2:50 Monday afternoon. I was in my hospital bed. My security ran into my room and said, “Mayor, a bomb just went off at the finish line.” I tell him, “Get the commissioner on the phone to tell me what’s going on.” I get the commissioner. He told me about the explosion. He told me about a second explosion down near the Forum. Then I got this call saying the Westin hotel will be the headquarters, so I dispatched [chief of staff] Mitch Weiss to find out how to coordinate that. My job was to tell the truth and keep calm in the city — try to make sure that people understand that this wasn’t an attack on the whole city; this was an attack on just one location.
For 19 years I sat in the front row of the bleachers, right across from where it happened. I immediately thought about that. I could have been part of the injured. I used to sit there with all my grandkids. I didn’t panic. I kept on saying: “We gotta make sure the public knows what really happened. We’re in control. We’re not going to let the terrorists take over our city.”
I decided [to leave Brigham and Women’s Hospital]. The doctors said, “You can’t do it.” I said, “I’m doing it.” The nurses helped me get dressed, too. All the press were out front of the building, because we had so many of the victims in there. I went out the back door.
Marathon weekend to me is the best weekend of the year. It’s all family. Why would somebody have so much hate? I couldn’t understand it. I can understand when you do something and you know who you’re going to hurt. Why did they indiscriminately put bombs out there to hurt and maim people? I always ask myself — why, why, why? How sick can you be to do such a thing?
The most difficult conversations I had were when I visited the survivors. I said to myself and I said to my staff, “I don’t think I could have done what they did.” I’ve done a lot of work with the survivors. I think of all those people. I see them. They call me. I marvel at the strength they have. The young people — I mean, my God. It’s amazing the relationships that have built up over this thing.
My son, Tommy, is a detective in the Boston police. On Tuesday, he went downstairs [at the Brigham] to interview some of the survivors. He came into the room afterward. He was right at the Forum blast. He says: “Dad, you never want to go through what I went through. It was just horrible.” That touched me, because my son was there.
Thursday, the president came [for the interfaith service at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross]. They set up a microphone on the altar, so I wouldn’t have to go to the lectern. I says, “Tommy, I want you to roll me on the stage.”
He says, “We’re going to the microphone.”
I says, “No, no. We’re going to the lectern.”
“But everybody says you can’t do it.”
“Tommy, I’m the mayor. I’m going where I want to go.” I have to show the people I have the same courage they have by standing up and giving my talk — talking about the resilience of the city, the strength of the city.
The thing that impressed me most the whole week is that Friday night, when you saw people on street corners waving the American flag and singing “God Bless America.” That really got me. There are so many people who don’t have the respect for our country that they should. We’re not flawless, but we’re a great country.
Then I went back to the Parkman House, where I was staying while I was recuperating. I hear this noise outside, so I look out the window. The Common is filled with people celebrating. About a half-hour later I get a call from the police commissioner. He says, “Mayor, Symphony Hall — all the students are out here celebrating. What are we going do to?” I said: “Commish, they’ve been inside for 12 hours. Let them have a good time. They’re just letting off steam.” And we did. We let them express themselves.
I hope to be at [this year’s] race. I’ve got some invitations already. I’ll be there cheering them on. In my years as mayor the only year I missed was last year because I was in the hospital. It’s a great event. It’s great for the vitality of the city. The only problem is everybody’s skinny. There’s no fat runners!
I know Marty Walsh and his team will do a good job. But, you know, you miss it. You’d be crazy if you say you didn’t miss it. Will I be in the middle of it? No, I won’t. I’ll be on the sidelines. That’s the decision you make. You have to live with that decision. I had a great run.
Scott Helman is a Globe Magazine staff writer. Send comments to email@example.com. This interview was condensed and edited.