I started getting facials from Zubeidat Tsarnaeva (pronounced Zu-bey-da) six years ago when I was 17 at a spa in the Boston area. She soon after left the spa and contacted my mom to have us start coming to her house, at 410 Norfolk St., right on the line of Cambridge and Watertown.
All throughout my senior year of high school and four years of college I went to her house about three times a year. The last time I went to the house was in December and January of 2011/2012.
The first few years the third-floor apartment was often crowded with her two sons, now identified as the alleged Boston bombers, and her two daughters, one of which was around my age. It was definitely not a glamorous place to get a facial, as the “spa” was set up in her living room, and during these years the family expanded.
The staircase was crowded with their shoes, the house filled with noises of arguing, cooking, etc. She would often apologize for this. Her daughters and Dzhokar, the younger son, always struck me as perfectly nice and normal kids about my age. As far as I knew the daughters also attended Rindge (the local public high school) along with their brother.
She gave a damn good facial, often working on my skin for two or three hours, and this is why my sister, mom and I continued to go back to her home for years.
During this time one of Zubeidat’s daughters, and then the other, were set up in arranged marriages, and started having kids. This was something I found slightly disturbing, as one was just my age (18-19) and didn’t seem to be happily married.
Within two years I heard that she had been beaten badly and eventually filed for divorce, which was at first against her mother’s wishes. Later Zubeidat said that she had accepted the divorce because it was an unhappy marriage. Her daughter then moved back into the house with her child. Her younger son, Dzhokar, was often in the room or the room next door looking after his nephew while I was getting my facial.
There were usually issues with parking on her crowded Cambridge Street. Sometimes she would have Dzhokar go down to the street to put the visitor-parking pass into my car window (Yes, I gave him my car keys). Once he moved my car, which made me nervous, as the street was so crowded and parking spots so small. Dzhokar was always friendly to me and seemed easy going. In 2010-11, there was a day when Dzhokar wasn’t home, so Zubeidat took the parking pass out to the street for me.
I noticed that she first put on a hijab before going outside. She had never worn a hijab while working at the spa previously, or inside the house, and I was really surprised.
Between 2008 and 2012 I got to know her pretty well.
Throughout my years of knowing Zubeidat I certainly had more contact with her daughters, one of whom attended the Catherine Hinds Institute and aspired to open a spa, and Dzhokar, than with the older brother Tamerlan.
Those three children were always friendly and kind to me. I think I only met Tamerlan twice, and he wasn’t friendly. Zubeidat certainly mentioned arguing with him, and being worried about him in general after he got his girlfriend pregnant. I never met Zubeidat’s husband. I know that a few years ago her husband got cancer, but she told us that the doctors had caught it early, and that he was doing well. She made one long trip to Russia in the period of 2011-2012.
While Zubeidat was very good at giving facials, I can say that her increased religious zeal and offensive political suggestions about 9-11 in part influenced my decision to not return to her home since January 2012. Those details aside, she struck me as a hard-working woman who cared a lot for her family.
When my mom called me earlier today telling me about how she had seen the picture of Dzhokar this morning and called the FBI, I couldn’t believe it. As her client for years I felt affection for Zubeidat and was very distraught to hear that her sons could have committed such horrific crimes.
When I read online that she had left for Russia a few months ago, my first reaction was to think that she might have known about the attacks her sons were planning. Articles online suggest that she is in Russia because of her husband’s poor health. I know that her husband often went to Russia without her, and for extended periods of time.
She was also very close with her sons and showed many signs of political leanings herself. Of course this is only my personal conjecture, and to my knowledge there is no proof about the parent’s involvement at all.
The actions of the two men have been atrocious beyond words. I wrote this story in order to help clarify some of the untruths I read online during the past few days, and I hope that any knowledge I have shared about the family can help investigators get to the bottom of these terrorist actions and not cause any further harm.
Since writing the original article I have experienced enormous relief following the capture of Dzhokar. I continue to pray and think about the victims of the bombings and everyone in Boston.
Alyssa Kilzer is a 23-year old writer and yoga teacher. She is earning her Master's degree in Creative Writing, specializing in life-writing and non-fiction works. She is originally from the Boston area.