The Men in the Wheelchair

This article was an assignment for my Feature Writing course the first semester of my junior year at Boston College. The assignment was to go to a location off-campus and sit and observe for an hour and detail what you see. I chose to visit the finish line of the Boston Marathon and this is what I saw. 

It’s 2:19 pm on a cool Wednesday autumn afternoon and in the midpoint of Boylston Street between Exeter Street and Dartmouth Street lies a stretch of yellow paint with the word “FINISH” in navy blue letters. The ambiance is serene as if you were walking by the Charles River walking by or taking a stroll with your dog. At the epicenter of this street sits a man, motionless in his wheelchair, with a shopping cart full of soiled clothing.

With a 7 Eleven cup in his hand facing west of Boylston street, it’s as if he is replaying events that occurred on this street. Five months ago, this man would have had a front row seat to the Boston Marathon bombings and the chaos that followed the explosions. Citizens, law enforcement, medical staff, all spring into action on April 15th, 2013, but today, September 18th, 2013, the man sits their on his wheelchair, with no one offering any help.

A man dressed in a white shirt and a black tie sits on a bench across from the man in the wheelchair. Sipping on his Red Bull and smoking a cigarette, the man pauses and takes in the calm autumn day, relishing the serene nature of the street. A street once filled with thousands of cheers and then thousands of screams of panic now lies dormant, with only footsteps to be heard. All the while, pedestrians pass by the man in the wheelchair as he sits there in the same position, 7 Eleven cup in one hand and his eyes in the direction of where the bombs went off.

Cars, taxis, and buses drive by the finish line. The 55 bus stops in front of the north side of Boston Public Library and by the door lies a sticker in the shape of ribbon with blue and yellow colors and a “T” in the center of the ribbon. Off in the distance, a siren blares. As the ambulance approaches the finish line, the sirens cease for a moment as if to observe a moment of silence. The ambulance crosses the finish line and at the intersection of Boylston and Dartmouth Street, blares its sirens as it begins to accelerate. It’s 2:40 p.m. and the man still sits there in the wheelchair with a 7 Eleven cup in one hand and his eyes still fixated west on Boylston Street.

A young man dressed in tattered clothing approaches the man in the wheelchair and begins a conversation with him. While it is quiet, the conversation is inaudible due to the myriad of footsteps and speeding cars passing by. The young man departs leaving some wires on top of the shopping cart of clothes and approaches a man smoking a cigarette to ask for one. A couple walks by with the man wearing no shirt and tattered jeans and the woman wearing an unclean sweater and flip-flops. There is a man lying down in front of the subway entrance on the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth. For an entire minute, 33 people pass by the man in the wheelchair without putting anything into his 7 Eleven cup.

Suddenly, the man struggles to get up and walks towards the young man he was conversing with earlier. He tells the young man he needs to use the bathroom so the young man takes the 7 Eleven cup and replaces the man in his wheelchair. Nothing else happens. The young man sits there in the wheelchair facing the same direction as the old man with a 7 Eleven cup in his right hand.

Five months ago, these men may have been helped. Five months ago, every one in the vicinity of the bombings was evacuated and brought to safety. Five months ago, the city of Boston was united against terrorism and everyone sought to help out those unable to help themselves. Five months later, two men took turns sitting in wheelchairs hoping they too would be assisted just like the victims. Three middle-aged individuals approached the man with the black tie to ask about the bombings, but strolled by the men in the wheelchair asking for assistance. Five months ago still reigned over a moment happening in the present.

Across the street stood the Charlesmark Hotel with a banner in the middle of the building reading, “Charlesmark Strong. What Big Papi Said.” Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz cried out to Bostonians in the aftermath of the Boston bombings, “This is our (expletive) city!” Five months later, two men in a wheelchair wait for helping hands of their own along with many other displaced individuals at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

BM Finish Line


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