Derek Gentile: Friend was in the right place to help

Friday April 19, 2013


I lived in Boston for several years in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, and I still have a lot of friends there. So it was no surprise to me when I discovered that my old college pal, Nancy, was at the finish line on Boston on Monday when the bombs went off.

"We saw the first explosion, and before we knew it, the second one went off right across the street from us, about 30 feet away," she wrote me.

A runner was literally blown to the ground in front of her.

Nancy (everyone called her "Nance") graduated from Northeastern University with me. She and several roommates, all friends as well, lived almost across the street on Gainsborough when we were all in college.

The apartment in which Nancy and her friends Ann Marie, Susan, Ruth, Karen, Robin and Martha lived was a frequent gathering spot -- sometimes for a few drinks, sometimes for a big game involving Boston teams, sometimes for a party. I honed my disc jockey skills there.

Nancy was a nursing student. In fact, after college, she worked in several emergency rooms, including Boston City Hospital. She has the best war stories of almost anyone I know.

There was the time on a Friday night that a guy came in, sweating and pale, and told Nancy that he had been stabbed.

"OK," said my friend, "where were you stabbed?"

The guy lifted his shirt and there was a knife sticking out of his side.

"Right here," he said, pointing to the knife.

Anyway, Nancy is this pert, impossibly cheery woman. But she is also a veteran of years of trauma situations, and she’s one tough cookie.

And she was in the middle of this on Monday. She told me she saw people with missing limbs and deep lacerations all over their bodies.

"I saw a police officer cover one body with a sheet," she wrote. "It was so surreal."

She was with her husband and their two boys. The boys, she wrote, were frightened. She assisted several of the injured, including the runner who was almost knocked into her. Eventually, they left the area at the request of the police.

"We walked along with thousands of others through Boston streets in silence," she wrote me.

I was glad Nancy and her family were uninjured, and I told her that. I’ll probably see her this summer when I make a trip to Boston. This cheered her up a little, but she admitted to me, "I am so sad for Boston. The marathon is such a special event."

I’m sad, too. The marathon was something I always looked forward to watching when I lived in Boston. A large part of the city closed down, and people who weren’t running in the event would come to watch.

I remember clapping politely and often as packs of runners went by. One year, a friend had an apartment overlooking Kenmore Square, and we all sat in the comfort of the living room, watching the race live and on television.

But the world has changed in 30 years. Boston has changed, and Nancy and I have, as well. I think she and I have changed for the better. But the rest of the world? Maybe not. These international events that are so open to the public are no longer family-friendly events. They are potential targets. I have no doubt that we will catch the idiot or idiots responsible for this, and I have no doubt that the marathon will go on.

But I just want to say to Nance and everyone else out East: Be careful out there, OK? And I’ll be back in town soon.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staffer.
He can be reached at dgentile@berk or (413) 496-6251.


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