This guy may not get enough credit. On the other hand, maybe he gets too much.
Who is he anyway? Who is he really?
Perhaps to begin, it might be instructive to ask Jeff Bauman.
Carlos Arredondo saved Jeff Bauman’s life. It would not be the first time that Arredondo, a rodeo clown/matador, typewriter assembler and volunteer firefighter as a youth in his native Costa Rica found himself face-to-face with the Grim Reaper.
In fact, the 57-year-old has lived a lifetime heavy-handed in heartache. When the glare of the spotlight is shifted and the cowboy hat is removed, the most recognizable hero of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing struggles mightily to avoid being sucked whole into the expansive, all-encompassing, swirling and suffocating black vortex of grief.
He’s been up to his ears many times, saying to himself if not to others, “Oh my God. Holy shit.”
Carlos Arredondo has a past not dotted but replete with difficulty. Grave heart-rending difficulty.
Of late: two sons dead, one in Iraq serving this country and the other by suicide at least in part as a consequence.
Antipsychotic medication (Zyprexa) dependence.
Tendencies leaning toward suicide.
Self-flagellation always with God’s punishment in mind.
Then there was the bees-around-honey media coverage in 2004 while he was living in South Florida.
When Marines showed up — Major Scott Mack in charge — at his Hollywood home to inform him of his eldest son’s death, he went nuts. Berserk. Bonkers. Postal. He proceeded to set their Marine van on fire. Then he set himself on fire.
News of his violent reaction to the inevitable laying of waste of a loved one which war demands, predictably went viral. Carlos was severely burned not to mention placed in the cross-hairs of armchair ‘pundit’ debaters. Some considered him a sympathetic figure: a grief-stricken father whose acts represented an understandable albeit destructive outcry condemning the ravages of war.
To those with less empathy he was cast as a traitor (and an immigrant at that) who should have been charged with a crime.
Arredondo has been a U.S.citizen since December 2006, perhaps a direct byproduct of his elder son Alex’s 2004 war death at age 20.
An amendment to immigration law passed by Congress after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began allows the parents of fallen military members an expedited route to American citizenship.
As a citizen, Carlos legally changed his name to Alexander Brian Arredondo. And he did it right away.
Younger son Brian who died at 24 by his own hand in December 2011 was still very much alive at the time.
Needless to say this was perplexing to Carlos’ first wife and the boys’ mother, Victoria Foley.
“I mean, honestly, why would you take his name when he’s still there, right next to you?” she wondered aloud. “In my mind, he already had Brian dead.”
Seeing Carlos as such a prominent, now famous and revered figure has been a little tough for Victoria who shared that “reporters called after the marathon to ask me about Carlos, thinking I was his sister. Everyone thinks Melida (Campos) is the mom.”
While it appears that everyone in Boston knows Carlos visually at least, few know Victoria. Melida is the stepmom and was Carlos’ second wife until they too divorced, though they still live together. She met Carlos in 1993 when the boys were 9 and 6.
Things had gotten so toxic between Carlos and Victoria at the time, that during their divorce proceedings which lasted 5 ½ years, Victoria amended her complaint to add allegations of stalking and abuse and filed one and then multiple restraining orders against him.
So he moved to South Florida and had no contact with his sons for several years. When he returned to Boston in 2000, Alex was 16 and Brian was 13. At that time Victoria was about to give birth to another man’s child, a boy to be named Nathaniel.
When Carlos Arredondo was growing up in the Barrio Mexico enclave of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, he attended school through the eighth grade. That was it. He had no interest in formal education and he couldn’t sit still. He craved action, doing.
He enjoyed tinkering with things and he had an aptitude for it. As a teenager he took a job with Olympia typewriters in town fixing broken machines. But this involved too much of the sedentary so he quickly migrated to volunteer firefighting and first-aid training.
Responding in an emergency scenario became his thing.
His first experience in tying tourniquets came while treating those who had been bitten by poisonous snakes. Then he was bitten.
By the bug known as bullfighting.
Costa Rican bullfights embrace rodeo-style bull riding along with the Pamplona “Running of the Bulls” a drunken mine-are-bigger-than-yours test of will and fortune.
There are structured events in which professional riders compete and then there is the open ring scene which accommodates those who dare to enter and try to outrun and evade the agitated bull(s), snorting and chasing with malicious intent.
At the age of 16 Carlos became a “torero improvisado,” specializing in rescuing the fallen and injured by distracting the bulls and leading them away. His innate abilities to run like the wind and leap like a jungle cat served him well and earned him the moniker of ‘The Guardian Angel of the Bullfighters.’
Seeing the brutal goring and worse was seared into his soul.
So, back and forth. Back and forth. Costa Rica. Boston. Hollywood, Florida. Boston. Costa Rica. Europe. Boston.
And then there was the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Carlos Arredondo pulled on a gray Tough Ruck sweatshirt featuring memorial button-pins for Alex and Brian, popped his straw Costa Rican cowboy hat on his head and showed up to support various groups running in memory of veterans and suicide victims.
(The Tough Ruckers are a military group walking the 26.2- mile marathon course in full gear, carrying 40-pound rucksacks).
The annual Boston revelry turned to horror when the first homemade pressure cooker bomb loaded with nails and ball bearings ripped through the masses.
Carlos was near the finish line waiting to greet someone who was running in Alex’s memory. Moving toward danger rather than away from it was second nature for him. He did just that, finding himself on the sidewalk near Marathon Sports, a running store.
Looking around and inhaling the sulfurous air while holding the last of a batch of small American flags he had been handing out was more than enough to kick him into action.
After breaking apart the barriers to allow himself and other first responders access, he lifted some debris off Krystle Campbell, 29, her vacant stare and unmoving body spelling death. (She was one of the three killed in the blasts).
Then he saw the frightened eyes of a squirming Jeff Bauman, a young man whose legs had been blown off below the knees leaving protruding bones amidst the carnage. Blood was everywhere. Thick, acrid smoke enshrouded.
“When I saw Jeff, being like crazy you know, I just figured, you know, I gotta help this guy, you know. He was trying to get up. I told him to stay down. Don’t move. Stay down.”
Carlos tore a piece of cloth from a garment and while another was working on Bauman’s left leg he fashioned a tourniquet for his right leg. Someone else wrapped a long swath of gauze around Bauman’s thigh.
At the time of course Carlos did not know Bauman; what he did recognize was that Bauman was young enough to be his son. He had already lost his own two sons. “I told him to hold on,” he recalled. “He looked very pale. I thought he was going to die.”
Seeing a woman pushing an empty wheelchair closeby, Carlos summoned her and after carefully placing Bauman in the chair the three started rapidly rolling and running toward the medical tent in search of an ambulance.
As he ran beside Bauman down Boylston Street toward Copley Square, Carlos noticed that a bloodied piece of the tourniquet cloth was starting to get caught in a wheel so he held it aloft to keep it clear of the wheelchair.
It was then that Associated Press photographer Charles Krupa, bolting from a hotel ballroom across the street which served as the marathon media center, appeared and started taking scores of pictures.
The one image of Jeff with an ashen face and Carlos by his side wearing the cowboy hat took the Internet by storm and changed both of their lives forever.
The pair, lauded as the embodiment and personification of “Boston Strong,” are nearly as celebrated in and around Boston as Paul Revere.
“If something like [the marathon bombings] happened again, I’d do what I did again. It’s my obligation. I’m an American citizen now.” [Carlos]
“I don’t know how long this is going to last…I didn’t ask for any of this.” [Carlos]
“We all have to keep moving forward.” [Carlos]
“I’m just hoping for the best and praying. There’s no script for this.” [Carlos]
“There’s a niceness about him, a charm.” [Victoria]
“I gave that man everything — my heart, my soul, my mind, my body. And he abused every bit of it.” [Victoria]
“Do you know how hard it is for me?” [Victoria]
“You freakin’ bastard…You didn’t think of me. You didn’t think of Brian. You just thought of yourself.” [Victoria]
“Brian could have lost his brother and father on the same day…Look, I was the grieving mom, I knew all about being distraught. But this was beyond distraught, to set yourself on fire. All I know is he took the spotlight off his son, that beautiful boy who gave his life for his country, and put it on himself.” [Victoria]
“Someone said to me the other day, ‘Don’t you think he’s milked his 15 minutes long enough?’ I think [Carlos and Melida] are always looking for the limelight any way they can, and now they don’t have any more sons to die.” [Victoria]
“I did love the man, so I took him back even though he tormented me.” [Victoria]
“What (Victoria) never understood all these years is it was never just about us, it was about getting policies changed, getting help for all the families.” [Melida]
“A psychotic episode.” [Melida describing the 2004 fires set by Carlos.]
“I’ll be doggoned…What a selfless act. So much has been taken away from him, yet he still continues to give.” [Major Scott Mack, when advised of Carlos Arredondo’s role in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.]
One way or another — facing the dramatic, tragic or mundane — in this world of ours, “everybody serves.”
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in January 2018.]