Too Lucky: Narrow Escape at the Finish Line

Ready to film on race day.

By Kiva Liu
BU New Service
When I came to United States from China last September, I learned enough English to survive. I had enough money to pay my tuition and enough determination to work hard, but no expectation to face up to death continuously.
The chance for me, an ordinary young girl, to come so close to death may be as small as winning the lottery. I knew about death only from the news or TV series until a morning in December.
On my way to school, on the Green Line, I saw a body covered by a white cloth. Red blood dotted on the white. A life ended at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Pleasant Street near a huge truck. At that moment, I did not know the victim was Christopher Weigl, my first American friend, my partner in the “Ambassador Program” between American students and international students.
In the last four months, I tried to write about Chris three times, every time I started, I could not finish because the pain was still there. It has taken me so long to admit that the tall guy who walked me home in the dark night, who teased me about my English pronunciation, who cooked me terrible dinners and told me about the girl he liked, had disappeared from the world.
I saw his excellent work as a photojournalist. I remembered a night, when we were talking about our future in journalism. I told him about my confusion.
“I have no concentration. I may write, produce video or take photos for any media,” I said.
He paused, and said to me, “You need to know what exactly you want to do, and work hard on that. If you want to do photo, how can you compete with a photo guy like me?”
Sitting among the mourners at the memorial service, my eyes welling with tears, I suddenly realized that if the person who died were me, I would have achieved nothing to show the world. The feeling of shame somehow inspired me. If I will die someday, I want to die with the glory that Chris has.
I felt my dream closer this semester, when I knew my first independent documentary — about a runner in Boston Marathon — could be used by the BU News Service. I did not have the chance to tell Chris that I finally found my concentration — in making documentaries, which combines my art background and journalism ability.
For two weeks before Marathon Day, I followed a runner. Her name is Rebecca Roche, who regards running as the dream of her life. However, her ankle was fractured when she was 15 and was injured again and again later in her life. She quit running because she was injured when she was training for the 2009 Chicago Marathon. After she signed up for this year’s Boston Marathon, she was injured again this January. When everyone was worried about her injury, she said: “I will finish the Marathon anyway, even on my hands and knees.”
I prepared everything before filming the final footage about the race, by editing whenever and wherever I could.
The morning of the marathon, I arrived at the Marathon Sports store on Boylston Street in Boston. I interviewed Rebecca’s parents, boyfriend and friends, and stayed with them.
“I will kiss her and hug her when she is finished,” said John Silvia, Rebecca’s boyfriend. He works at Marathon Sports and met Rebecca when she came to buy shoes. We got a good spot on the sidewalk outside of the store to wait for her.
Soon after she crossed the finish line, Silvia darted to meet Rebecca near the finish line. When he disappeared from my camera shot, I hesitated about whether I should follow him. I knew I might not be able to find him in the crowd and that they would come back to the store, where I could interview them.
But then. . . thinking about the image of their kisses and hugs, I ran with Silvia with my camera and tripod, leaving my camera bag with my purse outside the store, and my backpack with my passport and laptop in the store.
“I will watch out for you, honey,” said Beth Roche, Rebecca Roche’s mother, when I left.
A blast happened behind me after I left, and then another.

My camera bag sits near the scene of the blast.
My camera bag sits near the scene of the blast.

“What are you looking at? What are you waiting for?” A lady behind me yelled at me as I stared at the smoke, trying to figure out what happened.
It must be a terrorism attack, which is the information I read from the fear and tears in people’s eyes. Will the third bomb hit me? I wondered, when people behind me pushed me forward along the street until I could not see or smell the smoke. I was standing on the open space near Copley Station, where I remembered that I’m a journalist, because my camera was with me.
Should I go back to report? You are the only child in you family, I told myself. I started to run desperately and heavily, hugging with my camera and tripod. After I ran about three blocks away, I realized that no one knew where would be safe. I had no choice but stay calm. I started to report and interviewed people, in order to distract myself and make up for the loss of my work in the laptop, which was still in the store.
I came back to school and edited a news package with my shaking hands. After I turned it in and left school, I finally started to cry.
The FBI had taken my camera and SD card with my work as evidence. I was glad to accept the fact that I had lost many important things, but not my life.
I borrowed money from a friend to live on.
I reported my safety to my mum almost every hour, especially after HangZhou Daily, a newspaper in south China mistakenly ran my picture instead of Lingzhi Lu, who had been killed in the blast.
I woke up in the deep night and tried to understand what happened in my life.
I talked to tons of officers and FBI agents, trying to find my bags.
I trembled when I heard the police or an ambulance siren.
I said no to any journalist who tried to interview a mutual friend of Lingzhi Lu and I.
I got a chance to cry again in a gathering in memory of Lu. The gathering was almost for me.
When we were all kept at home during a lockdown of the city, I had gotten used to living without everything I relied on. When everyone was relieved about the capture of Suspect No.2, I still wondered whether it was the right person. I heard the laughter in the street from a party downstairs. People always can move on, and they have to, while nothing can bring the dead back.
It might be the time for me to move on in my way. I told myself.
Soon after the capture, I heard news that an earthquake happened in my hometown in China. I could not reach my parents and any other friends for about one hour.
Images of the earthquake in my hometown in 2008, images of Chris Weigl’s body and images of the bombs flooded into my head. Crying was the only thing I could do when waiting for an update about the earthquake.
Finally, I found my parents safe and sound. It became my mother’s turn to call me almost every hour and report their safety.
Three months after Chris Weigl’s death, I went to visit his parents. They still cried when we talked about Chris. However, they still showed me all the pictures with his stories in their house. In the picture they took with me, Chris was looking at us with a smile in a picture on the wall.

Me with the Weigel family.
Me with the Weigel family.

More than two thousand people, most of them did not know Lu, attended her memorial at BU. I showed up although I was afraid to go.
I bought some flowers and wrote a letter to Danling Zhou, a Chinese girl who was injured in the explosion, even though I did not know her.
I visited Rebecca Roche’s Mother, who was injured after I left. She loved the Chinese silk I gave her as a gift.
I wrote down everything happened, although it was a torture for me.
I think that the reason I could do all these things is that I realize that sometimes the pain could always be a part of my life. It never goes away, no matter how hard I try. I have to learn to live with it.
Sometimes I felt living may be harder than dying. But as long as I’m alive, I have the responsibility to live for the ones who are not able to live anymore.
I complained about the bad luck, until I realized that I’m the luckiest among the lucky ones.
The more frustrating life is, the more I want to flight for it.
I’m too lucky to give up, while life is too short to waste.

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