I was with a client at the first register.
The day was trending to be a great day for me because my official Auditor codes worked (I was recently given a pretty cool promotion), and I was learning how to operate as an Important Person in Sephora Land. It was exciting and new, and with all things that make our day-to-day a little brighter, I was looking forward to spending more time with the newness of it all.
It’s a faint and distant memory now. Yesterday went on for weeks.
My client was returning a Sephora Collection concealer in the lightest shade. She said it was making her break out, so I called over one of our skincare consultants to help me recommend a superior product. We’re all about client service at Sephora, so I did everything I could, with a bright smile, to make her happy, but I also didn’t want to let her off the hook that easily. After a round of “would you maybe like to try another product out and make an exchange?”, the client lamented her timing and said she’d be back tomorrow. I obliged her and began the transaction as usual, with the receipt in hand and the product marked out as a damaged item.
The first bomb went off.
"Is that thunder?" asked my client. I nodded and said it was probably just that or a train, and she shouldn’t worry. I asked her if she wanted to try out a few of our samples while we waited for the computer to register the receipt as valid, and she smiled again and told me that I was being very nice (her English was a little broken, so it came out as "you so nice at me").
The second bomb went off. Time slowed down.
I looked up and made eye contact with the HR Specialist, who was ringing out his own client across the room from me. Our eyes asked each other “what was that?” and “what should we do?” A hush fell over the store as people—clients and cast members like—looked to each other for answers. None of us knew. None of us had any idea that people were dying.
Uncountable streams of terrified men and women poured up from the escalators that rise mere feet from where the second bomb went off, which was less than 75 feet from where I was standing. Everyone in my store turned to stare, in mute horror, as a stampede of screaming people rushed by the tall glass windows that serve as our store front, pushing and shoving to escape a yet unknown assailant. Immediately, without really thinking, I ordered my client to run to the doors; my instincts told me that we had to get all of our clients out of the store first.
"What’s happening?" she pleaded, but I couldn’t answer. I had no idea. I took stock of the cashwrap, my new world and the place in the store that is newly my responsibility, and commanded everyone to leave. My instincts changed; I had to help the people I work with. They’re my friends now and I love them, and I couldn’t imagine…
Our HR Specialist’s voice boomed above the din of people screaming, for their lives, ordering everyone out of the store. With the receipt and the product I was returning still clutched in my hands, I flew away from my world and found the nearest evacuating Sephorans. Together, we entered the crushing flood of terrified families, moms who were yelling for their children, dads who were trying in vain to protect their loved ones, and the elderly who were shaken and scared, unable to keep up with the mass exodus of terror-ravaged bodies.
"I count 5. Who are we missing?" screamed Natalie, our Beauty Studio Captain and all around bastion of grace under fire.
"I count 5, too— get everyone outside!" I screamed back. We turned a sharp corner down a side exit, urging shoppers and employees alike to run, run, don’t stop, we don’t know where, just go, please, God, just run.
"I can’t— what’s happening? Please, help, please," echoed countless voices. No one knew what was happening. Was someone shooting at us? Was the Prudential under siege? Were the bombs still going off? Was it an air strike or did the street itself explode from something that had nothing to do with an incendiary device? Where was safety? Where were we going?
"I found three more people. What’s your count now?" came Natalie’s voice above the crowd.
"We’re at nine. Stay together, and keep moving!" I echoed. Where? Where are we moving to?
A crackling, urgent voice thundered through our headsets, which Natalie were both still wearing. In the wake of our terror, we forgot that our communication headsets, a seemingly superfluous connection to our forgotten normalcy, were still attached to our ears. In all black, which is Sephora’s uniform, we must have looked like some kind of law enforcement agents, screaming orders at our people.
"MOVE TO HYNES," came the crackling voice, who happened to be the same HR Specialist who forced us to evacuate.
Hynes. The destination was right around the corner. It’s our second emergency location, the first being the very place where the second bomb went off.
"No. Not Hynes. That’s suicide, that’s crazy," commanded one of our very strong-willed and capable artists. She was right— Hynes would have led us straight onto Boylston, where the blood was.
We huddled together outside of the Prudential building next to California Pizza Kitchen, Natalie and I frantically repeating head counts and consoling our people; CPK became our unofficial rally point as more and more of us were rescued from the mindless swarm of chaos. In minutes, our numbers swelled to 12 and then to 15. All I could do, while we waited for answers, was hold the people who needed to be held and help Natalie gather us together. By then, the mass exodus from the Prudential was dissipating, but the screaming did not stop. The sirens got louder.
"I smell it now. I smell the smoke," choked one of our cashiers. "It’s awful, it’s just awful. This is horrible."
Twenty minutes passed. We debated moving on, away from one of the more targetable buildings, when our HR Specialist rushed up to our group and told us to run to the Christian Science Building that stands across the road from the rear entrance to the Prudential. As one enormous unit, we held hands and wove our way through the crowd, encouraging each other to keep moving through the tears and the panic. Natalie and I kept counting, counting, 12, 13, 12, 13, 15, 14, “Why can’t I keep this straight?” “Who are we missing?” “Just keep moving!”
We finally reached the new rally point, at the reflection pool. The people who broke down initially were finding their resolve so that new people could let themselves succumb to the dread panic, the contagion that gripped us all.
Our cell service was down. Very few of us were fortunate enough to have our belongings (I still don’t have mine, and the Prudential is now a crime scene). None of us knew what was happening. None of us knew if we were safe now, away from the first bombings. We kept hearing frenzied, panic-fed snippets (“Lens Crafters exploded. All of those people are dead,” “The marathon lines were targeted and hundreds of people died,” “All the trash cans are loaded with bombs, so don’t go near them,” “Stay away from target buildings and stay together, unless someone opens fire,” “Two more bombs exploded closeby. Keep moving”).
Roseann, our fearless Store Director, did what she could to embolden us, but the terror was too real. Helicopters appeared in the sky right above us, people, so many people, were still screaming, and sirens made it nigh impossible to hear each other.
Then everything seemed to quiet down. My mind was racing forward: do another head count; is she ok?; 23, where’s Karla?; another head count; where are Glendely and Jacklyn?; are you ok?; we have to get away from buildings; people are too cold here, let’s find shelter; head count; are you ok?; where are Glendely and Jacklyn still?; Karla’s back, so is Zoraida; head count; keep moving.
Endlessly. For two hours, we stood outside, pleading with each other for answers. Were we safe now? Why are people still running? Where are they running to? What are they running from? Is the store still standing? The building? The runners?
Two more explosions.
We later learned that these explosions were controlled, but we couldn’t have known that. We ran to a street corner, away from the reflection pool and closer to a small squad of police officers, and our managers began dissecting our situation. One remained close to our Store Director, who was constantly receiving new information, one worked on consoling other cast members, and another pulled out paper and a pen and began working, efficiently, on a list of the people who should be with our group. All around me, people were doing their part, if they could, to quell the urge to run. I counted and hugged and rallied when we needed to be rallied.
Eventually, the screaming stopped, but the ambulances—so many ambulances—rushed by us in a steady convoy of the injured and dying.
Our Skincare Specialist, the one with the list, allowed her motherly instincts to flex control over the situation, and we all gratefully stepped aside while she organized rides home. Our Store Director maintained composure for our sake and vigilantly kept stock of us.
One by one, people broke away from the group as transportation was confirmed. Natalie and I rode with another makeup artist and her boyfriend away from the pandemonium.
This started at 2:10. By around 5:00-5:15, we were in Natalie’s dad’s house, watching the news unfold what we had just lived through. And we were the luckier ones. We weren’t on Boylston when the bombs exploded— we were inside. Close enough to feel them, but unlike the terrible numbers of people who were senselessly victimized, our lives are still intact. Changed forever, but we are alive and whole.
Last night, I stayed at Renee’s apartment. We went to a bar down the road for dinner, but I wasn’t really there. I’m not sure I’m fully conscious right now, either. I’m grateful that my friends and loved ones escaped, and I’m so thankful that our team was so efficient, but…
But. I don’t know how else to finish this thought. Boston is different for me now. Probably forever.