Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Death of My Innocence

Forty-seven years ago, today, I was a shadow moving in the world of the living. I should have been preparing for graduation with the rest of my class, but was, instead, studying for night school to get my GED, all hopes of college gone. My parents couldn't afford it and I had blown my chances at scholarships by loving the wrong guy and being in the wrong place at the wrong time with another one. Less than six months before, I had surrendered my second child to adoption. Hope for what life might have in store for me or for any of us was dwindling.

I had just finished washing the dishes and making the beds in our house and was getting ready to do a book report for night school when my mother called me from work and told me to turn on the television. I sat there, in shock, as I watched reports stating that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, had been killed by an assassin's bullet while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

There were actually some ignorant, bigoted, thumb-sucking, hate-mongering right-wingers who celebrated this tragedy. But they kept it low-key once they realized that their nation was in mourning. No matter what side of the aisle you supported, OUR commander-in-chief had become a target for, well., it is believed, a single nut job. There are still questions on that one. But it seemed that what sun there was in my sky went behind a big, dark cloud. I was already in deep depression and this sent me even further down that road.

JFK was the youngest president we have ever elected. He represented change, progress, tolerance and, most of all, HOPE, a commodity I had trouble holding on to. I never realized how much of my meager, personal store of optimism was held in this man's term of office. I had to wonder what kind of world this was that people could celebrate the violent death of a great leader, could take babies from the mothers who wanted them just because those mothers were not married and could label, as unworthy, so many people just because they were not White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant MALES. For all the stories of mistresses, Marilyn Monroe and human failings, I still honor and respect the man.

A few years later, I was in the break room at lunch and people were talking about the deaths of JFK and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy and the tragedies that had befallen that family. I remember one of my co-workers, known for wearing cross pendants of different gems and metals every day to work, saying that she had no sympathy for Rose Kennedy. After all, she opined, she was rich and could have whatever she wanted. The buried bits of me that could be offended struggled to the surface long enough for me to say, with gritted teeth, "You show me the amount of money that would compensate any mother for the loss of her children, F******. I don't think there is that much money on earth. Are you so jealous of her financial status that you can't identify with her as a mother?"

I don't know what the reaction was because I stormed out of the room and went out into the parking lot to get some air. A couple of the ladies came up to me later and told me that they were glad I had spoken to the issue. That was 1970. I was married with a 5-year-old daughter and expecting my youngest son. Even then, and even married, I was required to resign in my 5th month. It was unseemly for a woman with a large, fecund belly to be seen in the workplace. And THAT was right before the stigma of unwed motherhood began to lose its grip on our society.

I can think of all the milestones, personal and national, and the tragedies and triumphs of the past 47 years that have affected me. But, like everyone else, I most clearly remember all about that awful day in November, 1963. That was the day that a grieving, hopeless, soul-sick, childless mother watched her hope for her nation die, and be buried. That was the day I knew that love, honor and decency were in dreadfully short supply. I don't ever want to forget that day or the days of national anguish, shock and sadness that followed.

I just have to wonder what we have learned. After all, it's been 47 years.


Lori said...

Robin, I have no clue. I don't see the hope anymore...even as a child it was there, in small portion. I see a lot of nothing.

maryanne said...

One did not have to have surrendered a child already to remember that day. My surrender was several years in the future, but I was shattered by the Kennedy assassination. I was in high school, we were just coming in from gym class, last period, and it came over the PA that the president had been shot. Very shortly later it was announced he had died.

Everyone on my bus was crying, at least the girls were. I got home and walked in the door, my Mom had the radio and TV on and they were playing "Ave Maria" and both of us were crying. My girlfriend and I had stayed up all night when Kennedy was elected, our first Irish Catholic president, and went to school the next day because our families were among the few Democrats here in Republican land.He was so young and hopeful, how could he be dead? The next few days were a public nightmare of the shooting of Oswald, the funeral, the widow in black and the brave children, the endless mourning caddence of horse's hoofs and muffled drums.

I wore black for the rest of the school year, for the President and my favorite drama teacher who had a nervous breakdown at the news and spent several months in a mental hospital.

The death of Dr. Martin Luther King happened a few days before my son whom I surrendered was born. Two months later it was Bobby Kennedy. All my hope and all my youth was really gone.

Life had become as this quote from Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach"

"...the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night. "

Rest in Peace, all fallen heroes.

Robin said...

I also don't think that anyone had to have surrendered a child to remember that day. I was speaking of that day in reference to MY experience and how it affected me and why. That's what a blog is, in a way...a diary.

Nowhere, in this blog, does it say that anyone had to have surrendered a child to be saddened, shocked and pained by what happened. What I was conveying is that it happened at a dark time in my life and made MY world even darker.

I had to answer this one, maryanne. I was offended by your first sentence. When the tragedy happened, I lost the last bit of hope I was holding onto after losing TWO children to adoption. I was already deep in grief, dismay and disillusionment. That is what the assassination meant to ME.

No, I didn't hold a monopoly on shock and grief over the murder of a great man. But, I can only tell MY story.

maryanne said...

I know it was YOUR story Robin, as it always is, and I meant no offense or to add to the suffering you had at the time which was much greater than mine, your having lost two children already and me still a stupid virgin high school weirdo. I am sorry you were offended, I was just adding my take on a tragic event, not meaning in any way to diminish or criticize yours.

I understand that you are saying it was the end of the line for you, just as mine was when Bobby Kennedy was shot shortly after the birth of my child. A lot of times I disagree with you and mostly say nothing, but this was not one of those times.