Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I was eight and we were living in Sunset Trailer Park in Midland, Texas. I was in Miz Davis's third grade, where I was unchallenged teacher's pet. Someone from the office came to Miz Davis's door after lunch and they whispered for a minute. Miz Davis began crying and left the room. We were stunned and scared. The stranger told us to read quietly at our desks. Miz Davis did not come back for an hour. When she did, her face was ravaged by grief.

She told us all to stand quietly and get in line for a special assembly. She led us outside to the flagpole, where every other class in that elementary school were also arrayed in lines radiating outward like the rays of a star. The principal himself began lowering the flag, and stopped at halfway down. I was utterly bewildered, and cold with fear from the adult disbelief in the air. The principal said we were all being sent home, told us to get our things and go straight home.

It wasn't until I passed by some older kids that I heard what was going on: The President had been shot and killed.

I didn't know what to think. My parents were both Goldwater supporters, and I had heard a lot of bad stuff about Kennedy at home. I walked slowly home on that bright November day, noticing how deserted the streets seemed. When I came in the front door, I tried to align myself with how I guessed my mother might feel by calling out "Did you hear the good news?"

She gasped and shushed me. She had clearly been crying, and I was more confused than ever. Bill, a toddler, crept in beside me and I put my arms around him. Mama returned to our blacl-and-white TV, and we were left to our own devices. After a while Craig came in, a teenager, raging and thowing himself about. Mama focused on him. and I kept Bill and myself out of their way.

I was upset when the afternoon cartoons of "The Funny Company" were pre-empted. We ate dinner in front of the TV that night. I don't know if Daddy called -- he was in Irving, a suburb of Dallas, and I never asked him how he experienced that time. My personal life was crammed full with worrying about Mama, who was very pregnant with our last brother at the time, and with trying to keep Craig away from me and Bill. That was the autumn when he was forcing me to play strip poker with him whenever Mama left the house. A hint of what was to come.

By the end of January, Sammy would have been born and died. Mama would have died when her uterus ruptured and been waved back from a bright light by her own mother. Daddy would sell the trailer and move us all, Mama still with weeping red surgery scars on her belly, to a tiny apartment in Irving by Mama's birthday on February 9th. He gave her a chihuahua for her birthday, my grandparents said to help her forget the dead baby. Things unraveled swiftly after that.

But it all seemed to begin, in my mind, with President Kennedy's assassination.

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