Fear in Watertown


“Love, Recorded” during one crazy week in the Boston area. Was the fear the same for everyone?


In seven years in Boston, I have never seen the marathon, in person or on TV. Now I click link after link, as people tweet photos and videos of the explosions. It is about 3 pm on Marathon Monday. I look for local friends’ tweets, but not frantically—not yet—because I am still in shock. I hear my boss in the office beside me. She has no idea. I feel like I am the only one on my floor, like I am in a bubble of reality.

As soon as I figure out enough, I call my wife. I know she is at home. I know she would not go downtown. But that morning, I suggested she take the baby to the Children’s Museum. She said she had forgotten how to live in Boston. She has come back from Korea to bombings. She doesn’t pick up. I call again and again. I wait for Twitter to tell me that people are okay. I try to think: who would be there, who works nearby? I try not to think about my family except that they must be, have to be, safe. I walk the halls with my phone open. I remember, after the earthquake last year, how everyone jumped out of their offices and asked who had felt it. I want to shout, Do you feel it? Don’t you feel this? I call my wife, leave a voice message, a text message, an iMessage, try Facetiming her iPad, try to make the kind of noise to which she would respond. One would think she would respond to my fear.

love, recordedOn Twitter, people say the city has shut down the phone lines. But I get other calls. I can make calls. I am closer to the marathon, in Cambridge, than my house in Watertown. I text and get texts back. Finally, my phone flashes my wife’s photo. When I pick up, I hear a man’s voice. He is trying to call his wife. He dialed a completely different number. Wires are crossing.

Later, when I tell this story, I will mention North Korea, how a week before the marathon, people would ask if I was worried about my wife, but no Korean I knew was concerned. My wife was not concerned. She came home to real threats, real fears, real bombs. People in Korea worried for us. We look for fear outside, and where should we find it? Where do our fears really live?

As news breaks of the explosions, and then turns to suspects, I will find myself thinking about the different kinds of fear: a husband’s fear, a parent’s fear, the fear when a tragedy is personal, the fear when it is public, the fear of a foreign threat, the fear of a domestic threat, the fear that something will never stop, the fear that something will suddenly stop, the fear of bombs, the fear of guns, the fear of knives, the fear of words, the fear of purpose, the fear of accident, the fear of motives one can’t understand, the fear of motives one can understand, the fear of radicals, the fear of Muslims, the fear of Chechens, the fear of immigrants, the fear of white people, the fear that you can conquer, the fear that you can ignore, the fear that you can learn from, the fear that haunts. 

When I heard about the Newtown shootings in December, in the state I grew up in, in a town where an old high school classmate was a first responder, I was afraid, I was grief-stricken, but I was safe. 

After these bombings, and the shoot-out in Watertown, and the capture, many people will go back to their safe lives. A week later, I will hear my daughter say, “wee-o wee-o wee-o,” and I will think it must be baby Korean, but my wife will say that our daughter has been making this sound since the day Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured.

After that capture, crowds in Watertown, where my house is, where one of the country’s biggest Armenian communities is, will chant, “U-S-A, U-S-A,” though the terrorist captured is an American. I will listen to, and then see, our news sources change the suspects’ skin color from white to brown, emphasizing religion and nation of origin, which will change from Turkey to Russia to “the area of Russia called Chechnya.” I will wonder whether fear is over for everyone, whether it is over for minorities in Boston, as racial tensions rise—like the boy who went missing and was wrongly accused of being involved in the bombings and recently showed up dead.

On the day after the capture, I will go to a wedding and try to celebrate love, but isn’t love why we fear so much? I will see memes of how much Bostonians love Boston. I will see love come out in forms of us vs. them. I will love my family harder and try harder to keep them from harm.

In the immediate wake of the bombings, I keep trying to reach my wife. I Facebook everyone I know in Boston who hasn’t announced their safety. A few take hours to get back, and I worry and worry. I tell people we are okay while I worry that we are not. I call and call my wife.

I tell myself and my friends that I am not afraid, that I have no reason to be afraid, that this is no different from other acts of terror. I tell myself that my family is safe, that they are safe in Watertown. I tell myself, fear is fear. But when I do hear from my wife, when she gets through on Facetime and I see her and the baby and she says that her phone can’t reach mine, that she’s talked to my mother, that she can call anyone but me, and we say that we are okay, we say that we are as safe as we can be in the moment, I break down in tears. No sigh of relief. I knew they would be fine.  “Are you crying?” my wife asks. “I guess so,” I say. “I can’t stop.” The tears just come and come, and we will wait them out, we will talk as if I am not crying, until I am not.

About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses contributed to the very first day of The Good Men Project. He writes the "Love, Recorded" column about his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times, NPR, the Center for Asian American Media, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. He is the author, most recently, of Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American masculinity. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.

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