Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 16, 2013

Suttons Bay man on Boston bombings: 'I'll never forget today'

Special to the Record-Eagle

Editor's Note: Suttons Bay's Forest Jarvis, a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, was in Boston on Monday to watch his father Michael run the Boston Marathon. He posted this account of that experience to Facebook Monday night.

In the hospital now, phone recharged, and finally have a laptop. I might as well post a longer update while everything is still fresh in my head. Though I doubt I'll ever forget much of it.

The funny thing is, the race was going really well up until everything happened. My mom and I waited to cheer my dad on at the 18-mile marker. He passed through right on schedule, ahead of most of the people with similar qualifying numbers. We handed him a protein shake, took some clothes he didn't need, and then hurried over to the train to try and catch him at the finish line. The train was ,of course, packed with people trying to do the same thing, and we had to let at least three go by until we could find one with enough space.

After a long, sweaty train ride, we got to the center and followed the string of people along the final neck of the marathon. From the numbers of the runners going by, we guessed that my dad had already finished. Pretty much all of the runners were giving the last half mile their best try, and both sides of the road were packed with hundreds of people loudly cheering them on. There's something unique about the joy on people's faces when they can tell they're on the verge of finishing a marathon. As we got closer to the finish line, the crowds got thicker, and we could barely move forward. We pressed on, until finally we'd had enough and decided to cut through a mall to get to the welcome area instead. If we'd decided to stick on the street, we would have arrived at the finish line right about the same time the bombs went off.

My dad was having a really, really good run for most of the marathon. He was going at a steady pace, and was on track to finish near the top of his age group. However, close to the finish, something snapped in his leg, and he fell down. He finished the last mile of the race hobbling with a man on either side of him, one of them a runner who'd already finished the race, the other a Marine in full military gear. By the time he crossed the finish line, he couldn't stay standing, but still finished with a time of 3:40:17, an incredibly respectable number, especially considering he couldn't walk for the last part of it. He was given a wheelchair and taken toward the medical tent. One of the spectators happened to be a sports psychologist, and he helped him do some mindfulness exercises to relieve the pain. He was in the medical tent when the explosions went off. People began rushing in, and it was obvious pretty quickly that something was wrong. Some of you who have seen the horrible pictures being circulated around of the aftermath will have seen the photo of the man whose legs were mostly blown off; my dad saw him being taken in on a wheelchair. Nurses and doctors quickly cleared everyone out of the tent who wasn't bleeding grievously.

My mom and I were about a block away from the first explosion. There was a building in between, so all we heard was a huge noise and the ground shaking a little bit. We were in the family waiting area, wondering why on earth my dad wasn't there yet. With the first explosion, everyone looked around a little bit in confusion. When the second bomb went off about 10 seconds later, everything on the street went silent for a few moments. When you think about bombings or other disasters happening here, you usually imagine  an immediate response, with screaming and sirens and helicopters and everything like that. But this time, everything pretty much seemed to go back to normal, even though we were so close. We heard the first sirens almost 10 minutes after the blasts, and even then most people just assumed it was someone speeding or some random fight that broke out at the finish line.

Looking back, it was pretty clear that something had gone wrong; police cars and fire trucks kept going by, the volunteer staff got incredibly tense, and more and more runners came to the family welcome area looking frantic or sobbing. We got the feeling that something was going on, but we still didn't know what. Meanwhile, we still didn't know where my dad was; we got a text from an unknown number saying that he was in the medical tent, but no-one would let us go near them. When we drew near to another one, nurses and paramedics quickly and forcibly cleared all bystanders out of the way, with police officers behind them. It was around that time that we finally figured out that there had been bomb blasts. We had no idea where my dad was.

We finally found him in the waiting area, in a wheelchair and on the verge of hypothermia. A nurse had brought him there and left him so she could take care of the other victims. He'd had no idea where we were or if we were okay for more than an hour after the explosions. We all hugged and cried a little bit, we were so happy to be together. The afternoon was suddenly cold and windy, and he was shivering and barely coherent. We took off our jackets to give to him, and a woman in the crowd gave him her fleece.

Now that we were together, we had no idea how to get my dad to a hospital; the roads were closed, and the doctors on scene had bigger fish to fry. Finally, we got directions to the nearest hospital, Tufts Medical Center. It was about 20 minutes of us pushing him along in the wheelchair. When we arrived, though, so did two bomb squads, who quickly got us off the area. They thought another bomb had just gone off at the library, but it turned out to have been just an electrical fire. We finally got a hold of a friend of ours in the city, who said she would come by to get us. While we waited, an old lady saw us, and offered to help us hailing a taxi. She prayed for us while we helped my dad to stand in order to relieve the pain of sitting on a broken leg, then went to a McDonalds and bought us coffee and food.

We're in the Newton Hospital at the moment, and the doctor is talking with my dad. It looks like he broke his hip due to a stress fracture from running. My dad is in very good spirits, despite being in a tremendous amount of pain. All he wants is a beer, and maybe some more morphine. He'll be going into surgery tonight. We're all still a little shell shocked from the whole thing, but we were the lucky ones in this whole thing.

What I'm going to remember most about today is how helpful people were. The guys who helped my dad finish the race, the old lady who got us coffee, the woman who literally gave my dad her jacket, and, of course, the incredible police force and medical personnel who did such an amazing job of securing the area and taking care of everyone affected. I don't know if it's America or just human nature in general, but it's just unspeakably wonderful seeing how everyone came together and offered all the support they could during the crisis.

So soon after a disaster like this, everyone seems to be expressing support and solidarity for the victims. But as soon as the memory fades a little for people who weren't there, there are going to be so many people trying to politicize it and jump to their own inane conclusions. Some have already pinned it on Muslims, and decided to blame the president and the government while they're at it, despite the fact we literally know nothing besides the fact that two bombs went off. Apparently one guy already decided it was actually the FBI. I'm sure there will be others who say that it's actually the fault of the United States itself because of some foreign policy of ours — how long until "imperialism" and "neoliberalism" get thrown about?

This attack was inexcusable. Simple as that. I can't say I really care about who was responsible or not. I just know that two families just lost a parent, child, or sibling, and hundreds more will never be the same again. I've never really understood how disgusting using tragedies as propaganda was until now.

Compared to so many others, I was barely affected. But I'll never forget today. And yet I just heard about bombings in Iraq killing dozens more. It's so easy to shrug things like that off if you've never experienced it yourself, but it's hard to take war lightly after days like today. Peace and love be with you all.