Where were you when Kennedy was shot? If you’re like me, your answer may vary. I have no memory of the event, but it’s suffused into my personal experience–as it is with so many who were alive at the time. So when someone asks where were you? I have to rely on secondhand accounts.
Where was I? In the Jewish Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio. Not quite three days old. Given the times, I was probably watching television.
This time of year we have our obligatory Kennedy retrospectives. We get to see the Zapruder film a few dozen times. Nowadays, of course, we have computer enhanced Zapruder, and wireframe 3-D Zapruder. CSI:Dallas gives us both an eagle-eye and a mole’s ass view of events in Dealy Plaza that day. Re-enactments and laser tracking. And we still don’t know shit. Yeah, probably Oswald was acting alone, and yeah the whole Grassy Knoll thing is probably a canard, but damn what a confusing mess. And every year we’re sure to get one or two new nuggets to confuse the matter. Is there a classified CIA file somewhere with all the answers? Or have we had all the important answers for the better part of forty years and it’s just time to shut the hell up about it? I come down on either side, depending on my mood or whether or not I’ve had too little coffee, or too much beer.
As a child, there were lots of stories about the impact of Kennedy’s death on my life. It upset my mother so much she lost the ability to nurse me. Now if that sounds like Attack of Too Much Information Man, picture a thirteen year old boy and his friends being regaled by his mother with the tale. “Kennedy’s death changed little Billy’s life.” Aw, geez, Ma.
In all honesty, its effect on me was downright trivial in a big picture sense. But that doesn’t change the fact that every year this time I start to think about it again. Some years I watch the documentaries, some years I don’t. This year was a don’t. (“Where were you when Kenn–” *Bill punches questioner out*)
1988 was probably the year it had the biggest effect on me. We’re a milestone-luvin’ people, and we especially love to cast our milestones in the most dramatic terms. My birthday and Kennedy’s death, despite being three days apart, are effectively the same thing in my mind. And in 1988, it had been twenty-five years. Twenty-five is an important anniversary in our social consciousness, so a bigger fuss than usual. And around the Kennedy anniversary that year, there seemed to be a particular joy in casting it as “A Quarter Century Since Kennedy.” (Movie Trailer Voice and swelling music.)
Now, twenty-five is pretty damned young. But when you associate your age with a seminal event, and the event is all over the tee-vee and newspaper (thank God for no real internet in 1988), and when you hear the passing time described as “a quarter century”, well, if you’re me, you freak out. Some people freak out at zero ages, 30, 40, 50. I freaked at a quarter century.
Damn you, Oswald!
Another thing my mother used to say was that I was “marked” by the Kennedy assassination. I don’t really know what that means. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, used that phrase a lot too; she told my aunt that the baby would be marked because my aunt went to see The Exorcist while she was pregnant with my cousin. (My cousin seems just fine, by the way.) If I was “marked” by the Kennedy assassination, I suppose that could explain my interest in crime fiction. Certainly it’s one of the great mysteries of the twentieth-century, and inspired a veritable deluge of fiction, much of it couched as “fact.” And the marking might explain my particular bent. After all, I am the “sick and twisted one,” according my acquisitions editor at Midnight Ink–an appelation I don’t really have a problem with.
These days, of course, we have our new crimes of the century, and I don’t wonder if Kennedy has dropped off the radar screen for most people. How many folks watch the obligatory History Channel and Court TV dramati-mentaries anymore? How many of us fret over conspiracies and wonder what that imagined classified file will tell us? And will 2008 (a -fifth anniversary) or 2013 (Half a Century After Kennedy!) awake the increasingly somnolent Kennedy beast again? Or is it too far behind us, significant only to a dwindling few with obscure and perhaps only ephemeral attachments to the event.
I do know is I’m fascinated and repelled by this event. Marked or not, it feels like something that’s inside of me, a piece of who I am. Maybe my interest in crime fiction grew partly out of it, or maybe it came from somewhere else. Hard to say. But I also know that come Thursday as we prepare to slice the turkey and pass the stuffing, one thing I’ll be thankful for is that I survived yet another anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination.
Author of Lost Dog
Available April 2007
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