Note: With apologies to my brother-in-law in New England, I'm hoping the Cleveland Indians (despite their shameful logo) go all the way this year, beginning with a decisive ALCS win against Boston tonight. This has been a year without baseball for me. I missed Twins games and Will's NYBA games over at Sechler Park. In England, the closest I came to seeing baseball was watching the little children at St. Nicholas Primary School learning to play rounders. But as 27 Major League teams are saying at this point in October: "Next year..."
September 10, 2001 was Will’s tenth birthday. His golden birthday. Ten years old on the tenth day of the month. We took him out to Red Lobster (his choice) for crab legs and lobster tails. He told us it was his best birthday ever. He got dozens of baseball cards and the promise of a Twins game at the Metrodome.
I remember the day he was born, a gray day in early September when the 1991 Minnesota Twins, destined for a World Series championship, were rain-delayed in Kansas City. I remember in astonishing detail the look and feel and smell of that day. I remember the exact gray of the sky, the rain on the hospital roof, his grayish-pink head that fit into the palm of my hand.
Now I remember with the same clarity his tenth birthday: Will extracting crab meat from the legs, happily using words like exoskeleton to talk about his food. I keep holding onto September 10: the afternoon sun like melted butter, and everything perfect.
The next day, the day after his birthday, he didn’t want to talk about what had happened. He said that the news had interrupted a good geometry lesson. He said he couldn’t comprehend what had happened. It didn’t seem real. So much death didn’t seem possible. It didn’t make sense that so many people, with names and lives and families, were gone in an instant.
He turned away.
We hid the Newsweek when it arrived, so that he wouldn’t see the pictures of people jumping from the World Trade Center, a hundred floors up from the street.
Usually he likes to know what’s going on in the world. For school that year, he wrote a report on global warming. He came home from school one day with a backpack full of books on ozone depletion, ice cap melting, acid rain. He attacked the problem with all the confidence of a ten-year old kid who’s ready to solve any problem our generation leaves for him.
“Brian’s doing his report on nuclear fission,” he told us. “But I already know all about that.”
A few days after his tenth birthday, Will left a note for us at the breakfast table. It said: “This birthday will be remembered by its events (and the events that followed). Thank you for all your kindness. Throughout this past week I have been receiving endless presents, yet I have been holding in my true love and gratitude to you. I have pushed it into this letter in effort to make you happy with all my ten years of existence.”
A week later, as promised, I took him to the first Twins game after the tragedy of September 11. That night, September 19, Minnesota went on to defeat Detroit, and Twins pitcher Brad Radke took a perfect game into the seventh inning.
“How rare is a perfect game?” Will asked as we drove home. The roar of the Metrodome was still ringing in our ears.
“There’s only been eighteen of them ever,” I said. “And only one in the World Series.”
Walt Whitman said: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game—the American game. It will repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” Driving home from the game with my son beside me, under those flightless skies, it was still possible to imagine a perfect world.
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