You see, we remember him. We actually loved our leaders. We remember Jack, and Martin, and Bobby and who we were then. We marched for ERA and mustered courage to walk in demonstration lines against Vietnam. Those were the days when American soldiers shot college kids for demonstrating against the war, so it was scary. We believed that peace, prosperity and equality were possible for everyone. Our hope was crushed by the murders of our great leaders. A generation of Americans shared trauma and quit believing.
We did not have post-traumatic experts or grief counselors then. Thus, we simply hardened our hearts. As a psychotherapist, I know that the way a person handles grief and loss is often a primary measure of their mental health. These tragic events were social compressors that became personalized tragedies and reduced the capacity of our society to care. But, today a Kennedy is in town! That was something special.
We parked the car in a line of Obama-sticker-laden cars. We smiled in secret delight and relief to know our own Obama-fied car would not be keyed nor would we be criticized in this like-minded group. My husband commented that there were many cars. As we entered, a woman called to her friend that there are only a few seats left. I shimmied into the last vacant seat luckily in the third row. My husband leaned against the back wall. He preferred to stand.
The place was packed. I found myself sitting to the left of a long line of well-dressed women who smiled and introduced themselves as a group, “We’re Planned Parenthood.” I imagined the newspaper photo. If I wanted to discourage new therapy clients in Red-town, I would be photographed at the double whammy of an Obama rally sitting with Planned Parenthood. Boldly, I defended my own right to choose political parties and chatted with them amicably. A group of males encircled my husband and seemed to be having a Bush-McCain bashing good time in the back of the room.
On my left, sat a sweet-faced elderly woman. We smiled at each other but she just sat on the edge of her seat nervously watching the door for the speaker.
“Hi, I’m Molly,” I offered.
“My name is Gilda.” She pronounced it in the Italian way. Just then, Connie Bransilver, my sister-in-law and professional photographer greeted me draped in a heavy looking long-lens camera.
“Get my photo with Caroline,” I insisted. She said she would try and positioned herself near the podium. The back of the room was now body to body and more people were waiting outside. I searched the crowd for someone in charge but decided I was the one I was waiting for. I stood up and got the attention of the second row.
“Hey, what do you think about pushing all the rows together so more people can get inside.”
To my amazement, several hundred people stood up and began closing ranks.
“I am a born leader,” I joked to my Precinct team captain, Jan Eschauzier sitting behind me. I asked her if she would ever run for office as she had worked tirelessly for the Obama campaign.
“Never,” she declared. “I only want to work behind the scenes.”
“That will be perfect,” I admitted. “I’ll run for office but I’d definitely need your follow-through.” I had missed many opportunities to canvass and she had never missed any!
Gilda on my left turned to face me. She seemed to be bursting to tell me something. I looked at her sideways, wary of grandchildren tales.In a run-on sentence that lasted ten minutes she told me that she had heard Caroline would be here. She said when she moved here she almost did not bring the box with her. She had collected Kennedy family photos for fifty years.
“Do you realize that might be worth a lot of money?” I asked her.
“Oh no, I just want her to have the box. I thought about who would want the photos the most and I knew I had to give them to her.”
She went on telling me how angry she was at John Jr.’s wife for making him fly that fateful day. And Jackie she thought maybe she was not so interested in, you know, and that was why the President had strayed. She did not pause in her conversation; she wanted me to know all. My neck was aching from looking at her. I glanced back at my husband. He was still having fun. I could talk to Planned Parenthood or allow Jan another opportunity to make me agree to something. Instead I submitted to my fate of hearing the entire story of the box.
Gilda continued in her hushed and rapid Jersey accent. She had driven out here yesterday. She thought the event was yesterday. She went to the clubhouse. Had I ever seen the clubhouse? Why can’t Obama spend some money and have the event at the fancy clubhouse instead of this community center. She said she finally found somebody from the Obama campaign and she gave him the box. He promised to see that Caroline received it.
Ha! I thought cynically. Fat Chance. Somebody just ripped this old lady off and took her collection of fifty years of Kennedy love.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” I gushed, refusing to be the one to rain on her parade.
The crowd stood suddenly to their feet and welcomed the real thing to the stage. She wore a white jacket and carried her speech. She began in a halting manner. The sound system drowned her out with feedback. She waited patiently for the sound guy to scramble to the stage. He jiggled some wires and turned some knobs. She began again. She spoke of her awakening to hope. Caroline said that Barack had stirred in her the same kind of inspiration that so many had described they felt with her father. I looked intently at this graceful woman and searched for little Caroline in her white dress and ankle socks.
How odd that we all know the details of her life and yet, we are strangers to her. Her bodyguards could not defend her from the exposure of a public life. I wanted to tell her thank you for her family’s service to this country. No, that would be too small a gesture. No other person had her story with such glory, fame and tragedy. Yet, she blushed and smiled, a bit embarrassed by the interruptions of applause and cheering her speech evoked.
She ended her speech too quickly and her bodyguards flanked her sides as she shook hands in the crowd. I was shocked to see Gilda moving faster than could be expected to the front of the line. I did not hesitate and followed closely behind her. Caroline seemed a bit detached as she moved slowly down the rope line, methodically shaking hands and writing her name for the pressing crowd. As she approached us, Gilda grabbed Caroline’s outstretched hand in both her hands. One particularly ominous guard craned her neck for a clear view of the diminutive Gilda.
“Did you get the box?” Gilda asked urgently. Caroline stopped and really looked at her. Her face lit up.
“Oh, was that you? Thank you. That meant so much to me, thank you,” she told Gilda.
Gilda dropped her hand and squared her shoulders. Caroline reached out to shake my hand. Her hand was delicate with incredibly soft skin and a weak grip. For two seconds, I touched a Kennedy. I gave her my business card. She looked puzzled but took it anyway. Who knows when you might want a therapist I thought to justify my boldness.
Gilda was swept away with the crowd. I made my way outdoors to the palm tree shaded walkway. The sun was already too warm for my jacket. I shook my husband’s hand and said, “Caroline Kennedy” as if I could transfer her magic to him. He was pleased that I had made it to the front. I called Connie on my cell phone and asked her if she got the photo but she said someone had elbowed their way in front of her.
Dr. Molly Barrow holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of Matchlines for Singles, Matchline for Couples, and Malia and Teacup: Awesome African Adventure and Malia and Teacup: Out on a Limb. As an authority on relationship and psychological topics,Dr. Barrow is a member of the American Psychological Association, Screen Actors Guild, and Authors Guild and is a licensed mental health counselor. Dr. Molly has appeared as an expert in the film, My Suicide, documentaries Ready to Explode and KTLA Impact, NBC news, PBS In Focus, WBZT talk radio, and in O Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday, New York Times, CNN, The Nest, MSN.com, Yahoo, Match.com, Women's Health, Harvard Business School, Women's World, has a radio show on blogtalkradio.com and is a columnist for Menstuff.org.