Because it is almost November 22, still more “never seen before news footage” from Dallas, 1963, was being shown on PBS last night. It is a yearly media event as predictable as the “live reports” of people filing taxes at 11:55 p.m. on April 15 at the main post office on Interstate 30, or the footage of someone futilely trying to fry an egg on a sidewalk in Garland sometime in July on the first 100 degree day of the year.
Television people are just so predictable about some yearly events. Like expected liturgical moments in church, I guess there is comfort for some in the repetitions and rhythms of societal life. The trouble is, when it comes to reports on the assassination of President Kennedy, I’m as predictable as those producers.
The black and white motorcade wends its way down Main Street, turns north toward Elm Street, then makes the short left in front of the School Book Depository, then yada, yada, yada.. So why in hell do I still watch to this point thinking it will somehow/ridiculously be different this year? Like every other American over 50 I know each moment of the next three days: from Jackie’s bloody dress at Dulles on Friday night to the snare drum cadence on Monday.
In subsequent years, conspiratorial niches were filled with Castro, Sam Giancana, the Carousel Club, David Ferrie, and a still unfolding vast cast of characters and widespread lists of places which have caused Walter Cronkite’s sonorous and also-predictable announcement to television-watching millions of the President’s death to change from a throat-clenching and yearly echo within our freshly fertilized imaginations to now-finally- after 45 years (my god, yes, 45 years!), a lulling and dulling vocal underline affirming, yet again, that nothing changed, nothing is different: JFK is dead.
We don’t know what might have been, and that inability to remember instead of surmise is what makes the memories of November 22 so discordant and troubling. Would the gaping wound of Vietnam have been torn across our country, and the world? Would the voices of King and Robert Kennedy have been able to be historically calming ones if a miscreant’s gunfire had not been shown to be so effective in wrenching history from its always-fragile course? And drugs? And 9-11? And Iraq? And, dammit, that’s why I turn the TV off or find a book to read because the “yada, yada” becomes “what if? what if” in a kaleidoscopic swirl of bloody, heart-breaking, question marks.
And, dammit again, that old news film still makes me cry a little, too: for people who shouldn’t have had to cry that day- people who I didn’t think were supposed to be able to cry: my algebra teacher, the Spanish instructor, the janitor, the bus driver, and –good heavens!- the principal of the school. Now, they’re all dead and I’m older than any of them were that day when I remember them hiding, or not, their tears.
It still feels so unrelentingly, deeply, and achingly wrong. Of course, it was. But I am surprised anew, on each of these past 44 anniversary dates, how intense some twinges of the pain still are.