Getting Back to Normal

001After 9/11, I was like everyone else in many ways–profoundly sad, stunned, angry, and anxious. The hardest part for me was figuring out what to do for my boys, then only ten and eight. My older son was distraught the first few days. On the night of 9/11, he woke up screaming as some fighter planes roared overhead. We lived within a few miles of Boston’s Logan Airport, and I imagined they were scrambling for some reason. It scared the shit out of me, too, though I tried not to show it.

It’s been a long time, more than 14 years, so I don’t remember much about the few days after 9/11, but nothing felt right. We were nervous putting the boys back in school, and I was really nervous commuting back into the city after telecommuting for a few days. I was taking the Orange Line into Downtown Crossing, then switching to the Red Line to head out to Central Square in Cambridge. The platform for the Red Line was the deepest part of the big, complex station. My first commute back I abandoned my usual spot on the platform to stand next to the one nearby exit. It would take me through a steel, barred revolving door, and up to the street. I even stepped through it once during those first days and counted the stairs. 88. I stood at that spot on the platform every morning of my commute for the next 13 years before I started driving in.

We have always been Red Sox fans as a family, and in those days split some really great season’s tickets with a bunch of other families. Each season we would get together for a draft. Depending on how it would go, I would end up with four seats for a few games, then two seats for a few more. For the games we had four, we would all go. For the games we had two, my wife and I would go to a few together, then usually I would take one boy to a game, then the other. There usually was a nice balance to it.

After 9/11, major league baseball cancelled a week’s worth of games. On 9/9. two days before the attack, the Sox had actually been in Yankee Stadium, losing to the first-place Yankees 7-2. It was a forgettable end to a mediocre season, but we had one more pair of tickets to one more game. It would be on the 21st, and I would be taking my younger son.

The Sox’ first game back was 9/18, at Fenway, against the Rays. We would be going that Friday night. I read about the new security steps they were taking at Fenway, tried to read every assurance and all good news into everything they were doing. I don’t remember how or why we decided Nathaniel and I should still go, but we did. I fretted for my son. It was just a game, the tickets long-since paid for (though at $50 for each ticket it was nothing to sneeze at), but we still went. It even rained a bit that day, and a little more was forecast for that evening, and it was kind of cool but we still went. The Sox were out of the playoff picture, but we still went.

We drove in, avoiding the subway, but Fenway Park was feeling like a big, inviting target. The crowds were still streaming in, though. This was Fenway, which had been selling out or nearly selling out games since 1967 when the moribund franchise was brought back to life by Carl Yastrzemski and the Cardiac Kids. According to Baseball Reference, more than 30,000 people showed up that night. In hindsight, it really was a testament to how hopeful people can be, how important it is to get back to normal, even when the most horrific things have happened.

I honestly don’t remember much about that night. Baseball Reference tells me the Sox beat the Tigers, 5-2. The AAA-battery-thin Casey Fossum got the win, 2-1. Ugueth Urbina, who would later become a felon, got the save. Manny Ramirez homered, and my man Tim Wakefield pitched three scoreless innings. Knowing us, we would have stayed until the end of the game, and gone home, happy with the Red Sox win.

The only moment I remember was when Nathaniel and I bumped into one of his basketball friends, and his mother, in the stands. She is a really nice woman, and a really nice mom. We didn’t say anything about the obvious, but we both held onto to the shoulders of each of our boys as they stood between us talking. I could see the anxiety in her face, and I am sure she could see the anxiety in mine. I would learn later that she was a college friend of my stepbrother, Tom, a Jesuit priest. Maybe we were both quietly channeling his faith while we made our nervous small talk and held fast to our children, hoping they were just lost in conversation, just being boys enjoying a baseball game on a cool September night.

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