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Kevin Cullen

On Newbury Street, a defiant homecoming

Julia Bruss is 23 years old, a Harvard graduate student, and because she is very young and very smart, she figured out how to best retaliate against whoever bombed her neighborhood.

She came back to Newbury Street.

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She stepped outside her apartment building, on Newbury, between Dartmouth and Clarendon.

She walked down Newbury Street and said hello to her neighbors. They all said hello back.

“I live here,” she said, sitting at a table inside L’Aroma Cafe on Newbury, exacting revenge by doing exactly what she would have done if someone had never put two bombs a block away on Boylston Street. “No one, no one, can make me leave my neighborhood.”

The bombs killed three people — an 8-year-old boy from Dorchester named Martin Richard, a 29-year-old woman named Krystle Campbell who grew up in Medford, and a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China named Lingzi Lu.

Martin loved Dustin Pedroia.

Krystle loved her dog.

Lingzi loved “Downton Abbey.”

Julia Bruss has memorized their names. She will always honor their memory.

She will never bother remembering whoever is found to have murdered Martin and Krystle and Lingzi, to have maimed so many others. She will never clutter her memory with that information.

“I grew up in Brookline, and lived there all my life until I went away to college, to Colby in Maine,” Bruss said. “A lot of my friends moved to Cambridge when they got out of school. When I got out of school, three of my closest friends from college and I ended up in an apartment on Newbury Street.

“I was always a little sheepish, telling people I live on Newbury Street, because people make assumptions. They think you’re rich. But this is not what you think. It’s four girls in a three-bedroom apartment with one bath. We have mice. But I love it. In the 18 months I’ve lived here, my relationship with Boston has changed. Instead of ‘going downtown’ I just ‘go home.’ The sidewalks take me to the grocery store. I can walk down to the Public Garden. I can walk to the Charles River. The city is my neighborhood.”

As a kid growing up in Brookline, she loved the Boston Marathon like most kids love Christmas. When she was 6, she started handing out cups of water to passing runners at the Fairbanks T stop.

She watched the Africans and the Asians and the Europeans and the South Americans and the Australians and the New Zealanders run by and she knew, intuitively, even as a little girl, that the Marathon connected her to places far away from Brookline.

“I loved that the whole world came to run in our town, and all of us turned out to cheer them on,” Bruss said.

She was in Brookline, her old hometown, on Monday, watching the Marathon, when she looked at the TV and saw that her new hometown was under attack.

She saw the smoke, the panic, the horror. She could see the roof and back of her apartment building on the top of her TV screen. And she wanted to be there and couldn’t get there, back to her neighborhood, a few miles away.

She spent a restless Monday night in Brookline, at her boyfriend’s house, tossing and turning. She wept for those who died. She ached for those who were hurt, those who lost limbs. And she worried about the first responders — the cops and firefighters and EMTs and the ordinary civilians who dove in beside them — who saw things no one should see.

She wanted to go home, and she was almost embarrassed that she even had to wrestle with the decision.

“I was so hesitant to come back,” she said.

And who could blame her? Someone had planted bombs in her neighborhood. Someone had tried, quite purposely, to kill the people who were both residents of and visitors to her neighborhood. Reticence was, given the circumstances, a perfectly natural, human emotion.

But that would be giving in. And Julia Bruss refused to give in.

“The people who did this,” she said, and then she stopped and looked out the window. “No way. This is where I live.”

And so she came back, Tuesday morning. It was eerily quiet. She wondered would she ever feel safe again. And then she realized that if she felt that way, then they win.

And they can never win.

On Tuesday night, she and her roommate walked up the street to Joe’s American Bar & Grille. They had never eaten there before. Grad students aren’t exactly swimming in money. The food was good, the mood subdued. They chatted with some guys from North Carolina at the next table.

The waitress never brought the bill. A woman, one of the managers, brought a smile.

“That’s on us,” she told them. “Thanks for coming back to our community tonight.”

Julia Bruss walked down Newbury Street, smiling, knowing she belonged in this place and nowhere else, because there’s no place like home.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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