I was in the fifth grade when Kennedy was shot. Our teacher Miss Deterson, told us after recess. Hallie Hudson started to cry, raised her hand and told Miss Deterson that now she knew how the country felt when Lincoln was assassinated. Miss Deterson’s eyes misted though I could tell she was pleased that Hallie managed to connect what she’d taught her in history class to current events. That Hallie always was a kiss ass.
The headmistress of the school called a mandatory chapel and all the girls hurriedly unrolled the waistband of their skirts so they’d touch the floor when they kneeled. Everyone was crying, some people were outright sobbing. Students, teachers, cafeteria workers, even the cool girls, but I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel anything except for that slightly out of body feeling I always had, like I was floating someplace to the right of my head. I remember thinking what does this mean, the president has been shot, but I knew better than to actually ask because I knew none of the fact answers would have anything to do with my question.
I did cry when John Lennon was shot. I was at Kristina’s apartment, two doors away from the Dakota. Her apartment was on the 5th floor front, facing West 72nd Street. We were well into a second bottle of wine talking booze nonsense thinking we should tape our conversations they were so brilliant when we heard the gunshots. We glanced at the window looked back at each other and shrugged.
“Just another glorious night in New York,” Kristina said.
“Do you believe this town,” I said pulling on my Frye boots, “I gotta go, Gordon’s waiting for me.”
It was the elevator man who told me that John Lennon had just been shot. I stared at him trying to shake clear of the alcohol not quite comprehending, not really sure I wanted to, and walked out the building over to the Dakota. There were no people there yet, they would come later, only a cop who told me that yes John Lennon had been shot but he wouldn’t tell me what hospital they took him to and he wouldn’t tell me if they’d caught the person who did it. I stood there shrinking like Alice.
“Move along,” the cop said, “move along.”
“I gotta a friend on the job,” I said.
“Good for you girlie,” he said not unkindly, “move along.”
I told the cab driver, he didn’t care, and I told Gordon when I got home but he didn’t believe me. At that point I was trying to figure out how to call Yoko. Not that I knew Yoko but you see I was about to marry Gordon, planning the wedding, and I couldn’t imagine anything more devastating than losing your husband, your partner, your soul mate, and I wanted to tell her that my entire heart and all my prayers were with her. I still prayed then, still believed in salvation, still believe in the intrinsic rightness of what I’d been taught. The hospitals wouldn’t give me any information.
I was drunk and mad and Gordon was standing there eyebrow arched and there-there patronizing.
“Why don’t you believe me?!” I hollered. “I heard the shots, the doorman told me, and the cop verified it.”
“Sure Katherine,” he said soothingly. “Sure.”
There was nothing else to do but take two Excedrin, slap on the visible difference, and go to bed.
The next day Gordon was acting a lot like Hallie Hudson and I shook him off when he reached out to me for comfort. Then I felt bad, he was hurting so and I shouldn’t act like a bitch, so I made him a cheese omelet and gave him a blow-job. He didn’t understand either when I asked him what he thought it meant but Mary did. Mary knew exactly what I was asking and she looked me straight in the eye right there on Madison Avenue in front of Salander-O’Reilly Gallery and said, “Janie I honestly don’t know.”
Mary and I spent the rest of the day walking around the outside perimeter of the reservoir and we kinder to each other than we’d ever been. We walked not understanding, not even knowing if we could or if we’d be willing to. Perfect strangers walked by, we searched, they searched each other’s eyes and took comfort in the fact that we weren’t alone in our confusion; that something evil had happened for which there was no explanation, no reason. It was a healing day; I didn’t thinking about God.
I watched the boy escaping out the window tonight, his body partially paralyzed he threw himself down on the ledge paying no mind to the rescue workers telling him to hold tight they’re be right there. He only knew he had to get out, he only knew he had to keep moving. And I’m thinking of stagnant water now and the boys who shot him and the parents who didn’t know their sons were making bombs in the garage. And I’m thinking that there’s no air in stagnant water and you can’t see through it and I’m remembering how as a child at the beach three days after a hard rain there would be little pools of moss green scummy water caught in the ditches along the sides of the road in between big thick batches of orange day lilies. All that life next to all that death, even weeds couldn’t grow out that water but mosquitoes could lay their eggs in it. When there was too much rain they’d plane and truck spray for mosquitoes with DDT, usually at cocktail hour. All the adults would be sitting on the porch, gentle clouds of poison wafting gentle through the screens tendril-ling round, they’d laugh, wave their hands, and have another drink and a cigarette. They didn’t know the price, didn’t care, mosquito free is mosquito free. And the birds would wake us up at dawn crying because they didn’t have anything to eat; the poison killed everything even the worms.
I don’t get that out of body feeling anymore. Gordon and I speak a little as possible and I know why people kill each other. I remember the nights when nothing would have felt better than to shoot him dead because then my agony would be over and I got in that moment the connection between powerless and murder and made a note. Tennessee Mark told me he thought some people are just born evil, safe on his pat little island with all his easy answers I was looking for some connection and bumped into an angled wall. I hung up the phone and went for a walk remembering the flooding tenderness I was jealous I couldn’t feel in chapel but could feel with Mallory and the man who walked by us with the red eyes. No one wanted to talk about Colorado or Washington or Kentucky, everybody wanted to get by it as soon as possible, we forgive them, shhhhh.
There’s a price for silence, there’s a price when you don’t question and like Tennessee Mark people quit questioning because there are no easy answers and we live in a world of either or. Angled walls are so simple to erect and they give the illusion of protection and safety, but there is no flooding tenderness that comes with honest star sharp pain and the unconscious control of collective and individual wounds grows ever stronger. The overwhelming sense of powerlessness remains; like DDT it is the silent gift that keeps on giving.
posted at open salon 6/17/12