At 5:30 a.m., we awakened to the ping of texts from friends around the country asking if we were okay. That’s how we learned that the Arsenal Mall in Watertown—the town a mile away where I lived for 20 years and the mall where we do our house and garden and video-game shopping—is crawling with SWAT teams, snipers, FBI, and that our house is on lockdown. I live now in a pretty busy Cambridge neighborhood, with the sound—from one and a half blocks away—of Fresh Pond Parkway’s steady traffic as the usual background hum. The elementary school across the street is usually buzzing with squealing children. But this morning the only sounds were sirens, helicopters, and spring birdsong.
How many times is it possible to say this kind of thing just does not happen here? Absolutely nothing happens in Watertown. I know—I lived there for 20 years, and that was one of my major complaints. It’s a quiet little suburb of Boston and Cambridge on the Cambridge side of the Charles River, the location of the second-largest Armenian community in North America (Los Angeles has the largest). It has big WASP-owned mansions with lovely gardens, rows of the region’s family-owned or rental-unit triple-deckers, and side streets with modest brick houses built by Italian immigrants after World War II. But the cellphone pictures friends are sending of FBI shooters crawling through their yards makes me feel as if I live in a different country today, a country at war.
It’s weird to be communicating with my teenage dogwalker’s mother around the corner via Twitter, commenting on the fact that he goes to the Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School from which one of the bombers graduated two years ago, with a scholarship. That’s the school that has a wonderful pool, where I swim laps, where our nine-year-old had his birthday party last year, and where last Tuesday night he and I jumped in the eleven-foot-deep end and raced each other to touch the bottom and then come up.
What we have here is a metro-region-wide snow day without the snow. It’s too gorgeous to stay inside but we’re not allowed to go out. I think I understand, now, how people live in places like Israel and just keep going about their business. You simply can’t stay on high alert at all times. The dog needs to poop; it’s too nice to stay inside; there's still work to be done. A mile away there might be a shoot-out, but they're not aiming at you. Life calls. At the same time I can’t tear myself away from the TV, the radio, and Twitter. I'm watching what’s happening in my town just like the rest of you, although it’s freaky to see all those cops lined up at the mall where I've been hundreds of times, picking up a prescription or getting a bargain at the Gap Outlet or buying pansies for the yard. And instead of listening to the blatherers on network news I’m at least watching local reporters who know the landscape, who, instead of saying “Watertown” say “the Arsenal mall” and know which side of Arsenal Street they’re worried about. And instead of saying they’re descending on a house in Cambridge, they give an address on Norfolk Street, just outside of Inman Square so that I can picture the restaurant around the corner, the one with the great ribs.
Being locked inside is bringing out my mouthy sardonic side. I can’t keep myself from making dark quips that my wife doesn’t appreciate. At the same time I keep running to the windows whenever a tree branch snaps. Did I mention that all this is surreal? I’m sorry, I can’t keep worrying. I'm taking out the dog.