I could tell you things about him. Things I shouldn’t know, not in a fair and discreet world. His name, for one thing. His last known address. His place of business. A few glimpses of personal trivia, family members and hobbies, etc. Blame the Internet.
But I won’t tell you, because it’s not fair. He seems to live an anonymous life, with a small footprint that doesn’t encourage snooping around. The man is entitled to his privacy, even if my curiosity and a few coincidences opened the door to his life, for me, just a bit.
But I’ve thought about him, off and on, for decades now. He’s less than a footnote in a moment of history, and it’s possible (if not likely) that I’m the only one who knows about him. It’s more likely that I’m the only one with a newspaper column who understands where he was, and when. Thus my caution.
And it was such a long time ago.
I spent last weekend with old friends, nudging some memories and laughing at the absurdity of fifty-somethings. “How did we get so old?” we say, but it’s still funny, still not quite believable. There will be a time, soon enough, when we believe, when we have to.
Still, fifty years is a long time to be alive. A lot has come and gone, and some things we remember better than others.
Fifty years ago, I was five. I was in kindergarten. I have splotchy memories of that time, overdubbed by remembering what I remember. One day I came home from school and my mother was on the phone. She told me to turn on the TV. There was a movie on, showing men working on an airplane, and she told me to change the channel.
I mean. Did any of this really happen? Did I really watch grainy live video that afternoon, the lady getting out of the ambulance at the hospital? Did I really wake up my parents the next morning, Saturday, confused because there were no cartoons on television? Was I really lying on the floor the next morning with my father, watching TV, when I saw all the chaos at the Dallas police station?
I dunno. I remember what I remember.
And I know what I know. Fifty years ago this Friday, someone shot and killed the president of the United States as he rode in an open car through the streets of downtown Dallas, Texas. We see the film and photos now and are shocked at how vulnerable he seems, this powerful person, but this is a tautology: He seems unprotected because we protect our presidents better now, because John Kennedy was unprotected that day, and so on.
This might also be why so many people still have doubts about what exactly happened on that day in Dallas. So many things had to occur in a particular order, and in a particular fashion, for one deranged young man to kill the president, that it seems suspicious. We know the details so well, though, that it might be like staring at an ordinary word for too long: It begins to look artificial and contrived.
I went to Dealey Plaza once, 30 years ago. I stood on the grassy knoll and looked up at the sixth floor, stared at the triple underpass where Elm, Main, and Congress all collide. Something happened here, I thought, but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, and then I thought about him again.
Look at the pictures yourself, or picture the scene that feels so familiar. Tall buildings, motorcycles, waving people, men and women with coats and hats on, even on a warm November morning, the way people dressed on a weekday in 1963. They are witnesses, or were, and they scatter then, running and diving to the ground, unsure of what happened but knowing it was bad.
Can you see him?
He was there, on Elm Street, not far from Abraham Zapruder, whose 8mm film captured his presence there forever. My guess is that he remembers little of this, because that’s what happens to even adults, and he was a little boy, standing with his father. He was 5 years old.
My age, then and now. So this is why I’ve thought of him over the years, from the first moment I was aware that he existed, from a snip of video, an interview of his father, a former soldier who knew gunfire when he heard it and shielded his son with his own body. A horror story, but he was just a little boy, 30 feet from a murder scene. His memories are probably also splotchy.
But I remember thinking, oh my gosh, there were children there. And there were. And we are still here, some of us, 50 years later. So I looked for him years ago, and found him.
And that’s all. I just wanted to note, amidst all the memories this week, the shows and the books and the interviews, that there were little children who remember, as I do, in some fashion. I have no idea how this horror affected us, him or me, if it did at all. I just note that children will see things and remember what they remember. I just note that there were small witnesses on Elm Street that day, who heard sudden, loud noises, who knew that it was bad.