Paul Norden was sleeping in his room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on Friday, groggy from painkillers for his amputated right leg, when he heard a rustle of curtains near the door and then, “What’s up kid?”
The voice was achingly familiar. It sounded like his buddy Jarrod Clowery from Stoneham. Norden had last seen his friend as they huddled with his brother and two other boyhood pals near the Boston Marathon finish line, inches away from the second bomb.
It could not be Clowery, though. He was being treated for burns at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, two blocks away, a couple doors down from Paul’s older brother, J.P., who also lost a leg.
Yet from behind the curtain, Clowery emerged, dressed in a hospital gown and smiling mischievously. Another friend had pushed Clowery’s wheelchair from the Brigham.
“Yeah dude, I escaped,” Clowery, who is 35, told his childhood friend. “I had to see you. I had to come.”
Clowery, the Norden brothers, and their tight band of buddies from Stoneham cemented their friendship on fishing trips and work sites, during poker games and by just being together — as they were two weeks ago on Boylston Street, where five of the friends were badly injured. Three had legs amputated. Now they have been drawn closer by the shared nightmare of Marathon Day.
Only Mike Jefferson, another Stoneham buddy they came to cheer at the Marathon, was spared. Now, he keeps constant watch over Paul Norden, sleeping outside his hospital room and bringing him water and snacks.
“He blames himself,” Norden said of Jefferson. “But I told him: It’s not your fault. That bridge has passed. We have to get to a new place.”
They have been through tough times. Most are construction workers and laborers, and their jobs dried up during the recession. They got through it with each other’s help. Now they have been hit harder, and more than ever, they know, they need one another.
The friends are scattered across Boston’s hospitals. Clowery, nursing burn and shrapnel wounds, and J.P. Norden, with several surgeries still ahead, are at Brigham and Women’s. Marc Fucarile, his right leg gone and his left leg fractured, is at Massachusetts General Hospital. James “Bim” Costello is also hospitalized with serious injuries. Paul Norden’s girlfriend, Jacqui Webb, who had serious shrapnel wounds to her legs, was released from Tufts Medical Center last week.
In those first hours after the blasts, when the friends would otherwise have been the first at each other’s bedsides, they lay in their hospital beds, too dazed to know the extent of the others’ injuries. When they did learn, they were too weary to talk on the phone, their fingers too battered for texting, and their minds too clogged with thoughts of how to get through the next minute and the one after that.
Then, as the pain receded, they realized that the blasts also had taken their cellphones, along with phone numbers. In recent days, with new phones purchased and fingers on the mend, calls have been made and words of comfort shared.
One day last week, Clowery went down the hallway to J.P. Norden’s room.
“J.P. tells me, ‘Jarrod, you’ve got nothing to be sorry about. . . . And we’re going to get through it. And I think I am going to be better off than I ever was. I’m going to use this to become better,’ ” Clowery recalled his friend telling him.
“And that’s when I realized: We are crushing whatever little destruction the bombers caused — we are crushing it.”
The friends hail from Stoneham, where the Norden brothers, two years apart and the oldest of five children, were a hub of the friendship circle. The other guys would often pop over to their house, where they called the Nordens’ mother “Ma.”
“They are really all like brothers,” said Liz Norden, who as a single mother struggled to make ends meet by working office and child-care jobs and cleaning houses. Now she spends her days shuttling between her sons’ hospital rooms.
Over the years, the friends have been on construction jobs together. Every year, the group heads to Lake Winnipesaukee for the Ice Fishing Derby.
In Stoneham, a town of 21,000, the friends could be found at Bacci’s, ordering the steak tips in “secret sauce.” More often, they were at each other’s homes.
Some bonds were especially tight. J.P. Norden, 33, became friendly with Fucarile as early as elementary school, as well as Clowery. Paul Norden, 31, was close to Costello through the youth club in Stoneham, and enjoyed hanging out with Jefferson, who later became a Somerville firefighter.
For Clowery, the friendships remained solid through times he traveled hither and yon as a professional pool player.
“Every time I would come back to Stoneham, J.P., and Paul, and this group of guys never denied me — they were never like: ‘Aw, where you been?’ ” said Clowery, a member of the New England Pool and Billiard Hall of Fame. “They’ve always just been my friends, whether they see me or not.”
The timing of the attack was particularly brutal for the group. This winter, construction jobs had slowed and paychecks had stretched thin.
Money got so tight for Clowery that he planned to forgo a present for his son Jarrod’s 11th birthday. Days before the birthday, J.P handed Clowery $100.
“Give it to Jarrod,” Clowery recalled J.P. saying. “And this is the kicker, listen to what he says: ‘Don’t put my name on it; make sure you put your name on it.’ That’s my friends. So I would look like the hero to my son.”
This month, things had begun to turn. Clowery, a carpenter, was set to start a solid job. Paul Norden planned to join Sheet Metal Workers Local 17. Marshall Roofing, where Marc worked full time, and J.P. and Paul put in part-time hours, was gearing up for its summer season.
“Marc is just a hard-working kid with a great personality, always a personality,” said Rob Marshall, owner of Marshall Roofing in Peabody, where the Nordens’ father also worked. “And J.P. and Paul, they’re hard workers, good guys.”
On April 15, the two brothers mobilized everyone to go watch Jefferson — who used to run for Stoneham High — finish his second Boston Marathon.
J.P. Norden met up with some friends, including Fucarile and Clowery, and brother Paul met up with his girlfriend Webb and Costello. They came by different routes — using a combination of trains, subways, taxis, and cars.
They decided to meet in front of the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street, where they knew Jefferson’s mother and family were tracking his race online on their phones.
Several of them were taken aback by the $25 charge to enter the Forum, so the friends decided to watch from the sidewalk.
When the first explosion hit a block away, J.P. Norden and Clowery were next to each other. Clowery remembers yelling, “Get into the street!” and jumping a guardrail.
He had his hands and feet on the guardrail and was yelling to Webb to jump as well, when the second blast unleashed. J.P. stayed on the ground, helping his brother to hoist Webb over the rail.
Being above-ground likely spared Clowery’s legs, while being on the ground claimed the Nordens’ and Fucarile’s.
The challenges confronting the friends are enormous. Most face months of rehabilitation and the Nordens and Fucarile must learn to walk with prosthetic legs. Guys who did back-breaking work on their feet may need to find new careers.
Some of them had no health insurance and face still-mounting medical bills.
Paul Norden, who obtained insurance while at Beth Israel Deaconess, could be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital this week, and medical staff is debating whether to send him to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston or New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Woburn.
Paul’s main concern was that J.P., who is not yet ready to leave the Brigham, ends up in the same place.
“I have to go to rehab with my brother,” he said.
The Nordens, too, must look for first-floor apartments.
Paul Norden had been living at his mother’s Wakefield home where getting to the third-floor bedroom takes 24 steps; his brother had been living in an attic apartment in Stoneham.
The community of Stoneham and others have stepped in to try to help, setting up funds for the men, some shared and some individual.
The Dockside restaurant in Wakefield, where the Norden brothers often went, held a fund-raiser a week ago for all Stoneham victims.
Clowery said, if need be, he will auction off a signed football he got from the Patriots to help his friends.
Meanwhile, the Nordens have yet to see each other, though Paul says he fantasizes constantly about a Jarrod-style escape to see his brother.
J.P. said he and Paul talk once or twice every day on the phone, and he keeps telling his younger brother to “stay positive.”
They will never forget their first conversation, nearly a week after the Marathon, when Paul’s ventilator tube was finally removed.
His throat, irritated by the tube, was sore and painful. He could barely speak. They told each other, for the first time, that each had lost a right leg.
Paul broke down crying when he recalled on Friday how the conversation ended. “I love you,” he told J.P. “We’ll get through this no matter what.”