Bobby Kennedy didn't die right away. He lingered for more than a day. I was in fourth grade at the time. That sort of thing leaves a scar.
I recognized echoes of that scar in Pelosi's voice the other day when she spoke to the press about heated rhetoric and political violence. Like a lot of other people, I'm sure she went to bed the night of that California primary full of hope and woke up in a nightmare that was becoming all too familiar.
I had naturally curly hair at the time. One day I spent hours in front of the mirror dumping my father's Vitalis on it, using a comb to slick it down with a part on the side so I could look like Bobby Kennedy. It never worked for more than a few minutes so I gave up after awhile. But even though I gave up on the hairdo I thought Bobby was the second coming. He was going to pick up the standard from his fallen brother and lead us into a better world. He was going to make everything alright.
I was in kindergarten when President Kennedy was shot. I remember exactly where I was when we learned the news. We were leaving the rooftop playground on the North sideof Riverside Church and heading towards the elevator. We were standing in line as always... two rows, in size place, boys on one side, girls on the other. I was at the front of the line right behind Mrs. Larson.
The doors to the elevator opened up. A woman came flying out of it, screaming and crying "They've shot the President!" One of the teacher's aides did something I've seen too many times since. She started to shriek and then her hands flew up to her face to cover her mouth. She stumbled backwards towards the wall. Her legs buckled and she just slid down the wall until she crumpled in the corner, sobbing.
I don't remember how we got home that day, but I know we didn't go back to school for awhile. Mom worked, so we spent the days with a bunch of other kids over at someone else's house. I remember the day of the funeral. It was on every channel, all five of them. The adults wanted to keep the TV on. The TV was on while we played. It was a real drag. There were no cartoons or anything worth watching; just this funeral. It was on all the channels. All the time.There weren't evencommercials.
The guy who shot the president got shot so life returned more or less to normal. Things on TV got worse. There was a war going on and it was on TV and it was pretty bad. It wasn't just adults fighting either. Kids were getting killed too. There was this thing called napalm. They said it was like liquid fire. Napalm became the ultimate weapon when we would play in Riverside Park. "I shot you!" "Yeah, well I threw napalm on all of your guys as I died!" I guess we didn't know how to use nukes or we would have probably dropped those, too.
Then Doctor King came along. He wasn't a real king, but he was a real doctor. He wasn't like Dr. Stimson. He didn't make house calls. I figured he was more like Dr. Spock. Dr. Spock used to be a baby doctor, but then he wrote a book about raising kids that all moms had to read. After that he got involved in politics and used to get arrested for talking against the war. I figured that was the kind of guy Dr. King was too. He used to give speeches. He even spoke at Riverside Church about the evils of war.
One night we were coming home and the elevator door opened. Awoman came out screaming and crying "They've shot Dr. King!" All the adults were shocked. One of the women started to shriek, covered her mouth andleaned up against the wall. Then her legs buckled and she slid down until she crumpled on the floor, crying.
We stayed in the apartment that night, but this time we weren't allowed to turn on the TV. I was kind of confused by the whole thing. I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to kill a doctor. Doctor's help people. No one could answer my question.
The next day we went to school. This time it was PS 125. We had an assembly. We were standing up to say the pledge of allegiance and a girl in the row in front of me, a girl I'd known and played with since kindergarten turned around and glared at me with a hate-filled look that I had never seen before. "You killed my brother," was all she said. We never played together after that.
Then came Bobby, and Bobby was going to make everything alright. The day after he was shot, I guess we were just all in shock. We went to school and it was my job to take the attendance list to the office. I knocked on the door but no one answered. I could hear people inside so I opened the door and went in.
All the secretaries were clustered around the radio listening to the reports from the hospital. No one noticed me. They were too busy crying. One of them was holding something like a necklace in her hands. She was crying and praying. I'd never seen anyone pray the rosary before.
Bobby died and there was no one left to pick up the standard. The war grew uglier. The rioting grew uglier. Nixon won the election and some of the students started exercising our constitutional rights. During assembly kidsstarted refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. The school year ended and we left the country.
I grew up and forgot about all that. Just buried it away with old photos and toys that I never played with anymore. It was kind of like a dream or a movie about other people. I eventually came back to the States and ultimately wound up in Maryland.