. Because the house was full of contractors, the writing class needed to be facilitated without her at the table, the news broken, the collage exhibit unveiled at Cancer Lifeline without Jama Thomas there to meet “her artist.”
So I have been sitting here all week too miserable to go outside, mourning all of it. The children at the finish line watching their parents, the four sisters who lost their youngest one first, the media tracking every movement of the police, me tracking them. The hail that blew away this year’s bloom of fragrant azaleas in what might have been a precursor to a week in which we admit, “It could happen to any one of us.”
We lose students, we lose friends; innocents lose limbs. The new leaves got torn off the Japanese maples before they’d even finished uncurling. Whether from outside or inside, it has been a harsh week. Only the robins seem blissfully unaware. Evening falls in Boston and in Ballard. The second suspect is taken into custody. The robins are singing up a storm as Angelo walks homeward, his closed umbrella tucked jauntily under his arm.
Let the healing begin.
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