How could I ever forget that day? It was a crisp and cool fall Sunday. We were all headed to Mass at St. Mary’s Sacred Heart. It was a devastating time. Our beloved, no make that my beloved 35th President John F. Kennedy Jr. had just been assassinated three days earlier by that madman Oswald in Dallas, TX.
Pfft! Just like that, he was mowed down I tell you, in the prime of his life. He never stood a chance.
In this picture, Sam was wearing his new wool blazer I had gotten for his 35th birthday bash at an after Labor Day sale from Bergdorf’s. So was John Michael, who much to Sam’s credit allowed both me and my mother to call our own boy John John as well. Our sweet John John looked quite dapper in his new pea coat and cap. And of course, there was Mary Cat. We called her Mary Cat because John John couldn’t say Mary Catherine when she was first born, and he just called her Mary Cat, so the name stuck. Yes sweet Mary Cat with her black patent leather shoes and white bobby sox and her pink wool petticoat and bonnet. Her right little white-gloved hand firmly grasped her daddy’s, while her left hand tightly clenched her little purse I had given her for birthday the previous May. Her legs had to have been freezing and her little mouth was pursed as she bravely fought back tears because her routine-as-clockwork mother wasn’t with her.
See we were supposed to have our portrait made after Mass that day. But everything fell to pieces. Or maybe it was just me.
A half hour earlier, Sam had zipped up my black Givenchy dress and as he did so kissed the nape of my neck. It’s only because I was wearing Channel. He always gets frisky when I put my hair up like Audrey Hepburn and I put a dab of Channel behind my ears. I had just powdered my nose.
But my eyes were swollen, swollen I tell you! I looked positively dreadful. How could I go to mass looking like this?
I felt Sam’s hand try to go up my dress. I smacked him, smacked him hard, I swear I did.
He looked stunned. It was the first time I’d ever rejected his advances.
“How can you even think of that at a time like this? Don’t you know our President has just been assassinated? I’m still mourning. Please! Leave me be!”
Sam got the message. He didn’t touch me again that morning. He helped get the kids ready instead, a real first for him. I tried to clasp my pearl necklace around my neck. My thumbs were sore from having prayed the rosary I don’t know how many times the last three days. Somehow I slipped up. I don’t know what I did, but my string of pearls spilled out all over the bathroom linoleum.
When those damn pearls spilled out everywhere I think it scattered the remaining pieces of my sanity right along with it. I started sobbing uncontrollably.
When I looked up Sam, whose strong butcher’s hands were freshly scrubbed clean just for church today, was standing in the doorway with our little John John and Mary Cat. It was clear to me then, as it is now, they would never ever understand me. I was fragile. Too much so, I think.
“I can’t go,” I told them.
“Aw come on Janey! You’ve got to pull yourself together. America has to go on.”
“You just don’t understand. You don’t get it do you! Don’t you know those commie bastards are probably going to nuke us for sure now? What about the rights for colored people? Who’s going to take up the fight for them now? What about women Sam? What about me?” I carried on for at least a half hour.
It was all too much. My outburst had sucked up all his remaining thoughts and feelings. I was crying hard now. I needed to be held. John John just stared shell shocked. Mary Cat began to whimper.
The hug never came. Sam scooped up the kids and shouted, “Come on, let’s go!”
“We’ll wait for you at the curb for two minutes! If you can’t pull yourself together, we’ll go without you,” Sam threatened. How dare he? He’d take the car and make me miss Mass for our President? You know not.
Then I did something totally spontaneous and uncharacteristic. I grabbed Sam’s Tower Skipper camera with its monster flash. I opened the window and snapped their picture as they waited for me. I could tell Mary Cat was still upset about my outburst.
And then I slammed the window shut. I lit up a cigarette and kicked off my heels. I plugged in the Kirby and started vacuuming our flat, starting with a hundred cultured pearls. I’m not sure why.
All I know for sure was that by the time Richard Nixon became president, I was already a divorcee of two years. I never got another pearl necklace again. I cried every day starting that Sunday until Christmas of 1963. John John and Mary Cat started prep school when I married my second husband Bernie, a lawyer who specialized in estate planning.
But sometimes when our current President gives his State of the Union address, I tear up a little. I think of President Kennedy the ghost who still resides in my heart even though he’s been gone for more than half my life. Mostly I think of Sam, sweet Sam. He tried, but perhaps he butchered one heart too many. He just never quite knew how to handle what he called my pervasive sadness.
This was our last family photo. And I wasn’t in it. And I have to confess I’m glad Mr. Ruby shot Oswald. For he ruined everything I ever truly loved!