On the third Monday of April citizens of Massachusetts celebrate Patriots' Day. The holiday was conceived to honor the date of the first battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord but has morphed into something else in the city of Boston over the last 100 plus years—it’s marathon day.
It was two years ago on April 15, 2013, when a terrorist act turned the day from one of jubilation into one of horror as two bombs exploded killing 3 people and injuring more than 250 others. Michael Chase was on a patio with his wife Dena and friends enjoying a beer and watching the runners cross the finish line on Boylston Street when the first bomb went off.
“As soon as I heard it I knew something wasn’t right,” Chase says. “People thought fireworks or something like that but you could feel the concussion even several hundred feet away. It was only a matter of seconds before the second boom happened.��
The second explosion was much closer, only 20 feet or so away from the patio at Atlantic Fish Company where Chase was standing.
“I remember complete white, it was a complete white out,” Chase explains. “The smoke and sulfur took us over immediately. I ruptured my eardrum, which I didn’t know at the time, but the ringing was so overwhelming. The tree we were under had flames coming out of it.”
When reminiscing about that day's events, and particularly when he was working with an artist to design the tattoo now covering his upper arm, Chase likes to think of all of the good that happened on that day. From an outsider’s prospective it seems almost impossible to find good in such a senseless act of violence. It is when you learn how people reacted in wake of the horror and these positive stories start to emerge.
After ushering his wife and some of his friends to an area of relative safety Chase ran back out onto Boylston St. to see what he could do. Chase knows CPR from coaching sports but other than that he had no first aid skills to boast about, yet there was something inside of him that made him rush out into the fray.
“When I stood up and started moving I could tell that everybody on the other side of the planter [next to where he had been standing at the time of the explosion] was in pretty bad shape,” Chase says. “I saw Jane [Richard] lying in the middle of Boylston. There was a man helping her already, a man by the name of Matt Patterson, he’s an Army veteran. He signaled to me that he needed support and I could see that Jane was in really rough shape.”
Patterson and Chase were able to work together to get a tourniquet on Jane’s leg. Since the paramedics and emergency vehicles had been so overwhelmed a block or two up the men knew that Jane was in such bad shape that they couldn’t wait for help to arrive.
“We scooped her up and made a dash for it down the street,” Chase recalls. “At that moment I wasn’t sure if she could make it. Shock kind of takes over but at the same time I was just trying to keep her calm. She was crying and definitely shaken but at the same time she was pretty brave.”
Thanks in part to their quick thinking and the work of medical professionals Jane was able to survive although her leg was amputated from the knee down. Chase would also come into contact with the rest of the Richard family amid the chaos. Bill Richard, Jane’s father, ran along with Chase to the ambulance staging area with his uninjured son Henry in tow. Once there, Chase sat on the curb with Henry so Bill could be with his injured daughter. The third Richard child, Martin, was killed during the bombing.
The lives of the Richard children will be forever in Chase’s heart because of the experience they went through together, he thinks of them every day of his life. And now he carries that memory with him in the form of a tattoo.
Chase had been inspired by many of the tribute tattoos he saw in the aftermath of 9/11 and knew that a tattoo might be the way that he wanted to commemorate the bombing. After spending countless hours on the internet trying to find ideas and the right artist to make them a reality a mutual friend put him in touch with Ben Pease at Pino Bros Ink in Cambridge. From the minute they started getting together to discuss the piece Chase had two goals—he wanted something unique, not a cookie cutter Boston strong tattoo, and he wanted it to be positive.
“I said to my wife one day that I was going to get something that put a positive spin on the whole thing while commemorating what we went through and what happened,” Chase explains. “There was a lot of good that happened in the wave of all of the shit that happened that day. And there are so many stories like mine.”
Over a couple of four-hour consultations Pease and Chase put together a tattoo that would accomplish both goals. What they settled on was a religiously themed tattoo with Saint Michael overlooking the city of Boston. Included in the tattoo is the city’s skyline, street signs of an intersection close to where Chase was, and other bits that hold symbolism for him.
“There are three doves in it which represent the three people who passed away that day on Boylston,” Chase explains. “To me personally it also represents the three kids that I helped. I was with Jane, Henry, and I was with Martin before he passed. So I got it to represent those guys.”
Some of Chase’s friends were skeptical about his idea of getting the ink as they warned him that having the work might bring him back to the horror of that day when he looked at it. Instead, the opposite effect has taken place.
“[The tattoo] was a way for me to heal and talk about things, it’s been almost therapeutic in that way,” Chase says. “As far as the tattoo goes it always brings me back to a good place when I see it.”
While the tattoo was a small part of Chase’s attempt to return to normalcy after the bombing it was his stubborn refusal to change his life in the wake of terrorism that was the driving force. Within weeks of the businesses on Boylston reopening Chase was back at Atlantic Fish Company. Memories of the carnage that had occurred there would not deter him or his wife from returning. It was one thing to do it on a regular day; it was far more impressive when he returned the next Patriots’ Day to watch Dena finish the marathon as a runner.
“It was amazing to watch her come down the street,” Chase says. “She came down Boylston with this huge smile. We hugged and cried just like we did the year before but for a very different reason. It was an amazing thing to see.”
We shouldn’t have to tell you where Chase, Dena and friends are going to be when the Boston Marathon starts today since you already know they will be at the finishing line cheering the runners on.
“I’m not going to stay home on the 20th because some assholes tried to ruin my day two years ago,” Chase says adamantly. “We’ve got to continue to push forward and not let these jerks win. The idea is that we just pick up the pieces and keep moving.”
Michael Chase is just one man in an entire city that has pulled themselves together over the last two years. From just seconds after the blasts all the way through today when people are running for many of the charities that honor victims of the bombing, the people of Boston have shown what they are capable of. The script at the bottom of Chase’s tattoo sums everything up perfectly.
“We will not waver. We are strong.”