BOSTON – Every time Roseann Sdoia comes home, she must climb 18 steps — six stairs into the building, 12 more to her apartment. It is an old building in Boston, with doors that are big and heavy, not an easy place for an amputee to live.
When she left the hospital, a month after the Boston Marathon bombing, she had a choice: She could find another place to live, one more suitable for someone who wears a prosthetic that replaces most of her right leg. Or, she could stay.
“Early on when all this happened, so many people were telling me to move out of the city and move out of my apartment because of the stairs and I don’t have an elevator and parking is not very convenient,” she recalls. “But I have been able to get past all of that.”
In that, she mirrors Boston itself.
“I have to tell you, honestly, Boston is a better city now than it was before,” Thomas Menino, who was Boston’s mayor during the April 15 attacks. “People learned how to deal with each other, they had to deal with a tragedy.”
Not that it’s been easy. Three people were killed at last year’s Boston Marathon, and more than 260 were injured, and the legacy of trauma and lost limbs remains — as does the shock of having endured a terrorist attack on a cherished “Marathon Monday.”
Nor can Bostonians forget the fear that gripped a city locked down in the midst of a manhunt, which ended in the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 20. Tsarnaev, of Chechen extraction, faces 30 federal charges in the attack he allegedly carried out with 26-year-old brother Tamerlan, who died in a shootout with police.
But Boston has been able to get past all of that. Copley Square, where bombs went off at the finish line, is no longer littered with impromptu tributes to the dead and injured; they’re now on display in an exhibit at the Boston Public Library.
So much change
Roseann Sdoia is 46 years old, a vice president of property management for a Boston development company. She is a cheerful woman; she smiles broadly when she arrives at a hospital for physical therapy.
“It’s just my nature,” she says. “I’m not a negative person.”
Still, she says, she cries every day.
“What is sinking in is that life has changed,” she says, her face awash with tears.
Sdoia is a runner, but she did not take part in the marathon. She was at the finish line, rooting for friends in the race, when the second bomb went off. Aside from her leg injury, she suffered hearing loss.
“Other than losing the bottom of my right leg, I’m still me,” she says.
And yet, so much has changed. She had to take more leave from the job she loved. Winter and snow were tough to handle. She’s had to tackle daily tasks — showering, vacuuming — differently.
Marc Fucarile, a 35-year-old roofer, also lost his right leg from above the knee; he has shrapnel in his heart, and still could lose his left leg.
“Everything has changed,” he says. “How I use the bathroom, how I shower, how I brush my teeth, how I get in and out of bed.”
His 6-year-old son, Gavin, does not always understand. “Gavin is like, ‘Hey, you want to go out and play?’ and I’m like, ‘There’s a foot of snow. I can’t do snow. We’re not going out and playing right now, sorry buddy.’ It breaks my heart.”
In the first three months after the explosions, the One Fund, formed last year by Menino and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, collected nearly $61 million in donations. In the next five months, another $12 million in contributions came in.
This big-heartedness was mirrored by a sort of proud defiance, exemplified by the slogan “Boston Strong.” The amount of merchandise bearing it was astonishing.
“In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, it became a peaceful mantra that people could repeat and believe in. And if they said it enough, tweeted it enough, hash-tagged it enough, it would actually be true,” says Dan Soleau, a brand development manager for Marathon Sports.
Jennifer Lawrence, a social worker at Boston Medical Center, says the emphasis on Boston Strong had had some unhappy consequences.
“A lot of it is portraying that people are so resilient and so strong. While that is absolutely true, we are neglecting that people still have hard days,” she said.
In the aftermath of the bombings, more than 600 people took advantage of the medical center’s mental health services. And while most needed no help after the first few months, she has seen an increase in demand in recent weeks, as the anniversary approached.
Still, she says a “vast majority” of those who came through the hospital’s programs intend to attend this year’s marathon, either as bystanders or runners.
Nicole Lynch will be there. Her brother, Sean Collier, was the MIT officer who was shot to death, allegedly by the two suspects in the bombings. She will be at the race with Team Collier Strong — a group of 25 friends and family members, including two of her siblings, who will run to raise money for a scholarship fund to put one person a year through law enforcement training.
William Evans will be there, but he has little choice. He has run the marathon 18 times — including last year — but this time he will be there as police commissioner, supervising beefed-up security including more than 3,500 police officers (more than twice last year’s force), more security cameras, more bomb-sniffing dogs, and restrictions on the kinds of bags runners and spectators can bring.
“It weighs heavy on my mind, that I want this to go off well,” he says. “I don’t want anyone hurt. I don’t ever want a repeat of the tragedy we saw that day.”