November 22, 1963: 10:40AM, Pacific Standard Time. I am 11 years old and home alone, sick from school. My mother is at work and two of my sisters (who are still living at home) are in school. My oldest sister is married and living in east Hollywood with her husband and children. There is nothing to do but watch television. I haven’t yet learned how to avoid boredom. I do not have any connection to what is on TV until there is a breaking interruption: just a voice at first with a set of the word, Bulletin, repeated three times. The president’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas has been shot at. Not much was known at first. A little while later, the news was that President Kennedy and Governor Connelly of Texas were both wounded. Shortly after the TV station went live from New York, Walter Cronkite announced the terrible news that President Kennedy was dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. I was shocked and furious. This was MY president not just the American President, but the one who represented my first political identity. Prior to him running for president in 1960, I saw the presidents as old, withered men with whom I could not identify. My political birth happened with JFK’s candidacy when I was eight years old. I strongly encouraged my mother to vote for him. I believe she did…after all, he was born the same year as she was. He was smart, charming and attractively young. He was seemingly open. The future. Now what? I demanded of the world that they find the person responsible and bring him to justice. I wrote something like that in big letters and pasted it on the dining room window as it looked out to the world racing by. I’m certain no one saw it except my sister several hours later who berated me for my stupidity. There was no one there but me. I HAD to express my feelings somehow even if no one saw it. By the time everyone was home, it was clear that they all knew what happened. Incredibly, no one shared their feelings or thoughts about it though we all were stuck to the TV broadcast. While watching the funeral procession three days after the assassination, I cried privately, silently to myself. In our family, crying in front of anyone was never encouraged.
For the next few years, it seems, I lived in a bubble alone. I always suspected Lyndon Johnson had something to do with the assassination…after all, who had more to gain from Kennedy’s death? LBJ ran an ugly campaign in the primary elections and lost to Kennedy. He was seen in Fortworth, Texas in the day or two prior to the assaaination as seemingly irritable and unhappy. Those in the know explain that things were not going well for Mr. Johnson politically at the time. He was a man used to having unfettered power as Speaker of the House prior to his failed primary campaign against JFK. Now, he was playing second fiddle to a relatively young upstart that he apparently despised.
Recent re-examinations of the forensic evidence seem to confirm that all three shots came from the Texas schoolbook depository, fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. So, he was a lone gunman. Nevertheless, I still wonder how it was that a man, who defected from the US to the Societ Union, lived there for two years, married and had a child, was simply allowed to re-establish his citizenship and return to the US bringing his wife and child with him. How did this happen in the midst of a very cold war? Unless, he was helped by someone in power...When Oswald was in the US Marine Corps, he was a radar specialist with "confidential" clearance. He was living in the USSR when Francis Gary Power's U2 spy plane was shot down. Did Oswald have anything to do with that? I have no idea, but it's hard to believe in so many co-incidents. It should have been just as hard for US officials as well. He returned to Dallas, Texas where he had lived with his mother prior to joining the Marine Corps at age 17. Of course, Johnson's home State was Texas.
I was devastated and had no idea how to deal with it. It was my first major loss. No one, it seemed, understood the momentousness of that experience for me. They were deep into their own grief.
Five months later, our maternal grandmother died. I remember my sister Hilda crying bitterly in the arms of our mother while I stood across the room dumbfounded. My mother was crying as well. Still, there was no instruction on how to grieve without crying, without stumbling into my mother’s grief. Hilda, apparently, had no problem with it, but she was special…the only one of us born at home and seemingly our mother’s favorite.
When, three and half years later, Hilda died in a car crash, my mother was inconsolable. She never got over it. I felt so helpless. I remember wishing that it had been me who died believing Hilda would’ve been able to help her.
Now, fifty years after the assassination of John Firtzgerald Kennedy, I still grieve and cry alone.