(Unpublished essay inspired by images from Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train, 2000)
I was eleven years old. Just done a report on Bobby Kennedy. Irish Catholic on my Mom’s side and raised that way, we adored the Kennedy’s. Went to bed knowing he’d won. Woke up and went out and picked up the paper. A tiny item on the front page mentioned he’d been shot. There was fear in the house. That inchoate, lightning bolt fear—Not again.
He was dead sometime that afternoon.
I’ll never forget the funeral train. Its televised passage took days crossing the country; gut-wrenching, tear-streaked days of despair and patriotism and just regular people crowding unbeckoned by the trackside, silent. They prayed, saluted, cried, or just watched. Very very still. Town after town. Village after village. Rockwell’s America, Faulkner’s America, Robert Johnson’s and John Philip Sousa’s America. One after another.
Months later we visited the grave site, as we had his brother’s earlier, who had then lay under an earthen pile. Now John was protected by solemn concrete armor, while his brother, the frail one, lay still under a heap of earth, covered with flowers and marked with flickering candles. Mom shushed us kids, and prayed silently.
Sometimes something is torn out of a kid, and never replaced.