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Ten years after the Marathon bombing and "First Responder"

Monday 4/17/23

It's Marathon Monday here in Massachusetts, which is Patriots' Day. I was on Boylston Street yesterday and there were so many people out such that you could barely walk five feet in a straight line and had to bob and weave instead, despite it not being what most would think of as the nicest day.

It was ten years ago on Marathon Monday, of course, that the bombs went off on Boylston. I wanted to talk about something I did and have the account in one place. It was something that I think was important, that remains important, and speaks for itself as to what it is, and something which also says a lot about discrimination in publishing.

Boyston was a street I was on every day at the time. Back then, I didn't run stairs, where most of my steps, as such, no go to. What I did do was walk at least fifty miles every week, trying to put myself back together again after a great and unique loss in my life and an act of betrayal beyond the pale of any I'd ever heard of or read of. I reeled. I walked and I confronted everything. I ended up doing this for years.

I walked alone, with nothing but my thoughts, and I applied the mirror to my innermost self. I tried to understand. I over-blamed myself sometimes, punished myself, but I came to know much. I changed in what I was and what I could handle and endure. The process of becoming this person who does what I do now, with the volume and the seeming ease, this person of unique strength and courage, was born in those walks. Everything else that has been created since--written--would not have been done so like it was without them. The thing where I now casually write 300 things in my head at once--that began on those walks.

One could say that Boylston Street was a safe place for me. The tragedy of the bombing, the terror, the chaos, the destruction of so many innocent lives so that lives would have to be rebuilt, went right through me. Not as someone directly impacted. I wasn't there that day. But in what it represented, what I knew that it had done. And I love this place. My love for Cape Ann and Rockport is different; that is a love that comes from the soul. My soul will not be healed the way my soul needs and deserves to be healed until I am back in Rockport. But my love of Boston is the love of my heart.

Patriots' Day is always that Monday. It's not called Marathon Tuesday. It's Marathon Monday. The Red Sox play a morning game--it starts at 11--at Fenway. The Boylston area is packed and there are people up and down the street over the course of the entire Marathon cheering the runners. There is something of both the communal and the individual human spirit in the event, and a symbolic representation of endurance itself in athletic form.

Two days after the bombs went off on that Monday, I wrote a story in a single sitting on Wednesday. That story was called "First Responder." Is called "First Responder." It is the first story in Cheer Pack: Stories.

"First Responder" is a story that starts out being about two brothers. I mention Wednesday because it wasn't until the next day, on Thursday, that the FBI announced that they were looking for two brothers as the bombing suspects.

That was a total coincidence. Like the universe had a hand. The brothers in my story were not bombing brothers. They were two boys who'd gone out on their own that morning together. The older boy had what he thought was an important task to tend to. And his younger brother, who looked up to him, had tagged along, in part because he didn't want his brother to do this thing at all.

For in order to gain membership into another group of boys, this older brother had to cut the foot off of a mallard duck.

The story begins with the two brothers behind the Museum of Fine Arts in the Fens, along the banks of the Muddy River. They quarrel about the older boy doing this cruel and gruesome task. The younger brother can't abide what is going to happen.

He's not quite old enough to be out on his own, probably, but he also can sort of manage. He's at that age. The in-between age in which one leans more in one direction than the other.

The older boy, both frustrated and nervous, sends the younger boy away, and so he goes out on his own. He walks further into the city--and one can walk/retrace the entire journey of this story if one wishes--and he ends up walking right into the scene at Boylston after the bombs have gone off.

People are running every which way. A lot of running, but this is a race no more. There's screaming, human forms on the pavement in agony, blood everywhere. People trying to help. The boy wants to help. He notices something on the ground that he thinks someone might need, something of vital importance. He bends down, picks it up, and puts it in his pocket. He then begins what he believes is his mission, the enactment of his duty, to get it where it needs to go.

The boy begins to walk again and we get this Homerian odyssey of a day in Boston. As he walks, we are with him both in the past of his own life, and on that very day itself, seeing everything he sees as he sees and experiences it. This child who will never be the same.

He goes through the Public Garden, passes armed men moving in ranks in the Common, ends up on the bank of the Charles where the ducks are gathered, taking in a city that has been torn open. Finally he arrives at Charles Mass General Hospital. He sits. He sees everything going on in that Emergency Room for hours. All of the rest of the day. He waits. He understands the severity of the other cases and how they must all go first.

Finally, when things have settled down as much as they are likely to settle down on that evening--for this has been the whole day--he walks to the desk to show a nurse what he has, and to give it to her so that this person who lost it can be made whole again.

The nurse looks at what the boy has now taken out of his pocket. She sees what it is, and she responds accordingly, the only way that someone who understands could.

It is a masterpiece. It starts that book. It's not better than anything else in the book. It's a special book. The book is not some other piece of slop on top of the MFA-machined fiction pile by the right person with the right connections who comes from the right background and checks the right boxes and has absolutely nothing to say or add and wouldn't have the skill anyway to get it across even if they did.

On that Wednesday, this story, "First Responder," was offered to Deborah Treisman ,the fiction editor at The New Yorker. As I wrote in the Nashville, publishing, and "Fitty" entry, if these people were given a choice between having your child get shot in the head and letting Fleming advance, they would elect for the former. Maintaining their sinecures is everything to them. Hate is everything to them. Discrimination is everything to them when they recognize that someone is a true artist and everything they are not.

No matter what good could come of publishing that person's work, no matter how many people would love that work, no matter how much that work would mean to the world, and no matter how much that work would reflect well back on them, their venue--be it a magazine or a press--they will do what they can to make sure that the work by that person is not seen.

Until they have no choice.

Think about the timing of this. The New Yorker is a weekly magazine. It publishes fifty short stories a year. This is two days after the tragic event and someone has a masterpiece about it. This is history. This doesn't happen. It's never happened before. There isn't anyone else who has done it or could do it.

Deborah Treisman gets the story, and because of her hatred of me and what I can do and do do--which no one can deny who reads the work--as we'll see in a moment--she turned it down with a boilerplate "not quite right for us."

This was obviously a lie. Had this story gone into The New Yorker to come out the next week, this would have been news in and of itself with the timing, with waves across the culture, and it would have been the best story The New Yorker has published in its history. People would not have believed that something so powerful was in those pages.

Further, this also would have led to the FBI asking questions, with other aspects of the story becoming news; the very nature of its creation.

How did this man--and by extension, this national, high circulation magazine with its platform and reputation--have a story about the Marathon and brothers the next week? It even could have come out that same week if a choice was made to act with alacrity.

Did someone know something about the suspects and not come forward? The coincidence is extreme. And then to have something that fast strains anyone's credulity, unless they know me, and even then, the idea of brothers, as I've said, is entirely coincidental. But what are the chances?

How bad is Deborah Treisman at her job? How is that not discrimination? Because I don't believe it's possible to not know what you had and what that could and would do. You talk about readers. You talk about going viral. You talk about interviews, appearances, television.

You're going to read the story--if you wish--in its entirety in a minute. It's a life experience. It's more than a story. Then we have all of the publishers who have received this book--which also features stories form fancy places they like--not that they really mean anything--like Harper's, Commentary, venues of that nature--who also are so threatened by someone who is doing things that no one else can do that that is why they try to shut him out. Because no one is going to read this story and think, "That wasn't that good." Or, "It was okay."

No. That's not what's about to happen, and it's not what has happened with anyone who has read it.

I don't dispute that Deborah Treisman is an obtuse person. I get a lot of letters here about not just how twisted these people are usually, but also how dumb. (And questions of, "Where on earth do these people come from?") But I don't think she could be so obtuse not to know what this story is. Nor do I think she could be so obtuse not to know what this would have done, because of 1. It's power and quality and 2. The timing.

Again, this is a weekly magazine. Most magazines are not. That allows for something like this, and all that that would do, if there was someone who had something like this. A work of art tied into a specific news, that was itself timeless and universal. Why does she have that job? To put out bad writing--objectively bad writing--by objectively bad, meaningless writers of moan-y navel-gazing piffle like Justin Taylor? So this? This is what we're doing? People need to read that? It cries out to be read? No one thinks that. No one could think that. Not honestly.

Click on that Taylor story now, or come back to it after you've read "First Responder," if you elect to read that story I wrote and want to allow for a contest of sorts. You will see a difference so vast that there's no point in comparing the one work to the other. Take 1000 people, hook them up to a lie detector, so that motive isn't a factor--as motive often is with publishing people--and ask them which story is better, and you're going to have your answer 1000 out of 1000 times.

The Boston Athletic Association--the governing body that oversees the Boston Marathon--read "First Responder," and on account of the story they asked me to write the introduction to the program for the Marathon the next year after the bombings, in 2014, and to address the city, still recovering from the pain of the tragedy the year before.

And I did that, with something called "The Forever Beyond," and it was my great honor to be able to do so for this place that my heart loves so much.

This is "First Responder" itself. It's the whole story. I hope that wherever you are, whether you're in New England or anywhere in this country, or this world, that you'll read it here on this day, and may you also endure that which needs enduring, whatever that means to you in your life, and that you may also find a way to come through stronger, with your ability to love, and to keep going, undimmed.


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