I was sixteen. It was October 1963 and the most popular song the radio was “Wild Thing.” Most afternoons in that glorious Indian summer, my friends and I would stop at the Brighton Avenue Pharmacy to enjoy some gossip and a cherry coke. We would giggle in gym class as we donned our ridiculous blue starched gym suits. I was a high school junior and life was good.
Never did I imagine getting sick until I woke one morning with a fever high enough to make me wobble woozily to the bathroom as though an alien had somehow invaded my body. I spent two weeks in a private room at Maine Medical Center with pneumonia. Somehow the penicillin didn’t cure me and the infection spread like tentacles to the other lung. Each day my friends would call or stop by to cheer me with stories from school. Until the stories didn’t make me smile anymore. You see, Ellen was in the same hospital one floor above me with brain cancer and our conversations turned darker. The sadness was palpable.
I recovered; Ellen didn’t. Illness and thoughts of mortality hit us hard. I still remember the gloominess, the tears, the “what’s it all about” attitude. Then one Friday as I was leaving school, I saw my dad waiting for me in the car. As I was still recovering from pneumonia my parents didn’t want me to walk home for a while. The car radio was static white noise in the background. My dad’s expression was uncharacteristically stricken. I asked him what was wrong.
“President Kennedy was shot,” was all he could manage to say.
I crumpled into uncontrollable sobs.