Today would be different. Much different. Usually Erika – an avid exercise buff – would be the one running in the long distance marathon, and her mother, Mary, would be the one standing near the finish line to cheer her on. Not so today. After hours of discussion, and, to be honest, nagging, Erika finally convinced her parent that she was good enough to enter the “granddaddy of them all,” the Boston Marathon.
“I’m too old for such a thing. Besides, I’m your…mother.”
“I know, but you’re also a person that I’ve seen run in other races and you always did well. Know what your problem is, Mother? You’re lacking the same stuff you instilled in me when I was much younger: self-confidence. But don’t worry: I’ll be waiting at the finish line to cheer you on as you’ve done so often for me. And I’ll give back to you some of what you gave me – a winning spirit…”
“Well…well…OK. I’ll try it.” Mary began training in earnest.
Erika arose early on the day of the Boston Marathon. When she arrived at the finish line, the point from which she would coax her mother on, she was shocked at the throngs gathered there. All milled about, talking excitedly. Some carried cameras. Others, water bottles. Scores draped towels over their arms. Peering down Boylston Street, Erika saw the approaching runners. The winning marathoner, panting, limping and staggering forward, finally broke the tape and the announcer declared him the winner – Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia.
Later, much later, Erika saw her mother approach. The woman who gave birth to her was visibly bushed. Her face flushed red. Her arms wobbled by her side. Though a distance away from her, she could almost hear her mom wheeze and gasp.
“Come on…come on. I know you can do it. Just a little further…a little further. Come on, Mother. Pump, girl…pu–”
Erika’s shouts echoed off the nearby buildings. Then… pain erupted in her body as she was thrown through the air. For a nano-second, it seemed as if her ear drums collapsed. The smoke and stench of her burning hair clogged her air passages. And the burning, searing pain dragged her under.
When she regained consciousness the following day, she forced open her eyes. A man in a white smock with a stethoscope circling his neck gazed down at her.
“Where…where am I?”
“In a hospital.”
“Yes. There was a bomb detonated by a terrorist at the finish line and you were near it. I did the best I could to save your…your…”
She looked down at the place her legs should have been. They were not there. She felt no sensation running to either of the lower extremities. She stared at the doctor.
“How old are you, young lady?”
Without another word, the surgeon turned and left the room.
Now alone, Erika felt surges of silence rush upon her like the first waves of raging tsunamis. But she didn’t despair. She was a great reader of romance novels. In all of these, there was a happy ending. She waited for her happy ending. She waited for the doctor to return and announce that he had been wrong, that her legs were saved, that she would walk again and jog with her mother as she did before the terrorist attack.
She waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, she fell asleep. Still waiting.
Dedicated to Erika, Nicole and Mike, three extended family members injured in the Boston Bombing. Erika and Nicole have had surgeries every day since. My heart is heavy for these three young adults and for ALL the victims and their families.
Posted by Calvin Davis, author of The Phantom Lady of Paris.