By Paula Damon
At 12:30 p.m., Central Standard Time, Nov. 22, 1963, the news struck darkly on a solemn keyboard that would echo for eternity.
Pounding chords of disbelief made me sick to my stomach. Below my furrowed brows, wells of heartache filled my eyes, clouding my thinking.
I remember where I was when the news hit that our beloved U.S. President had been gunned down. I was in the sixth grade and would be turning 11 years old in eight days.
School was released early. A few minutes prior, I hesitantly put away lessons on Greek mythology in exchange for a perennially violent and burdensome truth of an assassination plot to kill our president.
On my way home from school, I don’t recall the expression on the crossing guard’s face, but I do remember looking down at deep cracks in the sidewalk and straining my short legs in long reaching steps over them.
While never really hitting my stride on that block and a half home, I found myself glum and grief-stricken, hauling debris of hopelessness, a burden I shared with every other American alive at the time.
As the concrete rose beneath my feet, it carried me closer and closer into the cold-blooded reality of what had just happened in Dallas, Texas, and all I wanted was to go back and magically make it not so.
Forlorn, my limited vocabulary for describing such horror grew exponentially from that point forward.
The trauma of such an unforeseen tragedy stole outright the composition of John Kennedy’s Presidency – fresh and unspoiled – replacing it with a foreboding sense of doom.
It was the first time in our nation’s history that time had stopped as Americans simultaneously huddled in their living rooms frozen around black and white television sets to see and hear Walter Cronkite glumly break the shattering news.
Collectively, we gasped. In unison, our hearts tore. Simultaneously, our fears ignited. All at once, we were heartbroken. In a blink, we were without.
Breathtakingly handsome and demure – John and Jackie Kennedy were the first couple to occupy the White House who didn’t’ look like our grandparents, rather resembling Barbie and Ken dolls. At 43, John Kennedy was the youngest President.
Even at my young age, I was charmed, like the rest of the country, by the romance and mystic surrounding what would become known as the “Kennedy dynasty.”
According to the Warren Commission, after the shots were fired, the First Lady was overheard saying more than once, “They have killed my husband….I have his brains in my hand.” And later in a LIFE magazine interview, Mrs. Kennedy said, “All the ride to the hospital I kept bending over him saying, ‘Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.’ I kept holding the top of his head down trying to keep the…” she stopped, unable to finish her sentence.
Now, 50 years later, I am still grieving as I watch raw footage of them seated in the back seat of a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible, happily riding in a Presidential motorcade on a parade route down Elm Street in Dallas.
The tragic string of events leading up to the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy – only 1,000 days in office – cannot be overplayed.
The avengers – whoever they were, became characters in ever-evolving manifold of conspiracy theories. Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, the Cuban government, the CIA all conferred a new brand of mistrust in the form of unanswered questions that have permanently affixed themselves to history.
Since then, a posse of unspeakable loss and disbelief has kept watch – it’s just something that never leaves you.