I am sitting in typing class, fourth period after lunch. The principal comes on the loudspeaker telling us the president has been shot. Then a few moments later, puts the radio feed on the PA system. The president is dead—teachers stop what they’re doing. We sit at our desks, soaking in what has just happened.
“I want you to know, I still blame Texas for Kennedy’s death,” a professor at a university in Eastern Washington tells me. I’m there for an interview. I don’t get the job. This is twenty years after the afternoon in the typing class.
We go from class to class for the rest of the day, but nothing happens. Teachers leave the classrooms to console each other. We just sit at our desks in a kind of numb awareness that history lives outside the pages of a book. One teacher breaks down and cries. After school, we go to play practice, but no one feels like rehearsing, so we sit around for awhile, then leave.
That night we sit in the front seat of a ’62 Chevy watching some movie at a drive in. We kiss as if kissing would glue the world in place. Twenty days earlier, Diem is assassinated in Saigon with a wink and a nod. Our civics teacher explains the wink and nod to us. We knew what was going on if we listened. Four years later I am in line outside a galley in Great Lakes wearing blues and a p-coat. The wind blows in from Lake Michigan. Country Joe and the Fish are singing the marching song.
Come on all you big strong men. Uncle Sam need your help again.
At times it seems we are in a reality TV video stuck in a repeating loop. We talk without a script, but since the dialogue never really changes, there is no need. We grow old, those of us who are lucky enough, or unlucky enough, and realize that old memories and new memories are the same memories. Though the really good ones, the good lines and moments, the time you and I made love in the bushes at a local park on a Saturday afternoon, are cut out and left with the other cut tape (though everything now is digital) on the floor because someone might be made to feel uncomfortable. And somewhere in the equation, he wakes up at night remembering a lost scene from over a hundred years ago. They descend on a village at day break, wearing long coats and riding down on those still asleep. He wakes and realizes he was there, even though it was eighty years or more before he was born, that memory is etched in the molecules of air and what we remember when awake is selected by the guardians. But in dreams we break through sometimes.
In dreams, you kiss me and I taste your breath. In dreams, I can still run. In dreams…
The king is dead, long live the king—
Some of my happiest memories, he explains—the smell of burning leaves, a school house sitting on top of a hill, everything in shades of brown, my grandfather telling stories of dogs and bears, somehow the stories of dogs and bears making us feel safe. How to explain, he whispers.