When Normalcy Finally Started to Creep Back

This weekend, mundane routines and errands suddenly felt joyous and peaceful.

During Friday’s lockdown, someone in our house kept turning on all our lights. I’d spent the morning reading up on the Red Cross’s rules of sheltering in place and setting about lowering our shades, moving our three kids off the ground floor, and turning off the lights. I locked our front door and set the security alarm.

Was I overreacting? Who knew? We’d just learned that our babysitter had gone to high school with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and had known him well. His family lived on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, a mile from our house. On Facebook, our friends in Watertown were posting images of SWAT teams circling their homes. If I wasn’t being wholly rational, given the circumstances, I forgave myself. At one point, I came downstairs to find the lights in the kitchen, living room, and hallway ablaze. “Who keeps turning on all the lights?” I bellowed. I suspected the culprit to be my husband or sister, who was visiting. But then my 10-year-old son appeared at the top of the stairs, and said, “I do.”

That’s when it hit me. Despite my attempts to appear calm during the lockdown, the tension in our house was thick. We were purposely only telling our kids the bare minimum of information, but they knew something was very wrong. I’d turned our house into a bunker, and our son was understandably trying to lighten the mood.

Many people have said that Friday was like a “snow day without the snow.” But, to me, it was like a snow day without the joy. Despite our best efforts, there was nothing exciting about this unexpected day home from school and work. We’d just come off a week where three people died in an unfathomable bombing, many more sustained injuries, a police officer was killed, and our sense of safety had been shattered. I imagined there were parents who had the wherewithal to break out the board games, bake cookies, and even get their children dressed. Not us. I alternated between talking to my kids in a fake chipper voice and scuttling off in a panic to check Twitter.

Every so often, having torn myself away from the computer, I’d peer out our front door as if I might see him, the baby-faced terrorist striding down our block, his white baseball cap turned backward on his tangle of black hair. Normally, our street is a cacophony of city noises—horns honking, people shouting, and buses barreling through. On Friday all we could hear were birds singing and the occasional siren or helicopter. Nothing else moved.

Late in the afternoon, with our toddler sleeping and two older kids stewing in boredom, I received an email from the mother of our daughter’s friend down the street and, at almost exactly the same time, a phone call from the mother of our son’s friend a few blocks farther away. “Are your kids going stir crazy?” each of them asked. “Want to send them over?” The lockdown was still in place, but, by then, the air in our house was so heavy that we decided to execute illegal evacuations. My husband took each kid down our empty street and delivered them to their friends’ houses. Playdates: 2, Terror: 0.

Later that night, our daughter, who’s seven, cried as I tucked her into bed. By then, the younger Tsarnaev had been traced to his hiding spot on a boat in the back yard of a home in Watertown. But the police didn’t actually have him in custody yet and, for some inane reason, I decided not to lie to her about it. They had him, I tried to explain, but they didn’t. Confused (who wouldn’t be?), she started crying. I repeated Mr. Rogers’ mantra about the helpers, I told her how great it was that we had so many smart police officers working so hard to arrest the bad guys, and that we were safe. When I turned off the light in her room, I knew my personal grievance was infinitesimal compared to those who’d lost loved ones and limbs in the bombings, a speck on a pinhead in the shadow of their grief. Still, I hated Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother for doing this to us.

The next morning, suspect captured, police victorious, and all of Boston breathing the biggest collective sigh of relief this city has likely ever known, I opened my front door and walked outside.

The cool breeze chilled my cheeks as I descended our front steps, almost tentatively, as if for the first time. I felt like the world was reawakening right in front of me. Or maybe I was the one who was waking up. I have never been so grateful to see the empty plastic cup some reveler left on our front steps, to hear the 64 bus barrel down the street, to walk through the veil of cigarette smoke that mars certain corners of Central Square, or to see cars gunning the yellow light across Mass Ave. I felt giddy with freedom, though all I was doing was returning a few library books, buying milk, and getting in line at Starbucks. Those feelings lasted through the entire weekend.

Mostly, I loved seeing all the people, the crush and variety of humanity that makes our neighborhood so great. No one in Central Square was jumping up and down. There was no fanfare or ticker tape parade. If you hadn’t known what had happened the day before, you never in a million years would have guessed it. We were all just regular people again, running our errands, walking our streets, and reclaiming our rightful places in our normal, everyday lives. Here, at last, was joy.