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For Watertown residents, normal will never be quite the same

WATERTOWN — There is no sign, in Jeff Ryan’s unremarkable suburban driveway, of what happened there one year ago, in the early hours of April 19, 2013.

But Ryan needs no reminder of that night. He remembers it all, and he remembers it often: the crackle of gunfire that woke him out of sleep; the exploding pressure cooker bomb that shook his house; and then the frantic voices in his driveway, where one police officer lay bleeding and near death, and other officers tried desperately to save him.

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“Every time I drive down Laurel Street, every time I walk on my driveway, every time I go in or out in my car, I think about it,” says Ryan, 59, a high school history teacher. “You can’t see something like that and forget it.”

In every obvious way, normalcy has returned to this quiet residential neighborhood in Watertown where police came face to face last April with the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. On nearby Franklin Street, where the manhunt finally ended, neighbors eagerly point out the new boat in the backyard of David Henneberry, the easygoing retiree who found bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in his old boat last April 19, bringing an end to an epic weeklong manhunt.

The new boat means something to people here. For if Henneberry has returned to his favorite pastime — varnishing the vessel’s woodwork to a glossy sheen — then life on Franklin Street must be back to normal.

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Normal, yes. But not quite the way it used to be.

Though the glare of attention has faded, a lingering strangeness remains: in the curiosity-seekers driving slowly down their street of well-kept 19th-century homes, in the strangers snapping pictures of the famous driveway — and in memories that are inescapable.

“I knew it would be forever,” says George Pizzuto, a friend of Henneberry’s who lives a few doors away, in a tidy farmhouse behind a white picket fence. “But I didn’t know it would be every single day.”

For the most part, residents say, they are fine: going to work; raising their children; living their lives. But for those who bore witness to that strange day and night, emotion can rise up with little warning: when the twilight air turns springlike; when news helicopters hovered overhead to document the funeral procession for a firefighter who died in the recent Back Bay fire.

It happens to Loretta Kehayias when a reporter knocks on her door on Laurel Street. The 65-year-old educator is friendly, smiling and bubbly; on her way to a social engagement, with little time to get ready, she offers to talk the next day — when all at once memory overtakes her. Her voice shrinks to a whisper, her eyes glisten with tears. Something — the helicopters in the distance; the approaching anniversary; the returning reporters — has loosened feelings usually held in check.

Kehayias and her husband, Peter, had arrived home from a Florida vacation two hours before the shootout between the Tsarnaevs and the police broke out in front of their house. Days later, after the frenzy began to recede, she found she remembered almost nothing of their trip. The shock and horror of that violent night had consumed it.

She got rid of her car, which was pocked with bullet holes, but she couldn’t get rid of her anger, or the fear that had crept in. She peered out her windows all the time. She avoided going out alone at night. She thought of 8-year-old Martin Richard and his family. And she has not found a way to forgive.

“I thought I was a pretty strong person, and I found out that maybe I wasn’t, so there’s a lot of doubt there,” she said. “As I stand here now, looking out my window, I can still see [the brothers’] faces, and to me, it’s still scary. I can’t seem to let it go, that all these families will be affected for generations.”

Not every memory of that day is bad. The shock of discovering a suspected terrorist hiding in one’s own backyard — that unimaginable moment belonged to Watertown, but so, too, did the catharsis and celebration that followed, the satisfaction of a capture and an ending, after five days of fear and uncertainty.

Ryan remembers the horror of what he saw from his porch that night, as MBTA police officer Richard “Dic” Donohue lay near death, but he also takes comfort in knowing he helped in some way. The towels he handed over to the police in his driveway were used to help slow Donohue’s bleeding, and though the officer lost most of his blood, he survived.

Everyone here describes hearing from far-flung friends and family that day, as the story was broadcast around the world, and many say the warm outpouring of concern helped to counterbalance their anxiety.

Some admit that it was partly thrilling to be in the midst of the action. One teenage resident described the events that day as “more like a scene from ‘Thelma & Louise’ than a scene from quiet Franklin Street.” But the memory is also unsettling.

“Mostly it was exciting, and we had a ball,” said one resident of Franklin Street who asked that her name be withheld because she doesn’t want more media attention. “But still, now and then, for a second, you see the street in your mind the way it was then — all the police running down there — and there is some lingering unease.”

She decided, soon after last April, to replace her back door with one that would be more secure, even though, as she acknowledged, “it’s not that you think it’s going to happen again. It never could.” Other residents said they have become more likely to lock their doors.

And others have grappled with a different kind of concern, about police procedures they saw as excessive or even dangerous. Franklin Street resident Joseph Gerson said his 6-year-old grandson was traumatized by the aggressive police response to the street, the tanks and SWAT teams and shooting that broke out, which the boy still sometimes refers to as “the war.”

“Can we imagine New York City being locked down to hunt one teenager?” Gerson asked in an e-mail. Another resident with similar concerns declined to have her name used in print, worried family members might face criticism for her views.

For some on the street — home to carpenters, contractors, teachers, lawyers, and real estate agents, to name a few — the most profound effect has been the realization that anything can happen.

Robin Dumas calls it “grappling with the randomness we live with.”

“I have a dog I walk each night,” Dumas, a lawyer who lives near Henneberry, wrote in an e-mail. “I could have very easily bumped into the suspect.”

No one knows that randomness like David Henneberry. It is what he learned a year ago the hard way, and what has only sunk in deeper one year later.

“There’s no certainty in anything — you just don’t know,” he says, sitting in his kitchen at dusk one recent evening.

He is more startled by noises in the night than he used to be. He still gets recognized in the Costco checkout line. But other changes in his life have been much harder to get used to: in January, his beloved wife Beth died of cancer.

Henneberry’s new boat — purchased last fall, with money donated by thousands of well-wishers after his old boat was seized as evidence — is named “Beth Said Yes” in her memory.

Around the neighborhood, some continue to obsess over questions that may never be answered — like what route Tsarnaev took through the darkness to reach the boat that night, after abandoning his car two-tenths of a mile away on Spruce Street.

Many of them wonder, too, about the house-by-house search that Friday last year: how its parameters were determined, and why their street was not searched as thoroughly as some others farther from where the suspect took off on foot.

“There’s still so much we don’t know,” said one.

And still, even after a year of review and reflection, the mood on Franklin Street can quickly swing to disbelief.

“If you really think about it,” said one man who lives there, “it’s just crazy — that these were terrorists, and that they were here.”

Jenna Russell can be reached at jenna.russell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jrussglobe.
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