I’ve been trying to write this blog for a few weeks now, but every time I sit down to write it I get a few sentences in and then just erase everything. It’s not a pretty way to handle things, but it’s been working.

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. I like writing, I like writing letters and stories and notes. I even like writing thank you notes. When things aren’t going well I’ll even write a letter to myself. Getting words down on electronic paper is important because some of us just can’t articulate verbal thoughts as well as written ones. It’s just science.

These past few weeks have been extremely difficult. At first I thought that it would be the nightmares I wouldn’t be able to handle, but they’ve been few and far between. It’s the waking hours, the stressful moments, the last few seconds before I fall asleep – those are the times when my hearts starts to beat too fast. It’s not the nightmares for once.

Since I’ve had these night terrors the one constant has been the notion of the chase. I’m always being chased in these dreams, through streets, down stairwells, in different countries – but I never know who is after me. In my dreams I know it’s urgent, I know that I’m running as fast as possible, making quick decisions to stay alive. But who the hell ever thinks that’s what you’ll have to do in real life?

The day of the Boston Marathon we were positioned at Mile 21 near Boston College to see my dad come through.

Well, let’s rewind a little.

The few days before the marathon I was in the city with my parents being tourists, because I had only ever been to Boston once on a whim and had only ever really seen the Cheers restaurant. We traipsed around the city and generally had a few really amazing days. I got to throw tea in the harbor, stand in the same place as George Washington. Yell Norm! to strangers. For all intents and purposes it was a successful mini-vacation.

So on the day of the marathon we headed out to the Boston College area, 5 miles from the finish line. After my dad came through in a blaze of glory, literally the happiest I’ve ever seen him, we decided we’d start walking to the finish. It was going to be a 5 mile hike back into the city because we had ended up on the opposite side of the train tracks. If we had been on the other side, we would have just hopped on the train back to the finish line to be there when Dad finished. To be there when everything happened.

Now, I’m not a runner. I don’t claim to be. I’m not even a good walker. As we started walking back I lagged behind a little because I’m slow, and mostly because I wanted to take in the whole experience. I obviously knew I needed to get to the finish line to see my Dad, but he was going to beat us there and I wanted to see all of these crazy Boston people and be a part of the race experience. It was sort of amazing. I’ve been to my fair share of frat parties and I still had never seen that many kids drinking in neon color tank tops and animal skin hats.

At one point we separated from my mom so she could get to the finish and be there to give my dad some dry clothes. Allyson and I walked through Boston on our own, no big deal because we’ve walked through cities alone before. Allyson lived in Mexico and ate crickets for god’s sake. At one point on our walk we saw a few national guardsmen running past us and Allyson actually said, “that can’t be good”. And it wasn’t.

When we got somewhere near Kenmore Square, (my locations aren’t the best even though I swear I was paying attention during those trolley rides) we were stuck in a sea of people. We literally couldn’t move in either direction. Allyson was holding onto my shirt and we were trying to squeeze through what felt like a wall of people. At some point we got off the road and started walking behind buildings on less congested sidewalks.

And then there were helicopters. I remember a sky full but I’m sure that wasn’t the case, helicopters just flying in one direction overhead. Then we heard someone say there were bombs going off at subway stations. Then my phone vibrated for what felt like 5 minutes and filled up with texts asking if we were okay. We had no freaking idea what was happening. Of course we were okay, why wouldn’t we be? What the hell was happening.

I tried calling Kevin because he was in the city but got his voicemail. I tried calling my mom and didn’t even get a dial tone. Allyson started crying. We started walking into the city.

When you have nightmares you know that you’ll wake up. You always wake up. That panic feeling you have when you sit up in bed dissipates after a few minutes, you remember the feeling you had earlier in the day when you were happy. The best part about nightmares is that they end.

If you’d ask me to explain what happened next, I couldn’t really tell you. There are literally no words to describe it. My canned answers are as follows: “It was crazy”, “Absolutely terrifying” and “Worst day of my life”. But that’s all trite bullshit. You know what I should say – “it was like thinking you are going to lose EVERYTHING that was important in your life ALL AT THE SAME TIME YOU IDIOT” but you can’t say that to strangers. They wouldn’t understand, and they’d just be upset that you yelled at them. But it’s the truth.

After talking it out with a select group of people I can understand more about what happened now. My body, as I know it, just shut off. I didn’t feel any emotion. I knew that I needed to talk to my mom and Kevin to see if they were alright – I even went so far as to ream out a hotel concierge when I could finally get some cell service because he wouldn’t connect me to Kevin’s room – but I just kept trying. Allyson and I forged ahead into the city and every few minutes I’d stop and try to text someone, or call someone. Allyson was, appropriately, upset and I’m afraid that I wasn’t very consoling – but I needed to make sure we were going to be okay.

You never want to get to a point in your life where you have to flag down strangers and ask if they know where they are taking people hurt by a bomb. But we did that. You never want to think about buildings falling down, but somewhere in my brain I thought to myself “stay away from the buildings, walk in the middle of the street incase they collapse” and we did.

All those nightmare chase scenes were somehow coming in handy because I was living a nightmare.

Through the marvels of modern technology, and Kevin being far enough out of the city to get service, after about an hour and a half we were able to find my parents. Every street we had turned down was blocked off. We walked by a thousand stupid tv reporters, all looking a little too excited. We saw what felt like millions of police officers, national guard people, firefighters…anyone that was wearing a uniform was there. When people say that there are actually still some nice people in the world, those are the people they’re talking about.

When we found my parents we headed straight out of the city and back to the area our hotel was in. I remember making stupid jokes, being lighthearted. We ate dinner at a restaurant, watching news footage on the tv as we walked out. When we got back to the hotel we started watching the news and saw how the bombs went off just 15 minutes after my dad had crossed the finished line. It’s too surreal.

Everyone has a story from that day. Allyson might tell you that I was a major bitch for yelling at her to stay with me and for being more of a drill sergeant than a comfort but it wasn’t possible at the time. That part of your brain that is reserved for emergencies was working on overdrive, and it didn’t shut off for a few days until I actually realized what the hell we all just went through. My mom has her own story, a complicated one although she shouldn’t feel bad that she left us behind because she needed to get to my dad. My dad, who will still tell you it was the best time of his life pre-explosion, has a story that is tainted now because two assholes decided to take out their aggression on a group of extremely innocent, and extremely vulnerable people. Kevin has his story too – which I won’t discount by telling it – but he’s the reason that we found my parents. My friends who could receive my texts helped get the word out on Facebook that we were okay – they have stories and feelings that don’t need to be diminished by my crappy words either.

After a major tragedy people tell you that life won’t be the same for a while, and it’s true. The valium that I take to sleep at night doesn’t help when you close your eyes and see the faces of people looking for their loved ones. Valium doesn’t get rid of that panic feeling I would feel when I shut my eyes, when I let myself think about being a part of a terrorist attack. It gets better eventually, but even minor problems with work or school would send me into a tailspin. I couldn’t take the pressure.

A licensed professional told me to think about the good times. To know that it was just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that a lot of good things happen when you’re in the right place at the right time. It was random. But it’s really hard to accept all of that because this is your life! How can someone’s horrible choice almost ruin YOUR LIFE! Licensed professional, you’re right, but it’s hard to get there.

Sometimes when I get stuck in the whirling black hole of “what if we did this differently, or what if we weren’t in Boston this year” I think about this house in our neighborhood that puts out a “In Loving Memory of James” sign every September. They didn’t think they’d ever lose James in a terrorist attack, I’m sure. How could you? Our brains aren’t made to compute those types of shitty ideas. When I think about what if, I think about that sign and that it could be worse. We’re all okay, a little worse for the wear, but okay. We survived to watch the news coverage, to drive home, to try to get back to a normal life.

So, as you can imagine, sleeping has been difficult. But just living, and working, and schooling has been difficult too. Things are getting easier, but I imagine it’s an extremely slow, and tedious process and I’m not going to rush it.

There’s a line from “Perks of Being a Wallflower” where Charlie says, “There were some very bad days…and some unexpected beautiful days” and that sums it up nicely but in reverse. The days we had before the marathon were awesome, but I’m struggling to remember them in the correct way. I want to, I want to remember them as fun happy memories but I’m just not able to yet. When I remember those times they are a different color, tinted sepia to remind me they were pre-terror.

The good memories of Boston are like the dreams we have that we faintly remember the next night when we go to bed. Putting your head to the pillow you remember bits of what feels like a different life. Someone else’s life. How could this actually happen to you? It’s like trying to hold onto something that isn’t really there. But those memories will come back eventually, they have to.