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The Man in the Boat


A shaky frame of a house is on your TV screen. The house is more or less unremarkable, just like nearly everything else in the shot. A loud whirring sound comes from the TV and the shot slowly rotates around the house. The frame shifts. There are teams of special police, armed to the teeth, standing across the road. A loud noise is audible through the TV speakers, and it is clear that the footage is from a flying helicopter. The frame shifts again and focuses on a small motorboat behind the house. The boat is about 12 feet long and also unremarkable. The camera shakes, but never strays from the motorboat.

Suddenly, the shot switches. It shows a blurry photo of two men standing in a crowd, their faces nearly indistinguishable. A red circle appears over the face of the man on the left. A large block of text reads: “SUSPECT NO. 2”. The shot switches again, this time to a thermal camera. The frame is black, with a white glow in one section. You can make out the glow of a warm body lying inside the boat.

It's all over the news, on every other channel. The newscasters are repetitive. They describe the scene over and over, using the same language and repeating the same phrases. You really only need to listen to what they’re saying for a couple of minutes in order to understand what is happening. In fact, you might as well be watching the TV on mute. A man is lying in a boat, with a tarp over top of it. He is a killer, and he’s on the run from the police. The shot is slow; nothing is happening. The helicopter continues to spin around and around the boat. Every minute or two, they show the video of the bomb going off a few days earlier during the marathon. You’ve already seen it a million times, but it doesn’t make it any less disconcerting. Then the frame switches back to the boat, and you’re left to wonder what the man inside it is thinking.

Your grandmother, father, and brother are watching the news with you. Your father and brother aren’t worried; they wear an expression of resignation. They are more interested in conversation than a man lying in a boat. Your grandmother however, is worried. Her shoulders are hunched up and she has a grim expression on her face. She is encapsulated in the manhunt, and you can see it on her face. Nobody in the room is saying anything particularly important and neither are the reporters. Mostly, you hear a collection of “wow”s and “that’s awful”. The image on the TV hasn’t changed. It is neither interesting nor uninteresting. A man is lying in a boat. The pieces of the frame don’t fit together. It seems strange that an army of police would watch a boat so intently. Is seems strange that a man would lie in a boat for so long. It seems strange that this is captivating to your grandmother, and it seems strange that she would rather watch the man than listen to what your brother was saying about university. It seems strange that the TV is still on.

The reporters repeat the story over and over, highlighting the same few details every time. A marathon, a homemade bomb, two suspects--brothers, an intense manhunt, a shootout, getaway, and a man lying in a boat. Everyone on the TV wears the same serious expression. Everyone knows how the story is going to end.

Terrorism and mass murder like this are a frequent occurrence. Nobody who follows the news is particularly shocked when something like this happens. People hear the bad news and say “that’s so horrible. It can’t happen again”. They take out their mental list of horrible things on the news and add this event to the bottom. They remember the number of people killed and the geographical location; Boston, in this case. Put the words ‘Boston’ and ‘Bombing’ together and everyone knows what you’re talking about. They put on a grim face and shake their heads. Then, they go back to watching the new, to see where the next horrible event will be.

Events like these are not remembered. Usually, within a month or two, the news moves on and so does everyone else. If the event is remembered, it resurfaces during a casual conversation. “Do you remember that bombing at the race a couple years ago?” your aunt says, “With the muslim kid, in the boat?”. Inevitably, the ladies in the coffee shop nod and say, “That was a bad one. Killed three, I think”, then the women move on with their conversation, fulfilling their duty to ‘never forget’.

Events like these are not real, in your mind. They happen every so often on the TV, and they are talked about for the next week, so you can express how sorry you are for the victims, how awful it really must be. Events like these keep you watching the news, even if you’re just watching a man lying in a motorboat. They happen frequently. They are shown because they are there. They don’t ‘shock’ anybody, save the people who witnessed it firsthand. “It really is awful”, everyone says over and over again. You watch each event like this on TV, listen to every story about the most recent attack on the radio. After a week or a month, you hear about the next event and forget about the previous. The news continues. People feel sorry for the victims and hate for the perpetrators, but nothing really happens. They just wait for the next event.

You leave your grandmother’s house later that night. The drive home is long and the car is dark and silent. Your father drives. You and your brother watch the cars next to yours on the road. The highway flying by looks like a abstract painting: the broken lines move back and forth and lights pool around your car one moment, while leaving you in darkness the next. Nobody has anything to say. There is nothing to say. People kill, people die. There is nothing to do. Eventually, you will forget about it. After a week or so, you will feel better. Then, you will turn the news back on.

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