The Boston Marathon is pure love. It is a 26.2 mile wall of strangers supporting and challenging runners to dig in until they take a left on Boylston Street. We lived in Boston for thirteen years and have been out in Wellesley (also a part of the marathon route) for three. Every time I’ve gone to cheer on the runners I’ve had to blink back tears as I join the line of spectators. The vibe is so incredibly strong, you can feel pure love and hope emanating off every single person along the course.
I simply love the marathon. Chris and I ran it together twice, once before the bombings and once after.
The year of the bombings I was pregnant with Joey and I had the marathon playing on the television as background noise like I do every Patriot’s Day. Though we lived in Beacon Hill at the time I didn’t hear the bombs go off. But I did notice the live marathon feed change to a strange view of the freeway and then within moments my phone rang, it was Chris calling to say he was alright and that he would he would walk home along Comm. Ave. I didn’t get the chance to ask him what had happened, he just hung up. Then the panicked Facebook messages began rolling in.
“Has anyone heard from so-and-so?”
“Was so-and-so at the finish line?”
“I can’t get in touch with anyone, they’re blocking cellphones!”
On that day Chris worked at 745 Boylston Street, the office building is about a block up from Marathon Sports where the first bomb went off and right next door to Forum where the second bomb detonated about 15 seconds later. When he heard the loud booms he thought one of the ever-present construction cranes had come down. But then he went to the window and looked down at Boylston Street.
At that very moment eight-year-old Martin Richard, 23-year-old Lingzi Lu, and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell were dying, seventeen other people were so horrifically injured that they lost limbs, and countless others suffered devastating burns and lacerations.
No one works Patriot’s Day in Boston. Except Chris. He was alone in the office but for one other woman and the building’s doorman. An angel of a man who stopped Chris and his co-worker from leaving the building through the front door and walking straight into a bloody, heart-wrenching nightmare. As it is Chris still can’t shake the image of a policeman running, a toddler in his arms, blood draining from her ears.
We didn’t know anyone who got hurt that day. We know people who had crossed the finish line half an hour or so before the bombs went off. We know people who had been cheering on loved ones and strangers from those two blocks but had left before the madness. We were a hairsbreadth from tragedy, but it didn’t touch us. But if Patriot’s Day in Boston emanates love every year, the four confusing days after the 2013 Boston Marathon radiated fear and rage.
Preppers often times have a trigger event. This was mine.
There are three (okay, five) Rubbermaid containers sitting in my basement, their contents patiently awaiting calamity. Could those plastic boxes have done a damn thing if Chris had walked down to watch the runners before he came home that day? No.
But I heard a new term in those four days of madness: Shelter in place.
Now that was something I could control.
Thus, my five plastic containers. Enclosed within are candles and waterproof matches, batteries and a solar powered radio-slash-cell-phone-charger-slash-flashlight contraption. There’s a Bear Grylls fire starter and a Swiss Army knife. A much bigger knife, crank walkie talkies, a massive first aid kit plus extra medical supplies, lots of kids tylenol and advil and plenty for the adults too, and even a stash of canned foods. Dinty Moore Stew, beans, peanut butter, jelly, candy and a lot of water. And since I was a little girl and read of sailors developing scurvy on long boat trips, I’ve had this thing about access to vitamin C. So little cans of tropical fruit are included as well.
Preppers exist on a paranoia continuum. To the left are those who stock extra batteries for flashlights in case of an overnight power outage, to the right are wackadoos who build bunkers in remote northern locations. I suspected that I might be crossing into serious paranoia territory, and then I met Adrienne Raczki.
She sent an email introducing herself as a fellow Welleslian and asked if I might be interested in discussing something “truly terrifying.” She gave no further details but attached a giph of Dan Ackroyd in the Twilight Zone movie saying “You wanna see something really scary?”
How could I possibly say no to that?
Adrienne suggested that we meet at the Dunkin’ Donuts near Newton Lower Falls and informed me that she’d be wearing a pink Patagonia vest. I didn’t know what I would be wearing, but let’s be honest it would probably be workout clothes since my jeans had been a bit too tight lately.
I sat at the only free table in the corner of the shop, next to two men who were in the midst of a heated discussion about their business. One of the guys went on and on about everyone at the company being fed up with Kevin and his lack of focus. I reached into my bag and flipped on my voice recorder. I know it probably seems like, well maybe illegal but at the very least inappropriate, but I sort of like to study the way people talk to each other, it helps me write more realistic conversations and here I was alongside the perfect example of an argument. I would be turning the recorder on soon enough, I just turned it on a bit early.
“We’re all sick of your shit, Kevin,” the guy insisted loudly.
For his part, Kevin was agonizingly calm and even said a few things about constructive feedback. I wondered why they chose Dunks to have such a private talk.
A moment later I spotted Adrienne. Beneath the pink Patagonia vest she wore a white long sleeved t-shirt. A cute pair of distressed boyfriend jeans, a pair of well loved white Chuck Taylors and long highlighted hair completed the active lifestyle look. I guessed that she was in her very early thirties. She waved to me from the door and held up one finger, indicating she’d just be a minute while she placed her order.
I continued listening to the colleagues’ maddening back and forth and then groaned a little bit when I saw Adrienne approaching the table with a huge drink in one hand and a box of Munchkins in the other.
“Hieeeee!” She said cheerfully, placing an extra large iced Dunkachino and donuts on the table.
“Help yourself,” she said, indicating the box of Munchkins.
“Oh man, thank you. I don’t want to be that person but I’m trying really really hard to stay away from sweets.”
She smiled, “Oh, I totally get it. Sorry to provide temptation.”
“Well, I mean, I’ll have one,” I replied, sipping my black coffee.
We began to chat about the blog, Adrienne was pretty concerned about keeping her identity secret, but after a minute she sighed loudly and said, “Excuse me for a minute,” then she leaned towards the table next to us and with all the authority in the world said, “Hey, man. Settle the fuck down. There are people here trying to enjoy their coffee,” she paused for the briefest of moments then continued, “And Kevin, why are you letting this dickhead talk to you like that?”
The angry guy was about to say something when she cut him off, “We’ve heard enough from you today angry smurf. Don’t back chat me.”
The two stared each other down for a moment while Kevin and I stared at them staring at each other.
Angry smurf began a reply, “Mind your own business you nosey-”
“Finish that sentence,” Adrienne said calmly, slowly standing up.
The angry man looked like he was considering his options.
“Fuck this,” he finally said, shoving his chair back so hard that it fell over.
We all watched him storm out the door.
Kevin cleared his throat and said, “Thanks for your help. I was letting him blow off a little steam before I fired him.”
“Dumbshit,” Adrienne said without missing a beat. “Where’d you go to business school?”
With that Kevin actually laughed, “Enjoy your coffee, ladies,” he said before picking the chair up off the floor and leaving.
Then Adrienne turned to me, “Good riddance, huh?”
I was speechless, halfway between thanking her and getting up to leave myself.
“Sorry to be so aggro, but guys like that are the worst,” she said in a peppy voice.
A woman who had been watching the exchange as she waited for her order came over and high-fived Adrienne.
“Stuff like that happens to you all the time, doesn’t it?” I asked.
“I guess so, I’ve never been good at ignoring bullshit,” she said simply.
“Well, moving on,” she said, popping a Munchkin in her mouth, “As long as you’re sure that this story won’t be connected back to me in any way, then I have a ghost story for you, but I came to it by way of the apocalypse.”
Again, I was speechless.
“My husband and I are preppers.”
It took me a moment to understand what she was saying, at first I thought she was referring to being preppy. Then her meaning dawned on me.
“Oh!” I said, “You mean like stocking food for disaster?”
“Not just food,” she replied, stirring the massive Dunkachino with a straw. “All sorts of supplies. It’s about independence, really. The ability to take care of your own. You know, people in this country are asleep, we’ve allowed the government to run us all into a forever war so they can keep us in a state of perpetual state of fear and confusion. If we feel that there are bad guys swarming all the time then we won’t think clearly. They can’t have us thinking for ourselves,” she paused, sizing me up.
“Go on,” I said.
“Well, I mean have you thought about it at all?”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“The state of everything,” she insisted, her peppy demeanor gone. “This slow march towards disaster that we’ve all signed on for. You’re educated, you have access to resources, you recognize that there is darkness here. But what are you doing to prepare for the end days?”
“Good question,” I said, afraid she was about to whip out a Bible. “What are you doing to prepare for it?”
“Everything I can,” she replied excitedly pulling her chair in closer to the table. “I grew up in California where it felt like disaster was hiding around every corner. The mudslides and rolling blackouts, wildfires, riots. Not to mention the threat of the big one, the earthquake that would kill us all.
“Then this one Sunday in church our preacher referred to armageddon in his sermon. I’d never heard the term before. I read a lot so I went to the library and checked out a Time Life book on the subject.
“I read it once then flipped back to the front page and read it again, only that time I took notes. It made so much sense, I realized that all the disaster around me was a part of a bigger picture. We were being given a glimpse, a warning of what was to come. Little frightening messages of the inevitable.
“So I began reading the newspaper every day, then two or three a day. There were signs from all over the world, right there in black and white. Proof of our imminent advance towards the apocalypse but no one was talking about it.”
I didn’t know what to say so I sipped my coffee.
“So I decided to be prepared,” Adrienne concluded.
“But isn’t the whole point of the apocalypse that no one makes it out alive?” I asked.
“No, no, no, no,” Adrienne said rapidly. “I’m not a religious nut. I’m not talking Jesus coming down on a flaming horse and branding us all, I’m talking about the clearing of the planet. The book of Revelation is allegory. A warning, an incredibly forward thinking one.”
“You really think something like that is going to happen?”
“Yes,” she replied simply. “And I’ve been preparing for it since I graduated from college.”
“How in the world did you end up in Wellesley?” I asked, thinking this wasn’t exactly the ideal place to prepare for the end of the world.
“My husband grew up here but we met in college. We both got our Bachelor’s in Horticulture at Oregon State. I met Elliot in the program while we were worked a farm about half an hour from campus. We got to talking and it turned out we were both interested in the end times.”
“What are the chances of that?” I mused.
“I know, right?” She agreed with a big smile.
“But still,” I pressed, “Why did you guys move back here? I would think you’d be better off riding out the apocalypse in the mountains or something.”
“Uh uh,” she replied firmly. “The government’s entrenched in the mountains. Trust me, you don’t want to be anywhere near them when it all falls apart. It’s going to be hard enough to keep from getting drafted no matter where you are.
“Ultimately, we chose Wellesley to be close to Boston, we’re foodies.”
I tried really hard to maintain a neutral expression, that word tended to give me the eye rolls.
“We couldn’t move to New York, you’d have to be an idiot to live there,” Adrienne declared. “Sure it’s the ideal place to experience food but the place is a death trap. I shudder to imagine what will become of those people. Boston’s fine,” she waved a hand dismissively, “We blend in here and it’s easy to escape.”
“Hmm,” I said considering. The traffic around here on a Tuesday was maddening enough, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like during a world-wide emergency. But I thought better of pointing it out and asked, “What exactly do you think is going to happen?”
“A large scale trigger event, I’d say it’s a toss up between climate change initiating a technology fueled financial meltdown and plain old fashioned nuclear war.”
“What about an outbreak?” I asked.
Adrienne shook her head knowingly, “Illness in itself won’t elicit enough panic to cause full scale disaster. Of course, disease will come after the initial event. The outbreaks we’ve seen around the world are a PG-rated preview of what we’ll encounter when the system collapses. The main event hasn’t happened yet so the government will continue to allow certain structures to remain in place to contain disease.
“But, when an outbreak occurs when half of our medical professionals are already dead, when we have no electricity and people are already weak from lack of proper nutrition, that’s the outbreak that will imprison the sick in hospitals in order to protect the healthy.”
As I tried to digest the image of the possibility Adrienne whispered, “You know to stay away from hospitals, right?”
“I love hospitals,” I replied shaking my head.
“Oh man,” Adrienne sighed. “Look, that’s fine for now, I guess, but you do realize that you’re completely giving up all freedom the second you walk through those automatic doors.”
I looked at her skeptically, I’m perfectly happy to give up my so-called freedom to medical professionals. Afterall, what good is freedom if you’re hurt or dead?
“Think about it,” Adrienne insisted pointing a finger at the table. “Imagine how it will all play out. Let’s say the war is on and the enemy decides to weaken our systems by releasing biological warfare on the civilian population.
“In wartime, the kind of future war that we will be facing anyway, even the flu will be used as a biological weapon. So let’s say the agent is released and someone in your family comes down with symptoms. You don’t want to contaminate everyone else in the house so you all decide it’s best for the infected family member to go over to Newton Wellesley Hospital, just to get some fluids and medicine. Let’s imagine it’s your husband. He’ll get the rest and treatment he needs and be back with the family within a week, right?”
“Right,” I agreed.
“Wrong!” Adrienne said loudly. “He’s not coming back home. The hospital goes into lockdown mode with military personnel guarding all entrances. They’ve successfully contained a portion of the diseased population and those people will not be allowed back out if there is even the slightest chance they might infect healthy citizens.
“Chris ain’t leavin’ that hospital, it’ll be just you and the kids.”
“They won’t be allowed to do that,” I said, weakly, the idea of being separated from Chris driving a spike of fear in my heart.
“It’s martial law, Liz, they can do whatever they want.”
Adrienne took a big sip of her coffee drink.
I suddenly realized that I had a Munchkin in my hand. My God, I thought, How many of these have I eaten?”
“What’s your antibiotic situation like?” Adrienne asked.
“I don’t have one,” I admitted.
“What if you or one of the kids gets an ear infection in that first winter? Or you slice your hand collecting firewood?”
“My doctor’s not going to just right me and open-ended prescription just in case of natural disaster or nuclear war,” I argued, thinking of Joey’s frequent ear infections and feeling panic rise within me.
“There are other ways of getting meds,” Adrienne said, her eyebrows raised, “Comprende?”
“You mean order then from Mexico?” I said, laughing nervously.
Adrienne’s eyebrows stayed up. She finally said, “Have you done anything to prepare? For even the smallest of emergencies?”
“Oh sure,” I replied giving her a quick overview of the contents in my basement Rubbermaid bins.
“Okay, first of all, you should never tell anyone exactly what you have stockpiled and where.”
“So that was a trick question?” I said, irritated with the know-it-all sitting across from me.
“No, it’s fine to tell me. I have my shit together, but don’t go telling other people you have water and supplies in your basement.”
“Trust me, it’s not something that I’d bring up at the block party,” I replied.
“Good,” she said, ignoring my sarcasm. “What about cash? It will matter, in the early days at least. Though when it sinks in that things are never going back to normal we’ll have to rely on trade. Water will obviously be incredibly valuable, especially if we are in a fallout situation and are unable to safely collect rainwater or anything from streams or lakes.
“The thing about water, though, is that it will basically be priceless. So it shouldn’t be used for trade unless you are desperate for medication. But even then, you might be bringing hell down on your own head if you let the wrong people know that you have safe drinking water. And let’s be honest, at that point the people who are willing and able to trade valuable medications are going to be the type of people who will rain down hell.”
Adrienne laughed conspiratorially and I forced a smile then said, “I’ve stocked up on packs of Starbucks Via instant coffee. I can’t imagine being without coffee and I actually thought they might be a good thing to trade with people.”
“Huh,” Adrienne said, “Yeah, that’s brilliant. I may have to steal that idea from you!”
“Steal away,” I replied, feeling proud for getting an answer right.
“I didn’t hear you mention any weapons though, do you have a gun?”
I shook my head. Then Adrienne shook her head back at me and asked, “Then how are you going to deal with the zombies?”
I began giggling nervously. This woman was serious and I am fucking serious when I tell you that I hate zombies. Not that I think they could actually exist, it’s the idea of them that gets me. People losing all semblance of humanity, irrational, violent, unwavering in their hunger for destruction. It frightens me deeply. There are glimpses of it within normally rational people. Like when the news films a group of crazed sports fans rocking a car until it flips over as the larger group watches on and cheers. What in the fuck is that, right? It’s terrifying. I did not like where this conversation was headed.
Adrienne must have noticed my obvious discomfort because she quickly explained, “When I say zombies, I don’t mean the ones we see on television. I’m referring to the real walking dead. The carriers, the people who didn’t prepare, the injured or sick. They’re as good as dead, so I call them zombies. When the world is falling apart you’ll have to be able to recognize who those people are and cut them off.”
“That’s pretty cold,” I chided. “So you’ll shoot anyone you think might be too weak to survive?”
“No, not exactly. But if someone comes in between me and my family and survival then I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“I’ll be sure to stay clear of you in the event of an emergency then,” I said seriously. “I wouldn’t want there to be any confusion about my intentions.”
“Look, I’m not saying I’m going to go out and just pick people off that might be a threat. But people will be desperate and irrational. I’m simply ready to protect my family if I need too.”
“Sounds a little paranoid,” I commented.
“I’d call it prepared. Look, everyone has different priorities. I take responsibility for my family and their future in the event of an emergency. To survive armageddon one will need to make hard decisions. Otherwise, you’ll end up becoming a zombie swept up in the initial harvest,” she replied, matter-of-factly.
“Dark,” I said.
“It sure will be,” she agreed. “Do a quick Google search for “refugee camp conditions,” and see how long you can read first hand accounts before you have to turn away. Part of surviving is taking control of your own survival.”
“But those people didn’t have a choice, they were fleeing war or some other disaster. It’s not a matter of taking control, those people were caught in the crossfire and it’s not their fault.”
“I know that, I’m just giving you an example of what it will be like if you allow the government to round you up with the promise of food, water and shelter. If you fall for it you might as well sign the death certificates for yourself and your whole family.
“Self-sufficiency is the only way to survive what’s coming.”
“I don’t know if I want to survive in that kind of world,” I said honestly.
“Yes you do,” she replied.
We sat in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. I couldn’t help but imagine my girls, dusty and too-thin playing in a tent, amongst a never-ending sea of duplicate structures. I felt sick that I had never truly allowed myself to imagine what it must be like to be chased from home. Fuck worrying about armageddon. There was enough hell on earth already.
I finally said, “Well, you’ve managed to completely freak me out, do I dare even ask about your ghost story?”
“Yes!” Adrienne exclaimed, “I’m sorry, I could talk about prepping for hours. But what I really wanted to talk to you about was what happened in my old house. I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard scarier stories, but this was the craziest thing.
Crazier than what we’ve already discussed? I thought. “So what happened?” I asked with a sigh.
“It all started when Elliott and I found a body in our basement.”