- Posted October 22, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
When you heard JFK was killed
Nov. 22, 1963
As usual, my mind was wandering when the classroom door opened and a girl popped her head in. This was unusual, the Algebra teacher didn't brook any shenanigans in her classroom. We all swiveled our gaze to the girl who said that President Kennedy had been shot.
Shot? Who would want to shoot the man at the center of Camelot's round table? Even at 13, I recognized Kennedy's brilliance, charm, and wit at his frequent press conferences. The journalists would laugh, and the President would beam back at them, the regard between them clear.
I loved President Kennedy in spite of that "messy" time the year before, during the Cuban missile crisis. At school, we had practiced "ducking and covering" more than usual, and one afternoon while walking home from school with a friend, a car had backfired. Both my friend and I dropped our books and crouched against an apartment building wall with our arms over our heads, so sure were we that World War 3 had started.
At the end of Algebra class when the bell rang, my day was essentially over. Being a so-called "good" kid, I had been selected to be a 9th period hall monitor, sitting at one end of a long hallway opposite the school office.
I had just opened a book to get a head start on the weekend's homework when a classroom door flew open, and the small, portly Music teacher barreled out. Through his open door, I could hear the sound of a portable radio.
The Music teacher strode directly toward me, picked up an empty desk/chair combination next to me, and hurled it off the third floor landing, where it bounced off a metal grating covering the stairwell window, before clattering down to the second floor.
I was shocked, I had before never seen an adult behave that way before. Not long after that, and without any explanation, we were released early from school. I always walked to and from school with my three best friends, but that day, for some reason, I found myself alone.
A viciously cold rain was pelting down as I crowded on a Chicago Transit Authority bus heading east. Everyone on board sat in silence, our clothes were steaming in the cold. As usual, there was no one home when I got there, my mother worked full-time. I stripped off my wet clothes and climbed into a pair of warm flannel pajamas just in time to see Walter Chronkite remove his glasses, glance at a clock, and pronounce the President dead. Breath stopped, the world stopped.
I don't remember how we organized it, but I did that Friday night what I did every Friday night, I played Mahjongg with my three best friends. On Friday nights, we were like ships stuck in dry dock, raring to get out on the high seas, to date, to go to dances, to fall in love, but we still about a year away from being able to do any of that.
That Friday night, four of us sat down in my friend Harriet's breakfast room and began to to play Mahjongg, and we played, and we played. We didn't listen to the news. We took infrequent naps in the darkened living room. By Sunday morning, it was agreed that we would take a short break to go home and get clean clothes.
Harriet came home with me, and we walked in to my living room just in time to see a strange scene on the TV. A short man in a hat was lunging toward a man in a sweater, there was a bang, then the man in the sweater crumpled to the ground clutching his stomach. My mother was sitting like a statue, her hand covering her mouth. None of us said a word, Harriet and I went into my bedroom, grabbed some clothes, and we went back to the safety of the breakfast room.
That Monday, no one went to work, no one went to school, no stores were open. We continued to play Mahjongg through that Tuesday, through the President's funeral. We disbanded that Tuesday night, and I remember feeling weird to be back home. On Wednesday, the buses crawled, the elevated trains rumbled, the school was back in session, except nothing felt right. It wasn't the same school we had left that Friday afternoon, it wasn't the same world.
I don't remember ever playing Mahjongg after those four days. The Mahjongg players scattered, to different cliques in high school, then out into the world. I often wonder where they are now, and if they remember how we passed those four days, when one world ended and another began.