My lifelong love affair with guilt began on November 22nd 1963 the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
I can’t remember when I fell in love with President Kennedy, his wife and their two children——especially Caroline. All the girls and women in the court my family lived in in Queens loved the Kennedy family. But only my best friend, Ava,and I played a game called rather cleverly I thought, Kennedy Family. Since I thought up the game I made Ava play President Kennedy and John John as I played Jacqueline and Caroline.
We lay on the grass in front of the garden apartment court and put President Kennedy and Jackie (as everybody called her) in all sorts of exciting situations——to me and I assume Ava——often mysteries that a very very young Caroline and toddler John John would solve.
That our games bore no relationship to any known reality didn’t matter to me or Ava. We were the Kennedys; we were strong, beautiful and powerful.
Then in Seventh Grade my family moved to real Long Island, just fifteen minutes away from the garden apartments. I loved living in a house, and even more loved not sharing a room with my sister. Yet the world lost much of its luster and magic. Still I could daydream about the Kennedy’s.
I cared about politics and social issues for as long as I could remember. My father would find newspapers on the subway and bring them home. He even bought a few. I learned to read on New Yorker cartoons which probably accounted for my very strange sense of humor.
We had to wait for my father to come home for dinner so we could all eat together and discuss the news of the day. I loved the dinner hour. But hated the gnawing feeling of hunger that made me over eat. It wasn’t just food I was hungry for but friends and something more. Something I couldn’t quite admit to myself. I was a thirteen year old, that November of 1963, in dire need of a boyfriend.
I was no longer a child with a ready laugh and a constant smile but a sullen teenager who no longer understood the concept of happiness. Still I had the Kennedy family to daydream about. I followed President Kennedy’s schedule with a vigor only a stalker and his scheduling secretary would understand.
When we got out of gym that day there were murmurs up and down the hallways. Somebody had shot President Kennedy. Our teachers and the administration would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.
As we started school at Seven something in the morning we got out just after Two PM. But I couldn’t go home. I had to go to extra-help in math.
It wasn’t fair. I wanted to go home where my parents would tell me the truth. My father worked from home a couple days a week and he was home that Friday.
Suddenly, on my way to extra-help, I realized something horrible. People were saying that President Kennedy was dead; that he had been shot in a motorcade in Dallas. I had no idea he was in Dallas. For the first time since he had become president I had no idea where he was. It was my fault and only my fault that he was killed. Had I followed his schedule as I should have I would have known and he would have been saved.
But maybe he wasn’t dead. Nobody was saying that for a fact. Instead of listening to my math teacher I drew anorexic girls with hair in flips and sheath type dresses. Mr. Glass didn’t seem to care if we participated or even listened.
An English teacher, a woman, burst into the room. She was crying. Mr. Glass did something very strange for a math teacher or any teacher really. He walked up to her and hugged her. So it was true. President Kennedy was dead. Just then the principal went on the PA system and said that extra-help and all school activities were going to be cut short. We should get on our buses and go home to our mothers as President Kennedy had been shot. I don’t think he said he was dead but a very strange music began playing on the PA. Music that forever after I would associate with death and Catholics.
My parents were waiting at the bus stop along with some mothers. We all ran to our parents and began to cry.
I spent the weekend in front of our one black and white TV set. I didn’t eat and I didn’t talk. On Monday my parents made me go to the Syosset Bowling Alley. I liked bowling. It was the only team sport I could sort of play. But I hated it that day.
And I missed Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald, also known as TV’s first instant replay. I told my parents I would never forgive them for that. I forgave them soon after but never let them know. I didn’t tell my parents that it was my fault President Kennedy had been killed. I knew how sick and stupid that sounded. I never let myself fall in love with a president again.
Until today I have never told a person this story.
Oh guilt this affair has gone on way too long!