It was the first Marathon Monday that I had made it off campus in six years. I was an undergraduate student at Boston College and now I am a Master’s student in Higher Education and a Resident Director. It felt glorious. Arriving at an undisclosed non-undergraduate bar along the marathon route, I no longer feel like a higher education professional, a keeper of the chaos, I just felt like a regular person.
Silence sweeps over the bar. Two explosions. Here. In Boston. Then the texts start coming in, which all say the same thing, “get back, we are working today.” I stumble my way out of the bar with a fellow RD, totally sober but having a hard time putting one foot in front of the other. My parents finally respond to the text saying that I am fine, but only with confusion. They have been outside and have not yet seen the news. My call manages to go through, and as I tell them the very few specifics I have, I begin to cry. I cannot stay on the phone I tell them, I need to go to work. Five minutes. That is what I get for myself and my emotions. I have five minutes of my own to process and get myself together.
The first call from a RA, “Bridget, what do you want us to do?” Shit. I am the adult. I say it over and over in my head: I am the adult; I am the adult; I am the adult. I lay out the only plan I can think of as I walk. I am now in work mode. Keep the RAs in the lobby, send a RA up to a lounge to see if residents are congregating near the TV, open up a laptop with streaming news in the lobby in case people want to be there, if anyone needs to talk to the psychologist on call immediately put them in my office with a RA and wait to get through, anyone who is upset but not dire get their name so we can follow up later, it all comes out of my mouth as one long run on sentence. “Okay,” she says, and I pick up my pace. It is not okay; get there sooner.
Where are my kids? “My kids” almost always refers to my residents. I feel a strong sense of responsibility for them, an unspoken agreement between myself and them, while they are in my building, I will take care of them. Unhealthy? Probably. Accurate? Absolutely. But today, “my kids” means something different. Yes, I am thinking about my residents who are runners, spectators, or friends. My kids today are my RAs. My darlings, who I have come to know, respect, and love. Where are they? Are they safe? Are they hurt? Are they alone and scared?
I send a quick email, “tell me where you are and if you are safe.” They respond immediately, not because I am their supervisor and have just asked something of them, but because they know that nothing will be okay for me until I find them all. My two runners are the last to respond. It takes me an hour to find all of them, undoubtedly one of the longest hours of my life. My work is not done though, and I need to keep moving. Emails to residents, building walks with staff, updates to my supervisor, shared resources sent to the RD staff, all of it seems to happen in an instant and simultaneously in slow motion.
My work is almost over, so I decide to go to an impromptu prayer service. We sit sharing our experiences of the day, and I realize I am still in work mode, still guarded, still not processing. It is too much to bear. I need to leave. Get me out, get me out. I make a quick and ungraceful exit. Breathe in, breathe out. The fresh cold air begins to stop my head from spinning, and I slowly make my way back home.
I finally call my parents back, and they are grateful for the call but want me to process, want me to put words to a day I do not yet understand. After checking in and “I love yous,” I have to hang up the phone. The silence is back. I now have endless time for my emotions.
The days following have ups and downs. Good moments of reflection and processing, and moments of total sadness. I run a fairly extreme range of emotions, all of which I know are good and healthy. I am still not sure how to deal with all of it, but slowly I am making it through. One day at a time.
Bridget Buoniconti was a Master’s candidate in the Boston College Higher Education program and a Resident Director at the time of the Boston Marathon tragedy. You can reach out to Bridget directly via email. Please feel free to share this on your social network of choice using the link icons below. We also welcome you to share your reactions and stories in the comments section below so we may all benefit from your thoughts and wisdom.