When I was finishing the draft of my novel in November and December, I made a fruitful discovery. I had decided to place the action of the novel in September 2008, when the world economy was collapsing. It had a direct effect on my protagonist, who loses his job, sending the rest of the action into motion.
I was writing this novel in fits and starts, starting in the fall of 2012, then 2013, then finally bearing down and finishing the draft in 2015. At each of these stages, I was four, then five, then seven years away from the details of the story. My research led me to the Internet. What was happening on September 8th of that year? On September 15th, and so on? There was a great deal I could read to remind myself of the events, both major and minor, of those traumatic weeks.
Then the Internet proved to be even more of a treasure trove. My protagonist is a Red Sox fan. How were they doing then? Their season would disappoint–I remembered that–but I did not remember precisely how it disappointed. I had him follow some games on television while he drank in bars, then I had him go in person to a game that ended badly. Baseball-Reference.Com told me exactly how it ended badly. That then led to a key scene.
Delightfully, I decided I could use the actual weather from those days. He was outside a lot. What was the actual weather, and how would that shape certain scenes? So rather then decide I wanted him to get caught in the rain, I started his day, and then looked up the weather, and discovered he would get caught in the rain. Then what would happen? The process led to some twists I enjoyed, others that I struggled with, and others that I wrote around. When you are 6’2 and 240 pounds and middle-aged, getting caught in the rain is different from being 5’8 and 145 pounds and 23 years old.
Which leads me to this ticket stub.This was a time when my family and I still attended a fair number of Red Sox games, usually five or more a year. Careful readers will note it was the year the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. It was an inter-league game, mid-summer. My younger son would have been 11, my older son about to turn 13. From the date, I can tell that it is likely the game I chose–close to my birthday and Father’s Day.
It was not a good day for the Sox. They lost, badly, 9-2, trailing 7-1 after the top of the fourth inning. Bronson Arroyo got shelled, and Nomar, Ortiz, and Manny went a combined 3 for 12 with a single RBI. It was unseasonably cool for late June, only 63 degrees when the game started at 1:26, but it was very humid. There had been a brief shower just before noon. We would have been getting in the car by then. The boys were old enough that we would have driven to the subway, then taken it the rest of the way into the city.
Did we have a good time? I honestly don’t remember, but even though I hate the Red Sox losing, I still love being at Fenway. And those were great seats, maybe 12 rows back from the field, behind the visitors’ dugout. We didn’t know the Red Sox would win that year. On that day, they were five games behind the Yankees for first place in the division. Indeeed, it would get worse. They would start the next week losing three games in a row to the Yankees, falling 8 1/2 games behind with the third loss, in a game Nomar famously sat out while Jeter made a gutsy play, falling into the stands to catch a fly ball.The Sox lost in 13 innings. Nomar sat out the entire game, and by the end of month he was traded. The rest, as they say, is history.
I actually remember the trade more than the game. We were on vacation, on the Maine coast, and I bought the local paper, saw the headline. My boys and I stood on the porch of the main building at Ferry Beach, trying to absorb the news. It felt like they had traded Nomar for a bucket of balls, two guys–Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz–we had barely heard of. Nomar was the face of the franchise–there he is printed on every ticket stub that year, throwing across his body in that unconventional style so many of us loved. My boys had his autograph on balls. He had talked to them. But we were on vacation, and as upset as we might be, we were enjoying ourselves too much to really be troubled.
So the Internet tells me many things, helps me scrape certain details together, but others are lost of course, lost to memory, the passing years, bigger things shaping what we remember and felt about those times. My mom died earlier that year, and my siblings and I splintered even more. I found more connection, more solace, in both church and Ferry Beach. I remember the hugs at my mom’s wake much more than I remember most anything else from that year. I remember sad days and nights of business travel, hotels in distant cities, landing at night after a long trip. I remember my last moments with my mother, then visiting her church, sitting through a mass that I knew meant a great deal to her but little to me. Those things I remember, and remember deeply. They will stay with me for my whole life, even if that Red Sox game is lost to memory.