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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: At scene of the marathon bombing, sadness mixes with hope

  • Walter Lowry of Chelsea, Mass. takes a picture of the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street; Thursday, April 25, 2013. Lowry said it was important for him to come out to support the businesses on Boylston Street, which re-opened the day before. He said he posted his picture, urging his friends to do the same.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Walter Lowry of Chelsea, Mass. takes a picture of the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street; Thursday, April 25, 2013. Lowry said it was important for him to come out to support the businesses on Boylston Street, which re-opened the day before. He said he posted his picture, urging his friends to do the same.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • People visit a memorial for the Boston Marathon bombing victims in Copley Square; Thursday, April 26, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    People visit a memorial for the Boston Marathon bombing victims in Copley Square; Thursday, April 26, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • The Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street shows the paint from the 115th Boston Marathon; Thursday, April 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    The Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street shows the paint from the 115th Boston Marathon; Thursday, April 25, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Pam Muldowney pauses before crossing Boylston Street on her way to work; Friday, April 26, 2013. Muldowney said that nice to see the street open again, that it was, "eerie," while it was closed.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Pam Muldowney pauses before crossing Boylston Street on her way to work; Friday, April 26, 2013. Muldowney said that nice to see the street open again, that it was, "eerie," while it was closed.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Walter Lowry of Chelsea, Mass. crouches down to take a picture of the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street; Thursday, April 25, 2013. Lowry said it was important for him to come out to support the businesses on Boylston Street, which re-opened the day before, he said he posted his picture, urging his friends to do the same.<br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Walter Lowry of Chelsea, Mass. crouches down to take a picture of the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street; Thursday, April 25, 2013. Lowry said it was important for him to come out to support the businesses on Boylston Street, which re-opened the day before, he said he posted his picture, urging his friends to do the same.
    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Walter Lowry of Chelsea, Mass. takes a picture of the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street; Thursday, April 25, 2013. Lowry said it was important for him to come out to support the businesses on Boylston Street, which re-opened the day before. He said he posted his picture, urging his friends to do the same.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • People visit a memorial for the Boston Marathon bombing victims in Copley Square; Thursday, April 26, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • The Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street shows the paint from the 115th Boston Marathon; Thursday, April 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Pam Muldowney pauses before crossing Boylston Street on her way to work; Friday, April 26, 2013. Muldowney said that nice to see the street open again, that it was, "eerie," while it was closed.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Walter Lowry of Chelsea, Mass. crouches down to take a picture of the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street; Thursday, April 25, 2013. Lowry said it was important for him to come out to support the businesses on Boylston Street, which re-opened the day before, he said he posted his picture, urging his friends to do the same.<br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

The familiar yellow line, a symbol of a city’s strength and tradition, looks different these days, feels different, is different.

Now, when tourists walk by and point at the thick stripe, located on busy Boylston Street, they see where the nation’s most prestigious marathon ends, and a war, with no finish line in sight, continued 13 days ago.

A great New England landmark, to be sure, but also a symbol of great pain, like the federal building in Oklahoma and the twin towers in lower Manhattan.

It’s where, on April 15, people had gathered to cheer Boston Marathon runners, where ordinary athletes mixed with exceptional athletes, where goals were met and inspiration covered the city like a thin space blanket draped over a weary runner.

The line remains rich with all of that, of course. But there’s more to the story, forever.

“We were attacked, and that feels like they kind of stole spring,” says Kim Bedford, who works in retail on Newbury Street, around the corner from the finish line. “It’s a long gray winter, and suddenly everything was in bloom and everything was green and we were walking up, people are going to Fenway and there are food vendors and balloons and the whole place was just great. They took something.”

They nearly took her husband, Bill, who stood at the finish line that day with the couple’s bulldog, Sharkey. Bill and Sharkey left the area at 1:30 p.m., about 80 minutes before the first bomb exploded.

They were within a few feet of where an old man, captured on film, later stumbled on rubbery legs, where white smoke billowed and curled through the air, where windows shattered, where a 29-year-old woman named Krystle Campbell died.

Now, just days after officials reopened Boylston, Bill is back with Sharkey, showing Kim where he had been less than two weeks before.

Near that yellow line.

“To me, that line signified challenge, it signified an ending, it signifies a journey, it’s new beginnings,” Bill says. “It signified a lot, even more now. That line is huge.”

The stories we hear from these people, those who were there, are unbelievable. Like the one Bill tells, the one about the 70-year-old man hitchhiking down Storrow Drive because “people were just trying to get out of town,” Kim said.

And the one relayed by the 47-year-old owner of the Sugary Heaven, one of several stores on Boylston, representing yet another Ground Zero. Dave Sapers has owned the store, with its jelly beans and chocolate, for 11 years.

He was open that day, the perfect place for spectators to stop before and during the race. He points to an employee in a blue shirt, who he says led the staff and about 40 customers out the back door.

Then he points to the floor, near the front counter.

“A girl was hit and all bloody,” says Sapers, standing out in the sun and wind near the finish line. “She came into the store and passed out, right there. They came and got her, and we haven’t heard from her since. It was terrible.”

Then Sapers is asked about the finish line, a mere 20 feet from his storefront, and you get a glimpse of the city’s toughness.

“That line will look better next year,” Sapers says. “People put all their effort in to make everything show that we’re stronger, and we remember what happened. But it’s Boston, and like the logo says it’s Boston strong. Those are not just words. We’ll probably have twice the crowd we had this year. In fact, those are my words. I guarantee it.”

Karleen Keefe of Rhode Island agrees with Sapers about next year’s race. “This place will be packed. Every hotel will be sold out, and it will be big next year.”

The middle school teacher, standing in the cold shadow of the Boston Public Library, across from the stores damaged in the first explosion, is with her 13-year-old son, Ryley.

She’s back for the first time since volunteering to keep an eye on the expensive digital clock at mile 22. Each mile was marked in the same manner, allowing runners to see their times as they moved through the course.

Keefe saw the evolution of a tragedy. She cheered as runners went by. Then she heard the crackling buzz of muffled voices on police radios, something about “50 down.” Then she asked the state trooper, whom she’d gotten to know after spending all morning there, at Cleveland Circle in Brighton.

He told her there had been an explosion.

“After we knew, the runners had no clue,” Keefe says. “A lot of people run with their cell phones, and then all of a sudden a group of people started slowing down a little bit, and then you could tell, as if they had heard something. It was surreal, it was slow motion. It just went dead, from hundreds of people running at me to nothing.”

She’ll run next year, her first Boston Marathon. Relatively new to running, Keefe has finished marathons in Chicago and Maine. She’s a two-time cancer survivor and says she’ll seek sponsorship to help fight leukemia, the disease that nearly killed her when she was 5.

“If you told me three years ago I was running a marathon, and if you told me I would run Boston, it’s a dream,” Keefe says. “It has even more meaning to me. It’s something I never thought I’d do, and now it’s going to be a reality.”

The reality in recent days is a city and country in mourning, sad over four deaths and more than 260 injuries.

At the plaza near the intersection of Boylston and Dartmouth streets, a memorial is alive with flags whipping in the wind, with flowers and letters and stuffed animals, with four white crosses forming the nucleus of the site, one for each person killed: Campbell; Martin Richard, 8; Lu Lingzi, 23; and police officer Sean Collier, 26, gunned down in the aftermath of the bombings.

Pictures of Richard show his big dark eyes and toothy smile, reminders of a war that involves more than soldiers.

Down the street, away from the news trucks from FOX, NBC and CNN, is a restaurant called Forum, at 755 Boylson St., where Lingzi and Richard died. It’s boarded up with large black-stained wood panels.

Over near the finish line, the Sugary Heaven stands with a row of businesses and one apartment building, all open now and showing the wounds of war.

The damage to LensCrafters is most noticeable, with those same black-stained wood panels covering a brick section, while an employee stands nearby, hands clasped in front of her while she waits for customers to view the glasses on display outside.

Two police officers stand near the street, explaining that the pavement they’re standing on is new, a lighter shade, because that’s the very spot where the first backpack exploded.

A postal carrier emerges from an apartment building, saying, “It looks like they’re allowed to live in there because they’ve been picking up their mail.”

Across the street stands Keefe and her son. They’re taking pictures of the finish line, the fresh paint job from two weeks ago replaced by cracks and chips on the blue letters and yellow background.

“It doesn’t seem as fresh and bright as it once was,” Keefe says.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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