Claire’s College Lesbianage: Thirteen Miles From Boston

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Autostraddle’s College Lesbianage: a glimpse of college life through the wide eyes of six freshly fallen snowflake first-year queers. This month’s update will be given individually! Today we’ve got Wellesley’s Claire with some thoughts on “queer privilege.”


I don’t know how to write about Wellesley right now without writing about the Boston Marathon. Wellesley is not known for our devotion to sports, but the marathon is very, very special to us. As much as Wellesley is tied to the marathon, though, Boston isn’t tied to us. Boston is Wellesley’s Best Friend Forever, but Boston is a little bit more lukewarm about Wellesley. We’re just one of many suburbs, 13 miles down the line, safely tucked away in our liberal arts college bubble. Except that almost all of us that had friends running, friends in town cheering, friends on their way to meet other friends at the finish line, relatives and lovers and more friends living in places that were in some way affected by the violence that occurred during the week of the Boston Marathon.

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“We are safe.” It was our mantra from Monday to Saturday. Every Facebook update, every phone call with a frantic friend or family member, we repeated, “We are safe.”

“We are safe.” We are thirteen miles from the center of chaos, thirteen miles from tragedy. Thirteen miles: that’s huge to anyone on the East Coast, where the roads are cow paths traced with brick and getting from a suburb to the center of town takes at least an hour and careful planning. But for some of my family members, thirteen miles is the distance from them to their next-door neighbors. “We are safe.” We repeat this mantra on the phone sixteen times to different relatives. It becomes a litany. It becomes a line in a conversation we could have in our sleep, repeating our mantra, reassuring our family, and hearing their grief. Everyone feels the chaos; I don’t know of any other time I’ve heard my grandmother cry. We are exhausted, and have no emotions left to emote because we’ve been put through the wringer, but we squeeze five drops of empathy to comfort those half a continent away from tragedy. We are safe except that Boston is our lifeline, Boston is our best friend; Boston is our dot on the map.

Boston is in chaos, and “we are safe,” except that my girlfriend’s best friend is running the marathon and the pace she was setting when she passed us at the halfway point puts her in Copley at the worst possible moment. All I can do is hold my girlfriend and hope that her friend’s pace faltered. Her friend is safe: but it’s a few terrible hours before she’s back to campus.

“We are safe”, but the people who work at or commute to Wellesley are not, so the campus is shut down on Friday, leaving the rest of us to watch the news cycle like a washing machine, throwing theories like limp t-shirts around and around and around and around. The same five seconds of search footage flashes across the screen every two minutes and so we leave, we cuddle up in a different wing of a different dorm to watch G-rated movies and cry. We are safe but my friend is currently trying to get to a wedding in New York, and we’re not quite sure how we’re going to get her back to campus if she doesn’t make her flight out of this ghost town with all of the public transportation shut down.

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We are safe and when it ends, we don’t cheer. Some people posted “it’s over” to facebook and the people who still have the emotional capacity to react to the news thank various gods for our safety. We are safe but one of my best friends told me that this is the first time ze hasn’t felt invincible. I’ve never felt particularly invincible, but I get where ze is coming from.

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Liberal feminist atheist lesbian teenager.

Claire has written 4 articles for us.

11 Comments

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    The photos posted alongside this essay are jarring, like how can you talk about the tragedy that killed 3 people while posting pictures of silly signs about kissing? It seems almost disrespectful.

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      These are the photos we as Wellesley students have of the marathon- the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, with students cheering and holding up signs asking for kisses, is an enormously important tradition. So we equate this terrifying day with those happy photos, and it is jolting for us to flip through our Facebook albums and know that half an hour after we took these, we were huddled in someone’s room tuned to the police scanner, refreshing runner trackers and trying to get in touch with people in Copley. This was just our experience of that day.

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      Don’t you DARE tell us posting photos of how Boston experienced Marathon Monday is disrespectful. Because the thing is – it WAS jarring. Horribly so. I passed my downstairs neighbor walking out my door at 2:40 pm on April 15th. “Happy Marathon Monday!!” he said with a giant smile. It was a gorgeous, sunny, happy day and the city and news were full of cheer. Twenty minutes later, I got off the T near Boston Common in the middle of an evacuation, with people running away from Copley, frantically trying to find loved ones, calling to see if their friends were safe and not being able to get through.

      The entire mood of a city changed in an instant. It may be remembered around the world now as a tragedy, but for us – Marathon Monday started off as a day of joy, happiness, and city pride. Those pictures are part of how WE remember it, and you have absolutely no right to judge what is and is not appropriate under the circumstances.

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        I’m totally with you on this one. Just because what happened later on at the marathon was a tragedy, doesn’t mean that those who were there should censor their experience of the entire day. What happened was a tragedy not only because 3 people died, but because hundreds of people had reserved that day for joy and happiness, cheering for their loved ones and following up with traditions like the Wellesley Scream tunnel.

        Telling people how they should view that day is more disrespectful IMO.

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        Yeah, sorta sick of people who don’t live in/near Boston telling people who do live in Boston how we’re supposed to be reacting or recounting this event. Sorta sick of people crowing about police invasion of rights in the Watertown search, even though I’ve heard nothing but gratitude and pride for the police and how they respectfully conducted the search from people in Watertown and greater Boston.

        Sorta sick of people chiding us about being happy when the bombers weren’t a threat anymore, because “people died and lives are ruined and that’s not something to celebrate.” Well, luckily we’re human beings, with an incredible capacity to experience multiple conflicting emotions at once. Grieving that people are hurt and dead doesn’t preclude us from also being happy that no more people will be hurt and dead because of these particular terrorists, and from celebrating the incredibly brave actions of law enforcement and first responders who worked around the clock to keep us safe.

        It’s intellectual hipsterism in the most thoughtless way possible. “Beware of things that are fun to argue.”

        Be that as it may in a more general sense, I appreciate in this instance how someone who’s not familiar with Marathon Monday could not understand why it’s appropriate to have those pictures up in this kind of article. It’s an excellent example of a time when it’s probably best for these unfamiliar people to hold their judgements until they have all the relevant information, which is something that all of us struggle with frequently.

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    As someone born and raised on the West Coast, I really didn’t understand the significance of the Boston Marathon and the traditions that come along with it until the bombings. Thanks for sharing your experience & perspective.

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    One minute I’m discussing with a friend how I’m too tired from the weekend to go to the finish line to cheer people on, the next we hear explosions, and write them off as construction down the street. Except that it was a holiday. They weren’t doing construction. Marathon Monday was 100% about extremes, and the photos are an expression of how we were supposed to be feeling, how we did feel until we didn’t. Half a week later, a police officer was killed 2 blocks away from my dorm, and we on lockdown 30 minutes later for the next 12 hours.

    Claire, I’ve been wondering if you were going to/going to be able to write about this. This was Wonderfully eloquent, and captured many of my feelings about that week. As an MIT student, this was our experience as well, not 13 miles but just enough distance for it to feel far away, “all the way over the river” until Thursday night. I’ve never felt totally invincible either, but I’ve never felt less invincible than those few days.

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    As another student in the Boston area (unfortunately, much closer to the bombings – I go to BU, and as you all know, a grad student from here was among the victims) I can relate so much to this article. And I co-sign the decision to use happy photos; I saw enough violence and carnage on my TV and in the newspaper in the days after the event, to the point where I had to turn off the TV even when I wanted to know what was going on, because I couldn’t take anymore. I much prefer publicizing the happy side of the marathon, the only side we get most years that, unfortunately, was overshadowed by the tragic events this year.

    And I agree with the “don’t tell Bostonians how to process this” comments: it was all over the news everywhere, sure, but it REALLY surrounded us here in Boston. We’ve (or at least, I’ve) had enough.

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