April 15, 2014 -- When Carlos Arredondo returns to the Boston Marathon finish line on April 18, he will be looking over his shoulder.
Arredondo is the cowboy hat-wearing hero who sprang into action when two bombs went off at the race last year, dragging victims to safety and swathing mangled limbs. He said he is still haunted by the memory of that day, unable to sleep without the help of pills at night and remains uneasy in large crowds.
In the year since the bombing, which killed three and injured hundreds more, the 53-year-old Arredondo and his wife Melida, 48, have sought the companionship and support of survivors and a community that has rallied together under the mantra “Boston Strong.”
But a strong façade during their numerous public appearances together at fundraisers, media events and tours around the country belies the couple’s private moments of anxiety, exhaustion and grief. Sometimes, in dark and quiet moments of reflection, Arrendondo has flashbacks of “all the blood” and screams for help.
“After the incident, I had a hard time sleeping just thinking about it,” Arredondo told ABC News. “You just have to carry on and get some mental support. I take my sleeping pills and talk about it a lot, which helps.”
For Melida Arredondo, who has been suffering from nightmares and also regularly sees a counselor, the trauma has manifested in a newfound fear of flying.
After one trip the couple took to Washington last year with bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, 28, and his fiancée Erin Hurley, 27, all four of them were sitting in a row on the way home to Boston when the airplane hit turbulence, Melida Arredondo said.
“I was just frozen in fear. When I looked over at Jeff his big brown eyes were as big as saucers and Erin was just as terrified as me,” she said.
The Arredondos’ bond with Bauman, who later lost both legs, has only strengthened since Carlos was captured pushing the injured runner in a wheelchair moments after the bombing. The photo has since become an iconic image of the attacks.
The shared journey has also soothed the pain Carlos and Melida Arredondo have felt after losing their two children, they said. Their eldest son, Alex, 20, was killed in a sniper attack in Iraq in 2004. Years later, their youngest, Brian, 24, hung himself on the last day of the Iraq war out “of grief.”
“Jeff and Erin, they fill a place –- they never could never replace Alex or Brian –- but having them in our lives eases things,” Melida Arredondo said. “It helps, and we just enjoy spending time together.”
Carlos Arredondo, a longtime bus and truck driver, gave up his job recently to focus on helping charities that raise awareness on violence, as well as military groups, the Red Cross and societies for the prevention of suicide.
This March, Arredondo was honored as Grand Marshal for the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Peace Parade and later in the month, flew to Texas to receive the Daughters of the American Revolution Patriotism award given to “a naturalized citizen who has shown extraordinary service to country.”
For his efforts as a first responder, Arredondo, who is originally from Costa Rica, has been time and again hailed as a “hero.” But he maintains he was simply doing “the same thing” anyone else would have done in that situation: “Trying to save lives.”
“I just was trying to help this young man and get out as soon as possible and get medical help,” he said. “I am just one of many that tried to help that day.”
“There are so many unsung heroes who deserve credit,” said Melida Arredondo, who plans to accompany her husband and bring tissues for herself and others at this year’s marathon.
“All of these reminders at the anniversary are probably bringing up issues, but I want people to know it’s okay to look for help," she said. "That’s part of Boston strong. Being able to take care of yourself.”