Sunday, June 5, 2016

Remembering The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy

In a few weeks my review of Bobby Kennedy: The Making of an American Icon by Larry Tye will post. I finished the book June 4, the day before the anniversary of his assassination.

June 5, 1968 Wednesday

I woke up and turned on the radio. A grim, somber man was talking. No music, no happiness, no funny DJ. Because at 12:15 this morning Robert Kennedy had an attempted assassination against him. It took place in the Ambassador Hotel in LA. Senator Kennedy is in surgery now--brain surgery. He had two bullets in his head. his heart, they say, is in good health. Four other people were wounded. It happened right after his speech.

When I first heard he was shot, I cried. I stopped to listen. The tension--there was little relief when I found he wasn't dead.

What's happening? Why?

Kathy was really upset about it. She told me her parents don't understand, don't care. Dorothy on the other hand talked about boys all the way to school. I had my ear glued to the radio I brought along.

Mr. Stephen gave a speech on Kennedy and held a moment of prayer for his recovery. All the heads bowed, solemn, still, not a sound in the gym. Anne Hoffman, exchange student, gave a long speech that touched the heartstrings, dripping with sentiment. It was beautiful. She cried. I could have died. 

Mr. Stephan reported that Senator Kennedy was alright, the brain surgery was over. Applause, relief, smiles with sad eyes, everyone knew, everyone cared.

So reads my diary pages from my sophomore year in high school when I was still fifteen. It was days before the end of school. I wrote that Robert Kennedy was a bright hope in a time of division, working for racial unity. I was worried about America's future: what happens when all the great men are murdered?

It had been a hard year of ups and downs for me. Friendships lost and gained, crushes on boys who avoided me and breaking up with the boy who desired me, choral concerts, classes with beloved teachers Mr. Gasiorowski (biology)  and Mr. Rosen (journalism), flunking geometry. 

And the suicide of a boy I admired, the son of my favorite English teacher, the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, and now Robert Kennedy. I had held a simple faith in humanity and the basic goodness of people, but that faith was coming apart. 

Two days later I was thinking about death and dying. I spiraled down into self pity and fear. Still to come was the lengthy hospitalization of my mother with me in charge of my little brother and basic household duties, Dad visiting Mom evenings. I hit rock bottom before realizing I had a (then) simple faith in God, and that knowledge changed everything for me.

But it was this event that was the tipping point, the murder of a man who represented hope. Kids need to believe the adult world will protect them, that the greater community can handle its problems and solve them. 

Later I realized it was just life. My parents lived through World War II. My grandfather was orphaned by age nine and had to fend for himself, working himself through college. My grandparents left a land where they were considered undesirable and a threat. The belief in a past Golden Age is myth.

I was actually pretty lucky, living in my suburban home with two parents, attending a great school, having home cooked food on the table every night and a K-Mart wardrobe every fall. But today I will allow myself to remember the sadness and crushed hopes on the day that Robert Kennedy was shot.