I can’t promise how much this post is going to be about Cleo, so I would understand if you decided to stop reading now. The thing is, there are critical times for our country that I just can’t turn my back on; it feels disrespectful. I was reading Facebook posts the other evening, and I found myself getting irritated at people who were still commenting on brownies baked, games won or lost, concerts attended. I didn’t want people to stop doing those things. In fact, I was glad they were. I just didn’t want to hear about them.
I get obsessed. It’s for people like me that NPR devotes its entire broadcast of All Things Considered to biographies of the Tsarnaevs, that the New York Times has minute by minute updates to their interactive maps of Boston neighborhoods, or that MSNBC replays Rachel Maddow’s amazing geography lesson on the quilt of countries surrounding Chechnya. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on Twitter lately; that’s where you go if you want the real moment by moment reporting. Sadly, you have to weed your way through some tweets from the lunatic fringe, but if you’re willing to take a mental shower every now and then, you can find out more from the guy tweeting from his third floor apartment than you can from Reuters. After all, they’re getting their news from him, too.
Speaking of which, wasn’t this week an amazing benchmark of some profound changes in this country? Within minutes of the explosions, Instagram and YouTube had uploads of photos and videos. I’d be interested to know, was this the most massively crowd-sourced manhunt in history? It didn’t take long for some heroes to be recognized, either, welcome bright spots of hope and inspiration. And, yes, there was a lot of misinformation that got out there, too, but a stunning amount of that was from professional news sources.
I wanted to hate the perpetrators. I honestly did. In fact, I guess I did hate them for awhile. At least until they were identified. I can’t even write here what I wanted to happen to them when they were caught. It smacked more of revenge than of justice. I watched that loop of Suspect 1 and Suspect 2 walking through the crowd over and over and over. The thought that accompanied each repetition was, “They’re just kids!” I don’t know what I expected, or why their youth makes this all so much more painful. Except I guess I do. Dzhokhar, the nineteen-year-old, is just a year older than my seniors. He’s exactly a year younger—they share a birthday—than my step-son. The life of a nineteen-year-old should be full of hope and optimism, teenage angst coped with through edgy poetry, adulation of Burroughs and Cobain and Plath while all the while knowing that you’ve got a corner on understanding what’s wrong with the world, and you’re going to fix it. Fix it, not destroy it.
Those bombs weren’t hand-crafted and strategically placed to effect the most property damage. They were meant to do what they did—tear flesh. How do we get our minds around what motivated these guys? How can we ever understand the desire to destroy so many lives? Strangers’ lives, at that.
I have an ache in the center of my chest, around my heart. It began with the thought of the families finding out that their daughters and son had been killed. It grew with the image of the ashen young man clutching his tattered legs as he was rushed down the street in a wheelchair, his face a mask of haunted disbelief and horror. Scores of people, their lives unutterably changed, waking to months and years of healing and rehabilitation. A sadness so profound rises from the stories of a mother, father, sister in denial, clutching to the reed-thin belief that this was all a setup and their boys were somehow innocent. An uncle, overcome with anger. A wife and her parents retreating into their house and battening down the hatches. A daughter—a daughter!—how does she grow up knowing what her father has done?
We wait for answers, but they will never be enough. We’ll never have the peace of thinking, “That’s why they did what they did, and this is how we’ll avoid something like this ever happening again.” We’ll never feel satisfied.
And so I follow a shared link on Facebook to the video of the catsucking on the vacuum hose and I laugh until that is why I’m crying. I try extra-hard to really look at people on the street and greet them warmly. Who knows if they’re feeling sad and alone. John and I engage the checker at Trader Joe’s in a conversation about her life. We recognize the humanity in those around us. We share a moment of tenderness for the old guy crossing the street, bent low over his cane as he walks with his old dog, graying muzzle hoovering the sidewalk for interesting scents. At critical moments, I tear myself from the computer screen and lie down beside Cleo with my face against her warm chest. I feel the soft fuzz of her curly hair, the roughness of her pads as they press against my cheek. There is love and optimism and exquisite comfort in those moments.
So I guess this post was about Cleo after all.