The wall-to-wall media coverage of the past few days has jarred my memory in interesting ways. I have no recollection of President Kennedy's assassination itself. I was only two and half years old. But the event is seared into my brain. My mother bought two Time Life books, both with lots of photos, right after his death. One was about Kennedy's life and the other specifically about the assassination.They are among my earliest memories in childhood, raised in an Italian-Catholic family in Brooklyn. I would turn the pages over and over again, even when I couldn't yet read, looking at the photos of the motorcade going through Dallas streets, the drama of the shooting and Jackie Kennedy in her blood-stained pink suit.
The story of President Kennedy being killed was interwoven in my young life with the story of Jesus being crucified. I was quite aware at a very young age of how horribly violent the world was. Gruesome images from Viet Nam were on television, where I also saw police violence against black Americans in the south at civil rights marches.
In 1965, it was time for school, time to begin kindergarten. I didn't want to go. This world wasn't a place for boys like me who had crushes on other boys and who liked playing with their cousins' Barbie dolls. This was a world where aggressive men killed other men. "Please mom, don't send me!" I pleaded. I cried and cried when my mother took me to school. So they let me stay home, sitting out kindergarten. I loved being with my mom, playing with my Cinderella puzzle.
But then came time for first grade. I was taken to Holy Name, the local Catholic school in our Windsor Terrace neighborhood. I was once again terrified of leaving my mother. She held my hand, but then one of the nuns said, "Ok, mother, It's time for you to go." And Sister Agnes, bedecked in her scary nun's habit, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me, kicking and screaming, down a hallway. I still remember the image of my mother at the end of the hallway, a pained look on her face, wearing her pretty blue coat with the multicolored lining. Of course everyone thought they were doing the right thing. And mom was there for me as soon as school was out.
But I was right about the world and boys like me. I'm not sure when, not sure what year it was in which the bullying began, but once it started there was no end as I was called a faggot and a queer, horrified each day of going to school. I tried to cope amid the madness, as I've written about in the past, by turning to my father and his teaching me how to fight, how to defend myself against anyone who bullied me.
Sometimes, when I would go home after a particularly nightmarish day of being taunted, I would sit down in the living room and turn the pages of the Kennedy assassination book. Maybe it was simply because it brought me back to the days before I started school, or for other reasons, but I found it oddly comforting. The media coverage of the past few days brought it all back so vividly. The first thing I did was call my mom.