We searched for a break in the crowd, close to the finish line, someplace where my kids could watch their mother run by and cheer her on.
It was Marathon Monday 2013 and we had scored a parking spot at the Boston Marriott Copley Place before finding a prime spot on the sidewalk in front of the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street, close to the finish line. It was our lucky day.
Gail was running the Boston Marathon with a friend, Rene. We had taken our kids — Nicholas, 12; Amanda, 11; and Allison, 7 — out of school so they could see their mother in her sixth marathon. I had promised Allison we would get ice cream once Gail and Rene had passed, but she was already hungry and a little tired and wanted a place to sit. She wiggled between the bars of the metal barriers set between the spectators and the street and sat on the curb, near that mailbox. Every so often she asked if it was time to get ice cream.
We spotted Gail the instant she broke from the crowd. She stopped to hug the kids and me before running toward the finish line. After that, Allison pestered me again and again for that ice cream. We should wait for Rene so we can cheer her on, I said, but Allison and the others couldn’t wait. Then Gail called; she had crossed the finish line and wanted us to meet her there. We headed over. We walked past the marathon flags and the bleachers and that’s when the first bomb went off.
I didn’t know then what had caused the explosion, only that I had three children I needed to get away from the smoke that billowed behind us. Seconds later, another explosion. That’s when I knew we were under attack.
I thought for a moment about turning back to help others escape, but it wasn’t an option because everyone was coming toward us — and my first instinct was to get my children away from there. While I looked forward for possible escape routes, Nicholas looked back and saw the carnage. He still talks about it. I was a few years out of the Air Force and my training kicked in; I directed our kids down an alley that led to Commonwealth Avenue, away from the crowds and garbage cans, away from high-value targets.
I called Gail again and again, but the lines were jammed. I later learned that for nearly 15 minutes (30?), she had tried to call me too. All she knew was that the last time she had seen us, we were outside of the Forum restaurant, the site of the second bomb. The kids and I walked a street away, parallel to the finish line, before darting back to look for Gail. Somehow, amid the chaos and crowd, Gail and I found each other.
Later, I would see two photos taken that day. In the first, my kids and I are standing on Boylston Street minutes before one of the Marathon bombers placed a backpack next to that mailbox. The second was taken after the bomb detonated. That day started with searching for a parking spot and a good place to view the marathon. Ten years on, we continue to search for a reason why we survived when others didn’t.
I haven’t found one yet, just the realization that bad things can happen to anyone and survival sometimes depends on dumb luck. I know Marathon day means so many things to different people, but for me it’s a reminder that simply having my wife, our children, and the people we love is a gift.
Andy Jordan lives in Amherst, N.H. Amy MacKinnon is the Globe’s deputy op-ed page editor.