I wanted to write a fiction tonight, but I’m getting a late start and non-fiction is quicker to write. I’m late because I was watching the end of The Kennedys, a mini-series with Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes. There was some controversy about it. I think it was supposed to have been aired on the History Channel or A&E, but they pulled it. It might have aired on another channel. I guess I don’t really know what happened there, but it is streaming on Netflix and we watched the end tonight. It was very good. I’m no Kennedy expert, but they all seemed to look and sound the parts. The Kennedys certainly have a sad legacy. It is rather amazing what the family accomplished and endured.
It’s interesting to me how events like the assassination of John and Bobby mean something very different if you live through them rather than just hear about them. Watching movies and re-enactments upset still people who were there almost fifty years later. And they can still tell you where they were when they heard the news. My mother can, right down to the minute. John was killed only seven years before I was born and Bobby just two, but I don’t connect to the events in the same way. I understand their importance and the tragedy, but I’m not emotional about it like my mom or other people who lived through it.
It got me thinking about the events in my lifetime that I remember distinctly. I’m not saying that any of these events, other than September 11th, have the same significance on American history as that day in Dallas did, but they are my Kennedy assassination moments, the ones where I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news.
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. I was in science class. Although we were in New England, I was in high school so we weren’t gathered around the television to watch Christa McAuliffe take off into space. I’m glad. I can’t imagine how traumatic it must have been for those kids to have spent class time preparing to watch the launch and then seeing it blow up. And those poor teachers, having to explain what happened. I remember being in class and another student coming in and saying that the Challenger had blown up. We didn’t believe him, thought he was telling a bad joke. Unfortunately he wasn’t.
Kurt Cobain’s Death in 1994. Again, I’m not saying this had huge national significance, but I remember distinctly where I was when I heard that Kurt Cobain had died. I was working for the Farm Service Agency. There were just two of us in this particular branch, but we had a huge office space. It was at the end of the day and my boss had come out of her office and was sitting in the outer office with me, chatting. I guess she didn’t feel like working anymore. I had the radio on and they said that the body of Kurt Cobain had been found. I wasn’t a big Nirvana fan, but I was really upset. It felt distinctly generational. People my age weren’t supposed to die, especially someone who had such a significant impact on the music scene. My boss was only a few years older than I was, but I remember she kept asking me who Kurt Cobain was and why I was so sad about it.
Columbine in 1999. This is the first tragedy I remember watching unfold on television. I was sitting in a chair at home, talking to my friend Chad on the phone. I don’t remember if the tv was on or if he told me to turn it on, but I distinctly remember watching the scenes of the school and kids running out of the building. The news did a great (or horrible, depending on how you look at it) job of portraying the fear at the scene… sobbing teenagers, terrified parents, law enforcement trying to create some semblance of order amidst the chaos. I can’t begin to comprehend the panic those parents must have felt, not knowing if their children were alive or dead in a building that is supposed to keep children safe.
September 11, 2001. I don’t think there is a person who was alive that day that will ever forget where they were when those plans crashed into the World Trade Center. I was working in the box office of the same organization I now run. I had only been employed there four months. The news came over the radio. There was a customer in the office making a donation. Just recently I learned that customer is now on our board of directors. I knew there was someone there, but didn’t remember who it was. The organization’s executive director was in a meeting upstairs. I went up stairs to tell him, and he didn’t seem to care. Looking back, I just don’t think he recognized the significance of what had happened. The rest of the day was a blur except that I remember standing in the office across the hall listening to the news, because it felt better to be near other people and talking to my mother on the phone, scared because we didn’t know if something else was going to happen, if we were under attack or at war. The confusion and fear were overwhelming.
Michael Jackson’s Death in 2009. It seems trivial to mention after The Twin Towers, but I was greatly saddened by the death of Michael Jackson, and my sadness surprised me. I was standing in my kitchen. It must have been after work since it was a weekday. The radio said that Michael Jackson had died and I started crying. I wasn’t a rabid fan, but I remember distinctly getting his Thriller cassette in the early eighties and how cool I felt. For some reason his death created an emotion in me that I couldn’t, and still can’t, explain.