Teary thoughts on a special day in Boston with my daughter
It was a sunny Monday, like this one -- the day of her first big league baseball game -- and my pig-tailed seven-year-old stood on the Boston Marathon finish line, blinking back the sunlight.
This was our "Special Day," as she kept calling it, just the two of us riding the swan boats in the Boston Public Garden, eating ice cream from a van on Boston Common, then a lunch of Fenway Franks at the ballpark, and finally fortifying ourselves for the two-hour drive home to Connecticut with a bulk purchase at Sugar Heaven, the candy store on Boylston Street.
As my daughter drowsed in the back seat, bracing for a return to three siblings and domestic chaos, I asked her what she thought and she said: "Best day ever." And then, too soon, we were home, and Siobhan's carriage turned back into a pumpkin.
That was last Aug. 27 -- the last day of summer vacation, the day before school started -- but I returned to it again and again on Monday, after seeing that bomb go off next to Sugar Heaven, and the chaotic scenes that followed at the Boston Marathon finish line, where my daughter still stands in a photograph that I took on that other Monday seven months ago, our Special Day, a day full of promise and Skittles.
In that photo on the finish line, saved on my phone, she wears a sweatshirt emblazoned Love & Peace.
When the news broke Monday that the bombings had killed an eight-year-old -- another child out on a Special Day, Boylston Street a festival of flags and runners and happy spectators, and shop windows chockablock with candy -- I felt the way I did in December, racing home from the Newtown area after the Sandy Hook shootings and running into the house like Jim Valvano: looking for someone to hug.
It happened again on Monday, when Newtown residents were on the course and among the spectators in Boston. The kids burst into the house from a happy and oblivious afternoon in the park, bewildered and resistant as I hugged them.
When my eldest daughter, who is now eight, saw the chaos on CNN, I explained to her what had happened, and where. She asked who had done it (I didn't know), and why (I couldn't say) and whether the people who work in Sugar Heaven -- repeatedly in the background on TV -- were OK.
Sugar Heaven still comes up, seven months after our Special Day, because scarcely a week has passed since last August 27 that my daughter hasn't asked when we can go back to Boston, to another Red Sox game, to Sugar Heaven, and to run across the marathon finish line, arms raised in triumph like we'd just won the race.
She has plenty to remind her. We came home from our Special Day with a Red Sox cling decal for Mom's van, and a sequined Sox hat for Siobhan, and a father-and-daughter picture taken by the roving Fenway photographer in the stands. It's now framed on my daughter's bedroom wall, the Green Monster as backdrop to the Best Day Ever.
That day continues to echo with a series of inside jokes and secret handshakes. Shelling peanuts not long ago at Five Guys, Siobhan recalled in front of her siblings -- still lording it over them -- that the first time she had ever cracked open a shelled peanut was at Fenway, on our Special Day.
She has repeatedly changed the family photo on my phone's lockscreen to a photo of just herself, beneath the stands at Fenway, standing next to the Sox logo, on our Special Day. (It's on my phone right now, again, I see.)
Quite why or how that day has taken up so much space in her head is hard to say, except that it was the last day of summer, not to mention a rare day off from competing for her parents' attention, a day when we looked in every shop window on Boylston and Newbury Streets and the Red Sox beat the Royals and candy was in endless supply.
"Want to go to another game next year?" I asked as we merged onto the Mass Pike.
"I want to go to every game next year," she said.
I've been thinking of all of this all afternoon, and into the evening on Monday -- another beautiful Monday in Boston, when the Red Sox won and thousands had their pictures taken at the Boston Marathon finish line and plenty of kids would have pressed their faces to the glass of Sugar Heaven.
A Special Day for so many, Patriots Day, pregnant with potential as the Best Day Ever.
Except that now I'm looking at a picture of my eight-year-old blinking into the sunlight on Boylston Street, and I'm blinking back tears.