Living in Watertown

“Why’d you choose Watertown?”

Everyone kept asking me that when I first moved here. It appeared that I was an anomaly—a lone recent grad striking out on my own to a place that didn’t have a Boloco, a Bertucci’s, or a brewery. Watertown is a what you’d call a “sleepy” neighborhood, but it shouldn’t be classified as a suburb. My street in particular feels like a burgeoning mini-city; it has all the basic amenities of Cambridge or Back Bay, except instead of Legal Seafoods, we have lahmajouns. Watertown hums with culture but also reclines in quiet.

I’ve grown extremely fond of this town, to say the least.

In the course of a few hours last week, though, Watertown was transformed into a CSI episode chronicling the final chapters of a nightmarish siege on Boston. Just before midnight on Thursday, I awoke from a drowsy limbo to the sound of sirens and gunfire. I immediately checked Twitter. Writer and journalist Seth Mnookin was on the case, and would be for the next 24+ hours (you can view a Storify of his minute-by-minute coverage here). His were some of the first tweets that caught my eye:

The first tweets I sawI’d never experienced anything like this before, and I was scared. I called my friend and spent most of the night huddled in my closet, watching hysterical tweets cascade down my screen. I had no clue what to make of any of it… the shootout just a few blocks away, the possibility that an explosive was squatting in a bush outside my apartment, the proximity of terror, the death of the first marathon bombing suspect near Dexter Ave. At some point, though, I realized that fear wasn’t a constructive emotion, and that all I could do was command my body to pack a bag (just in case) and wait. I wasn’t going to let something rare, situational, and cowardly intimidate me. Did I become a full-fledged “adult” in that moment? Maybe… whatever that means.

At dawn, I called my parents and explained the situation. Throughout the day, everyone in Watertown was on edge; small military tanks, SWAT teams, and policemen holding assault weapons lined my street. On TV, I saw reporters standing in front of my favorite Watertown landmarks—the Deluxe Town Diner, Red Lentil, Sevan Bakery, among others. These places will always be indelible artifacts of my post-grad life; therefore, seeing them stand—as if helplessly—in the background was a very strange feeling. I’ve become a stronger and more interesting person on these streets. I’ve sorted, assimilated, and filed away various Hamilton College moments, memes, and themes. I’ve grown and learned more about the world and myself while strolling by some of Watertown’s charming houses. In short, this place is important to me.

After the final capture occurred about six blocks from my apartment building, I didn’t even breathe a sigh of relief. I was happy, but mostly tired and still confused. I almost had to laugh—did that actually happen? Even as I type, it all seems like a sick dream. On the other hand, I went out onto the streets Friday night to celebrate with strangers and cheer on policemen as they drove by. And let me tell you—the feeling was euphoric. Shouts of appreciation filled the misty air, and I felt a great, undying sense of community [The Atlantic]. I felt it in the morning, too, when I saw town residents walking their dogs, darting through the streets, and playing catch in a courtyard. I picked up a copy of the Globe, as well. Those reporters probably earned themselves next year’s Pulitzer.

The scene on Mount Auburn St. before the capture. Franklin St., where the suspect was found in a boat, is around the corner from here. [Courtesy WBUR.]

The scene on Mount Auburn St. before the capture. Franklin St., where the suspect was found in a boat, is around the corner from here. [Courtesy WBUR.]

The main feeling I have coming out of this tragedy is the imminent need for gun control. I already felt strongly about this issue, but now it’s personal. Gabby Giffords’ piece in The New York Times last week was probably the most powerful op-ed I’ve ever read; the urgency she conveyed was almost audible. I can relate (though on a lesser scale) to her experience as well as many others’—Friday night before I went to sleep, I felt a visceral desire to know when Harry Reid would be able to bring the vote back to the table [NPR]. I’m ashamed that our country hasn’t yet figured out a way to make this possible.

On a broader front, I feel like I’ve been catapulted into a greater understanding of (and interest in) the issues surrounding these events. National security, immigration, foreign relations, mental health, youth, education, journalism… a single week covered so much ground, and I have a feeling that the Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt will provide sharp lens through which to view all or most of these topics. In particular, I found Twitter’s role [Nieman Reports] in this incredibly interesting. Just as I grew used to having tanks stationed outside my apartment, I became accustomed to Twitter’s real-time updates [The New York Times]—I even became reliant on them as a means to channel my nerves (I admit: retweeting is cathartic), acquire information, and stay connected.

Putting all of this in perspective, though, I realize how fortunate we actually are. We made a big deal of this tragedy—and I’m proud to be an American for that very reason. But in some countries, no one would even bother conducting a mass search for a 19-year-old criminal. An article in Guernica Magazine said it well:

American tragedies somehow seem to occur in a more poignant version of reality… within minutes American victims are lifted from the nameless to the remembered.

We called in SWAT teams and shut down an entire city in order to find a teenager who was hiding injured (and undoubtedly terrified) in a boat. It seems crazy, yet it had to be done, and we had no way of knowing what could have happened. How to reconcile that with this boy’s vulnerability, misdirection, and troubled past? I’m in no way saying he isn’t deserving of a severe sentence (his tweets are particularly revealing [The New Yorker] )—it’s just deeply sad to me what happens to some young people, the ways they get ideas into their heads, the ways they manipulate each other, and the consequences we all suffer as a result. Gun control isn’t enough—we need to look into the myriad mental games that contort people’s minds, we need to find a level of security at large events that is substantial but not overdone, and we need to take a look at how ideology (of any breed or gradation) affects us all.

1 Comment

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One response to “Living in Watertown

  1. ‘Tanks in Watertown’: the updated version of the dance theater piece I’ve always wanted to direct, ‘Alice In Watertown’. The Queen sends her soldiers (clubs) to squelch the Rabbit, who can’t be found, until Alice him huddled and bleeding in a boat on the Charles. Contact me if you are interested.

    This is a really nice article. Thank you for the links and the balanced approach to last week’s weirdness.

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