By Denise Lavoie
and Paige Sutherland
BOSTON: Every time Roseann Sdoia comes home, she must climb 18 steps — six stairs into the building, 12 more to her apartment. It is an old building in Boston’s North End, with doors that are big and heavy, not an easy place for an amputee to live.
When she left the hospital, a month after the Boston marathon bombing, she had a choice: She could find another place to live, one more suitable for someone who wears a prosthetic that replaces most of her right leg. Or, she could stay.
“Early on when all this happened, so many people were telling me to move out of the city and move out of my apartment because of the stairs and I don’t have an elevator and parking is not very convenient,” she recalled. “But I have been able to get past all of that.” In that, she mirrors Boston itself.
“I have to tell you, honestly, Boston is a better city now than it was before,” said Thomas Menino, Boston’s former mayor. “People learned how to deal with each other, they had to deal with a tragedy.”
Not that it’s been easy. Three people were killed at last year’s Boston Marathon, and more than 260 were injured, and the legacy of trauma and lost limbs remains — as does the shock of having endured a terrorist attack on Marathon Monday. Nor can Bostonians forget the fear that gripped a city locked down in the midst of a manhunt.
But Boston has been able to get past all of that. Copley Square is no longer littered with impromptu tributes to the dead and injured; they’re now on display in an exhibit at the Boston Public Library, where Robert White of Lynn saw meaning in every teddy bear and pair of sneakers: “Every last one of the items says ‘Boston Strong’ or ‘I will return next year.’ ”
Victims cope with change
Sdoia, 46, is a vice president of property management for a Boston development company. She is a cheerful woman; she smiled broadly when she arrived at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown for physical therapy.
“It’s just my nature,” she said. “I’m not a negative person.” Still, she said, she cries every day.
“What is sinking in is that life has changed,” she said, her face awash with tears.
Sdoia is a runner, but she did not take part in the marathon. She was cheering at the finish line on April 15, when the second bomb went off. Aside from her leg injury, she suffered hearing loss.
“Other than losing the bottom of my right leg, I’m still me,” she said. “I haven’t changed, I am still the same person I was before.”
And yet, so much has changed. She had to take more leave from the job she loved. Winter, and snow, were tough to handle. She’s had to tackle daily tasks — showering, vacuuming — differently.
Marc Fucarile, 35, a roofer, also lost part of his right leg; he has shrapnel in his heart, and still could lose his left leg.
“Everything has changed,” he said. “How I use the bathroom, how I shower, how I brush my teeth, how I get in and out of bed.”
His son, Gavin, 6, does not always understand. “Gavin is like, ‘Hey, you want to go out and play?’ and I’m like, ‘There’s a foot of snow. I can’t do snow. We’re not going out and playing right now, sorry buddy.’ It breaks my heart.”
A proud defiance
In the first three months after the explosions, the One Fund collected nearly $61 million in donations. In the next five months, another $12 million in contributions came in.
This big-heartedness was mirrored by a sort of proud defiance, exemplified by “Boston Strong.”
The amount of merchandise bearing the slogan was astonishing.
“In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, it became a peaceful mantra that people could repeat and believe in. And if they said it enough, tweeted it enough, hash-tagged it enough, it would actually be true,” says Dan Soleau, a brand development manager for Marathon Sports.
Jennifer Lawrence, a social worker at Boston Medical Center, said the emphasis on “Boston Strong” had some unhappy consequences.
“A lot of it is portraying that people are so resilient and so strong. While that is absolutely true, we are neglecting that people still have hard days,” she said.
In the aftermath of the bombings, more than 600 people took advantage of the medical center’s mental health services. And while most needed no help after the first few months, she has seen an increase in demand in recent weeks, as the anniversary approached.
Still, she says a “vast majority” of those who came through the hospital’s programs intend to attend this year’s marathon, either as bystanders or runners.