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April 22, 2013

By Such Swift Currents

"It's like fireworks," she said. A bright, sharp pop and crackle echoed through the night. Then another, and another. Her eyes, her sister's eyes, broad and open and wholly focused on the screen, waiting for the burst of glittering, shimmering lights that seven years had taught them always accompanied these sounds — that moment of pure, shuddering wonder when great streams of sudden, glorious color would fill the sky and give proof to the promise of magic.

But we knew. We knew. And for a moment, as we paused and breathed deep, we allowed that illusion to live: that this was a world of fireworks, of vivid dreams of twisting rainbows falling like rain through soft darkness. And then there were more - whipcrack echoes, whistling through the air, clear and unmistakable even through the filter of a dozen miles and a shifting camera struggling for focus, bringing us to the edge of the moment as it unfolded across the screen - and the time for illusion was gone. "No, sweetie," my wife said gently. "Those are gunshots."

It had been two hours since we'd willfully walled off the world, coccooning ourselves in the quiet, simple solace of dinner and a movie at home. Two hours of losing ourselves in another place and another time: another set of men and women frantically racing against the clock and the odds and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, taking arms against a sea of troubles as if, by opposing, they might bring them to a just and righteous end. After such a long and strange day, with the city and surrounding towns locked down and immobilized, the crawl of updates telling us minute-by-minute of the frantic search weaving its way through Watertown and Cambridge, along the banks of the warming Charles and across to Allston and Brighton and beyond, the frenzied rush of cruisers and squad cars and busloads of officers plated in thick armor and bright weaponry, and the copters circling overhead and the wait, stretching impossibly far across the bridge of hours — the opportunity to escape into film was irresistible: to gaze through the looking glass into a dream of life where heroics inspire, resolution is possible and villainy...


Where villainy does not steal the lives of 8-year old boys with huge brown eyes. Where a day in the sunshine at the side of your family - applauding the spectacle of men and women achieving the dream of a lifetime for the first, the fifth, the fiftieth time - is a good day, a great day. A day worth remembering, for all the right reasons.

It was escape we sought, and escape we found. And we ate and we drank and we watched, and laughed and talked, and surrendered ourselves to the fleeting joys of fugue state — lost to the world.

These moments matter, too.

But darkness brought it to an end. The hour was growing late, and there were dishes to be scrubbed, small white teeth to be brushed. Cotton pajamas to be draped across small shoulders and narrow hips. Stuffed animals to be chosen as the night's companion, in whispered conspiracies measured out in brief, fresh-minted breaths. The myriad comforts of ritual, broken down into small, simple steps.

I stepped into a dark room. My fingers intinctively seeking out the keyboard, brushing against the familiar ridges and sulci. The quiet hum of fans spinning into motion, the machine shuddering from sleep. The black screen flushing bright, revelaing in tall, stark letters: Suspect Cornered In Boat In Watertown.

Oh. Oh.

Running to the next room, and the larger screen suddenly flashing back to life, and the scramble of trying to remember how to switch the setting from DVD back to cable, damning my own incompetence and inability to learn, and then finding right combination and the thick glass filling with the image of a familiar town in growing darkness — aflood with policemen, by the hundreds, gathered like great schools of smooth-muscled fish, their movements cast into bold relief by the throbbing strobe flash of mounted blue lights

calling to my wife: they have him cornered

my wife calling to our children

the rush and gathering and then we are all there, staring together, the small clock in the bottom corner telling us it is 8pm but bedtime will wait, as the updates crawl across the screen and we watch them moving carefully and then the sudden cessation of all motion as we hear that crack-and-echo - and we know: these men, on screen, are hearing it as we are hearing it - and then another and another, a volley and a pause, then another volley and a louder burst and

our sweet daughters, their eyes wide, somewhere between incredulity and incomprehension and intense, total fascination as they come to realize this is no illusion: this is happening

it is real

and not a dozen miles away, on a boat suspended on land, just beyond the river's broad reach, with the

the air, crackling

the entire city captured by such swift currents — we, all of us, together, swept beyond all resistence, united by the primal urge to stay above the waterline and resist the urge to despair

so many worlds of fresh and terrible loss

but still: driven, as one, by an anxious and rage-fueled churn of muscle and will to fill our lungs with sweet air and follow these dark and strange waters, wherever they may lead

the words, moving slowly across the bottom of the screen: Suspect 1 had a wife, and a 3-year old daughter

and the layers of complexity and disbelief double and redouble at the thought of a man, any man, with a young child of his own making the conscious choice to

take those moments of hard-earned triumph, the cheers and bright balloons and 8-year old boys smiling in the sun and

I swallow, hard, pushing it all down

and the moments of silence stretch on, the moment seizing and suspending in amber as we hold our breath and wait, and the

clock moves steadily onward, 8:12 to 8:18 to 8:24 to...

we see their eyes growing heavier, and so we move them upstairs and turn on their sounds machines, filling small rooms with the gentle rhythms of rainfall on a cool night, and whisper to them that we love them, that by the time they wake up it will all be over and the bad man will be caught, that this is

still the world they have known

their thin arms wrapped in soft blankets, under the watchful eyes of tigers and rabbits, bears and bobcats, friends one and all

we close their doors quietly as we can, and finish the dishes and brush our own teeth and close the house down for the evening before

we return, at last, and there it is: "CAPTURED"

and in that word we feel it — the familiar sensation of ground, growing solid beneath our feet.

It is not long after that, when my wife surrenders to exhaustion and moves upstairs, falling into an untroubled sleep. In the space of minutes the house grows quiet, my family breathing in slow, steady, elliptical cycles.

The hours pass. And as word spreads and the tension dissipates, I see - on the screen - there are people out. In Watertown, and in Cambridge. They line the streets.

And as each patrol car and cruiser and ambulance passes them by, carrying the brave and weary officers and troopers and agents and EMTs from that once-quiet neighborhood not far from the river's edge, they cheer. They laugh and they clap and they cheer.

In joy. In relief. In celebration. A dozen miles and a heartbeat away, as another finish line recedes farther and farther into the distance, they cheer without pause, and without reservation. Off the surrounding buildings and across the dark water, their voices echo, and togther they rise into the deepening night.


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