Like most of the people in my generation, I can remember where I was when I first learned of President Kennedy's assassination. For me it was outside the cafeteria at Madison Junior High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wasn't having an easy time in seventh grade, and the announcement of this catastrophe didn't make it any better. When it was time to go to math class, which met in one of the many barracks-classrooms erected to house the overflow of students of the postwar baby boom, I learned a little more.
I don't remember the teacher's name. I wasn't good at math, and this teacher wasn't my favorite. She had once confiscated a little doodle I made--spacemen getting out of a flying saucer while people all around ignored them--and sent it to the counselor, who decided it was a clear sign of serious emotional problems. That day she tried to calm students down, giving us in somber tones the facts as she knew them. At one pont a girl asked if Kennedy had been shot "with a rifle or a gun," causing some titters, and easing the tension. But the teacher berated the titterers and brought the tension level back up.
Mercifully, Albuquerque Public Schools decided to dismiss students before math class was over. I watched the coverage of the assassination, and the funeral, on our black-and-white TV. The news commentators referred to the new president by his full name--Lyndon Baines Johnson--which prompted my father to say that he hoped they'd stop using the Baines.
I was eleven that year, and turned twelve at the end of November. (Being a year younger than most of my classmates surely exacerbated my problems in junior high.) For me, the Kennedy assassination was tied in with sad events in my personal and family life. I had been a top student in sixth grade, but ended up with three Ds on my report card that semester. I probably would have received them had there not been an assassination, but the shock of Kennedy's death did affect my studies. My father, at a loss to know what to do , spanked me for the 3-D report card. I resented it for a long time, and fantsized about running away, escaping to the Midwest, where the world seemed more civilized.
The next year, my parents sent me to the Albuquerque Academy, where I did much better. I wasn't fantasizing about running away, but my dreams of returning to the Midwest came true, though not in the best way.
For this was also a time when my parents' marriage was deteriorating. I must have sensed it emotionally, if not intellectually. My brother, four years younger, sensed it better than I. When our mother asked him if he knew what a divorce was, he said, it was when you got "unmarried." "You're going to get one," he immediately added.
The divorce took place in the summer of 1965. My mother, brother, and I moved to Iowa City, wher she worked on a Master of Fine Arts and eventually began working for Paul Engle, who was then in charge of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
All of this turmoil in my own life, and that of my family, took place in the aftermath of that terrible day in November, forty-five years ago. I'm sure I would be a different person--perhaps less fatalistic and more self-confident--had Oswald's bullet missed the president.
On January 20 of next year, we shall, for the first time in forty-five years, have a young, attractive, energetic, optimistic, and progressive president. let us hope and pray that he is able to serve his term and be re-elected in 2012. For the sake of our nation and of all the people, at home and abroad, who have put so much hope in him, I pray that Barack Obama has a long and successful presidency.