My best friend got married and the Leafs tried to make the playoffs.
Life is a novel filled with bookmarks. Birthdays, holidays, special events, weddings. We mark these points in time to remind us where we are in the moment and to help find our place when looking back in the future.
I often use sports as my bookmark.
Flip back to the page when the Leafs won the 2016 draft lottery. I was kneeling on an oriental rug in my living room, the same rug I purchased three days after kneeling in the same position over a naked hardwood floor as the Leafs blew a 4–1 lead in Game 7 to the Bruins three years earlier. The Leafs had the worst record in the league in 2015–16 and so the best lottery odds.
The lottery is a spectacle, grown men flipping white cards to reveal team logos in an order that dashes dreams or fosters hope. In this lottery, the final card and the number one overall pick in the draft belonged to the Leafs. When they were announced as the winner, I leaped into the air, startled poor Livy, and hugged Emily.
Spring 2013 is a bookmark. Livy was born in March, we moved to our new house in Manchester two weeks later, and the Leafs made the playoffs for the first time since I was in college.
Saturday, April 8, 2017 is another bookmark. My best friend from childhood got married and the Leafs tried to make the playoffs again.
Brendan and I were born two weeks apart, in the same hospital, by Irish mothers and sports-crazed fathers. We went to KinderCare together, where I crushed his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, forcing his mom to introduce herself to my mom with a friendly phone-call to my house. We went to elementary school together, securing flag duty the final week of fifth grade and raising the stars and stripes each day as we talked about how much cooler life would be in our next school. We went to middle school at Illing and to our town’s high school. We even started college together. Brendan transferred to UNLV one year later. I transferred to the University of Toronto a year after that, or the final year the Leafs would make the playoffs until that 2013 season.
It seems silly to bookmark a moment like my friend’s wedding with the memory of the Leafs playing for a playoff spot, unless you know me, or know Brendan. We were just kids, each of us dressed in wrinkled khakis and our only tie, when my brother got married. The famous story my dad always likes to tell is that he couldn’t find us for a while that night, before he stumbled upon us at the edge of the bar in the hotel lobby — we were watching a late-night baseball game, regular season, I don’t even think any of our teams were playing.
I couldn’t write a story about Brendan’s wedding without including the Leafs game.
Weddings are formalities. We all know the bride and groom will say I Do, there’s no mystery to it, only a celebration waiting to happen. The same could be said of the playoffs, for most teams. The Leafs aren’t most teams, so as those final few lines to the wedding day narrative were read, before we could bookmark the moment with the Leafs clinching a playoff berth, and as McElhinney sprawled across the crease to block a Sidney Crosby one-timer, the outcome was far from certain.
The Leafs had the lead, after squandering it earlier. A puck off the skate of Jake Gardiner had trickled like a spilled drink, out of reach, past the goalie, staining the scoresheet before it even settled. Columbus had a brief lead before the Leafs grabbed it back. Now they were desperately trying to hold on.
I was kneeling again, this time in a hotel hallway. Music boomed through the wall behind me. A few guests walked by and laughed when they noticed me gripping my phone with a hockey game streaming on it. Outside, at that time, it was dark, impossible to see through the windows that gave off a reflection of the hallway’s fluorescent lights, to the beach, where we had the ceremony.
What happened over the final few minutes of the game mattered and it didn’t. The moment was already there. It wouldn’t be leaving me. There would be a late goal, probably by someone like Phil Kessel, and I would return to the reception area to tell my friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen since before this dreadful spell of non-playoff years began, that they did it again, they collapsed. Or the Leafs would surprise me, and win. Either way, it would be a detail to something more important, Brendan and Jenna getting married; but a detail, like whether the day brought sunshine or clouds, we somehow remember and use to bookmark time.