by Scott David
Ian Grimm wanted to be part of the Boston Marathon bombing.
“We’re all victims, Marcy,” he told his wife. “You, me, anyone who was touched by this. As much as those poor bastards who actually got limbs blown off.”
“If I were you,” his wife advised, “I wouldn’t tell anyone about this.”
But it was too late. Ian had already begun experimenting. He had started with non-Bostonians, of course, those sweet yearning souls who had reached out from the West Coast and Budapest and Auckland to see whether the Grimms were OK, persons whose concern was gratifying and touching, but ultimately based on the same impulse Ian had: to be a part of something greater.
To satisfy the needs of this audience to feel connected, Ian had fabricated a few details that exaggerated his personal involvement: shrapnel embedded in his backside; ringing ears; blood-spattered forearms; and the shrieks and wails of the dying nearby. None was precisely true, but his sister in Cleveland was especially grateful for these particulars, because she had desperately wanted to talk about the incident with someone who would understand Boston’s draw on native daughters like herself. The bombing, she said, had literally changed the course of her life. She could offer no sympathy for the killers (mercy was not hers to authorize), but she had experienced a profound and renewed sense of gratitude for her own health, her children’s brilliance, the lack of a military draft, the first ripening tomatoes in her garden, and the relative peace of Cleveland Heights.
“Thank you, Ian, for your service,” she whispered.
Unable to retreat from his inventions, Ian doubled-down. He protested that he had only done what anyone in his shoes would have done: rescued a grown man with a leg wound by putting his fingers three inches deep into the man’s femoral artery.
“You’re so brave,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it.”
“Sometimes,” Ian said, “when you’re tested, you learn things about yourself.”
Having achieved such a gratifying connection with his sister, Ian turned to studying the genuine victims’ first-hand accounts of their experiences. According to most accounts, there were 275 wounded, and he pored over the account of each and everyone of them and purloined only the best details. When he had the facts sufficiently committed to memory and had polished and developed his story for a local audience, Ian tested a provisional version on select Bostonians.
The feedback was good, the commiseration most gratifying.
“I had no idea,” most of them said.
“Yes,” Ian confirmed, “I had come down to see Marcy finish, with the girls in tow. Had it been a moment earlier….”
“Thanks be to God,” Ian agreed.
Patiently correcting people when they got the facts wrong, Ian variously positioned himself and/or the girls near the first bomb or the second, outside the Forum Restaurant or at the finish line, or, finally, looking out for his beautiful bride on the catwalk above the finish line among the press and paparazzi.
Marcy, who had in fact been stopped just short of Kenmore Square by the cops and told the race was over, initially hoped Ian’s story would quietly go away if she ignored it. Later, she shot him dirty looks, and yet, when his interlocutors at a dinner party politely involved her in the telling, she offered very careful, very noncommittal answers so as not to give Ian away.
She was the first to agree the experience had changed him.
She was the first to say he was not the same man.
Ian loved her for these concessions. For her restraint. If she hadn’t truly loved him, Marcy never would have humored him and indulged his storytelling.
At the prompting of well-meaning friends who heard his tale, Ian set up a foundation. It was nothing formal. The funds he collected he just deposited in his own bank account and tracked them in a separate spreadsheet until his Kickstarter and Facebook pages went viral and he lost count.
Soon after, at a dinner with Marcy’s extended family, Ian solicited additional donations from her relatives. Marcy’s brother the lawyer was present. Playing idly with his smartphone, he asked whether the foundation had applied for and received nonprofit status from the IRS, and he politely suggested that Ian again recite the facts of that terrible day so that all might be edified by his example.
Gratified, Ian launched into his account.
Marcy’s brother let him rattle on for half an hour, before he took one of the story’s inconvenient loose threads and pulled.
“How exactly was it,” the litigator asked, “that you saw the bomb explode and yet shrapnel hit you in the ass? Not the front side. The ass.”
“Well, it was sort of on the ass. I was kind of turned sideways. You know what I mean?”
“On the catwalk?”
“Shrapnel shot a half block down the crowded street and hit you standing twenty-five feet in the air on a catwalk. On the ass.”
“Show me the scar.”
“It healed nicely. There’s hardly any ….”
Marcy begged her brother to stop, just stop, and her mother repeated, “Stop, just stop,” and someone spilled a gravy boat, and Marcy’s brother zeroed in for the kill.
“Pull down your pants, you son of a bitch!”
With great dignity, Ian loosed his belt and pulled his pants and underwear down about a quarter inch.
The litigator snorted derisively.
“There was no shrapnel, was there, Ian?”
“And you don’t have a press pass, do you?”
“So you weren’t on the catwalk?”
Ian hiked up his pants and buckled his belt.
“More like, sort of close by,” he admitted.
“In fact,” the litigator said, as if delivering a closing argument, “if I had to guess, at the time of the blast you were actually holed up in a bar in Southie nursing your fifth beer and complaining to anyone who would listen that Marcy had decided to run without inviting you to join her. Isn’t that right?”
Her brother pounded the table. The spilled gravy boat jumped.
“Isn’t that right?!” he shouted.
Ian gaped and stammered and finally said, “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say that you are a liar,” the litigator suggested politely, “trying to fleece your own family for a few bucks.”
“Stop it! Just stop it,” Marcy cried. “I wish this damn bomb had never happened.”
She looked directly at Ian.
“I wish,” she said, “I had never married you.”
After the dinner, which Marcy’s family would be talking about for years to come, Marcy begged Ian to give his story a rest.
“For God’s sake. Turn the money over to the OneFund. If you really want to do something for the victims, run with me next year, OK? Isn’t that enough?”
“Run? The marathon?” Ian was aghast. “I couldn’t even consider running. Not anymore. Don’t you understand, sweetheart? I thought you understood. The bombing traumatized me. Crowds — they skeeve me out.”
“I understand that right this minute I’d love to loop a shiny pair of New Balance around your neck and pull the laces tight.”
Despite his wife’s misgivings, and despite his grand humiliation at the hands of her brother the litigator, Ian persevered in telling his story. He had no real choice in the matter. There were greater truths than what could be proved by some pompous windbag.
Besides, Ian had spent much of the foundation money. Though he had tried valiantly to meet expectations of the donors by spending on things and causes he believed anyone would support, like for example, a bomb-free marathon (with a bit on the side to pay himself a small salary and housing allowance, of course), Ian eventually siphoned some funds to support causes equally worthy but perhaps not equally universal (e.g., casino gambling in Massachusetts, in which he had a small stake as a real estate broker). Ian had reasoned that the giver was happy and the recipient more so.
Moreover, the genuine fraudsters, who were in Jersey on the day of the attack but filed for recompense from the OneFund on behalf of a dead aunt formerly resident in West Roxbury, made Ian’s claims to having been present positively benign by comparison. Unlike them, Ian’s heart was in the right place. And, truth be told, it could, after all, have been Ian. He hadn’t been in New Jersey that fateful day. As Marcy’s brother had so skillfully gotten him to admit, he had been in a bar in South Boston complaining loudly about his wife. Not ten blocks away. Well, maybe ten. Or twelve. But the point was, it had been mathematically possible for Ian to have been present at the finish line. Had his luck been different. Had he been, for example, more supportive of Marcy.
Accordingly, as the pain of Marcy’s brother’s cross-examination faded, Ian quietly shored up some of the more obvious contradictions in his account. He retold the story frequently, and he told it well, and he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. Indeed, though he didn’t reveal this conceit to anyone, Ian considered himself to be the unofficial poet laureate of the bombings. None other had yet emerged, except the unnamed bastard who fashioned the phrase Boston Strong but failed to trademark it.
And no matter what Marcy’s brother had to say about it, Ian was now a better person than he had been. A kinder and more patient father. A more empathetic lover. A more engaged citizen of the Commonwealth. Now, for example, Ian genuinely welcomed — even craved — another municipal emergency, so he could respond to it with the same grace and courage with which he had imagined responding to the bombing. He was absolutely certain that he would rise to the occasion. Or, maybe not certain, but part of the thrill was not knowing whether he’d run from the blast of toward it.
In the next few months, while waiting patiently for that next municipal emergency to present itself, Ian steeled himself against intervening with bullying parents or abusive boyfriends too much in their cups. Such injustices simply weren’t a big enough stage for his ambition. He only cheapened his connection to the bombing by getting involved in these essentially domestic matters. So he didn’t respond to people who called his bullshit. Or those who tailgated him or called him a faggot or treated his wife or children badly.
At the bombing’s anniversary, while Marcy gave a second shot at completing the marathon, Ian brought his girls to the crime scenes. He explained the physics of the pressure cooker bomb (which he called the Crockpot Bomb, because he thought it was endearing). Together, he and the girls recited the names of the dead and injured. Not all 275 claimants, which number seemed preposterously high to Ian relative to the twenty or so actual victims. Just the principal injured. He wasn’t accusing anyone of faking it, but in Ian’s humble opinion a booboo on the knee couldn’t compare to a prosthetic limb.
“Isn’t that right, girls?” he asked.
As they had been taught, the girls loyally agreed that only bona fide amputation could elicit their sympathy. (Their mother’s road blisters, for example, would earn only studied contempt.)
Outside the Forum Restaurant, Ian and the girls left a pair of sneakers. They were a child’s size five, which not only made them more pathetic and cute and entirely devastating, but also would deter homeless people from taking them, and they’d be therefore more enduring and more likely, for example, to be preserved in the future bombing museum.
When Ian learned authorities were no longer allowing backpacks at the Marathon, but instead requiring all belongings to be carried in clear bags, he trained his eagle-eyed daughters to spot non-conforming bags. As they identified likely suspects, he personally hacked apart several such packages with an axe he had brought along because you never know when you are going to have to cut your way through police barricades or temporary viewing stands to reach the victims of some civic disaster.
The judge who presided over Ian’s case let him off with a mild warning and a fraternal fistbump, after Ian testified to his intimate connection with the bombing and his still fragile mental makeup and his adorable girls and his plucky wife, who had finished the course in record time, all of whom he loved so very much.
Years later, Marcy would make jokes at Ian’s expense, saying, “I stayed with Ian because after the whole bombing fiasco I
felt I had seen the worst of his character.”
Everybody laughed at her wry recollections, and Ian was OK with that. He had nothing to prove. He had been in the right, and he knew what it took to be a hero, and he knew what it was like to be in the shit when the shrapnel was flying. And when you’re right and a hero and have been deep in the shit, it was OK when people laughed and called you ridiculous. When it came to questions of homeland security, Ian would rather his wife and his girls rested easy and stayed unafraid and remained blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurked in backpacks and crockpots and the terrible things men had to do to keep the enemy at bay.
Under various pseudonyms, Scott David has published dozens of short stories, a memoir, several novels, and a guide to wine and cocktails. He lives in Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts. For more information, go to scottdavidboston.com. Scott David is a Featured Writer and welcomes correspondence from Journal writers.