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A Tale of Four Novembers

By Tina 

 

TinaEarly November 1960, Chicago …


Where November winds seem to frost your very bones. Around 6 p.m., the clouds were heavy metal gray, yet spewing forth delicate ice crystals, which assaulted my nose and hair with little pricks of winter on its way. With long, joyous strides, I fought them back with the sheer ingenuousness of being 19 and on my own. Walking home from the Loop to my room at the
Y(WCA) was a daily delight—past glittering window displays and haughty old hotels. I was an older Eloise creating my future with impunity.


Yet on this shivery, shimmery evening, the crowd seemed heavier than usual, slowing me down. Not easily impeded, I simply snaked my way through to the corner. I looked up at the traffic light, where the icy flakes made a halo around each green … yellow … red light. Not ‘til then did I notice a virtual panoply of police presence. No sirens? Aha. No danger. A parade? In November?


Before I could blink, the crowd surged and pushed me nearly into an open convertible. A hand reached out to steady me. I grabbed it and looked up … at a most astonishingly serene human presence with laughing eyes, not a hair out of place, tanned, dressed to the nines … in November, in Chicago, in the sleet and blustery wind. His face seemed to glow like the traffic signal. Then he was gone! I continued on more slowly, astonished, delighted.


Two weeks later … JFK began to shed his light on all of us.



November 1961, Milwaukee


Dark, damp and cold, Milwaukee once again lowered its gloom on me. Born there, I had escaped to Chicago at 18—returned at 20, where I stepped back into the future. The move never felt right. But I still walked with long, purposeful strides, still creating my future undaunted. I was attending Marquette and working as a ward clerk at a hospital. Walking home late one night, the air was chill and raw, but stars glimmered hopefully through a light mist. It was a quiet neighborhood of aging, musty, set-back houses, all grey in the mist.
It was odd to hear light footsteps behind me … out of place, too fast. Closer … no time for fear! I quickly crouched down, and he tripped over me, grabbing at my ponytail. He was flat on his back, trying to raise up. I saw the rage in his eyes. Then my adrenaline took over. I picked up a landscape rock weighing easily over 50 pounds and hurled it toward his head, barely missing—shaking with my own unconstrained fury. Never a sound, never a word spoken or screamed … the predator became the prey. He scrambled up and ran. Gone … as fast as he had appeared.


He was gone, and with him fled my naivete. In November. In Milwaukee. Gone. His darkness spewed over my soul.



November (or about) 1962, crossing Kansas.


Restless—caught between one powerless man’s darkness and another’s powerful light of hope, I was now half a ’60s flower child, half a wary loner. Maybe in California … so I left Kansas City on a Greyhound bus one cold, bright day headed to San Diego for a religious retreat. The open fields across Kansas seemed almost a dreamscape. The setting sun spread a golden pinkish glow under a turquoise sky just to my right out the window.


The rhythmic surged of the bus was pulling my eyelids closed. Almost dreaming … then a boychild of about eight years of age seemed to appear on the seatback in front of me, like a movie projected on a glowing screen. “I have chosen you and Jim as my parents. My name is Tobias,” he said. And the vision faded. All the while, the fading sunset remained in my peripheral vision—a reminder that I as fully awake the whole time. I fell asleep smiling.


Later, San Diego smelled of gardenias. Jim, whom I had just met, visited me in San Diego in April and proposed. Tobias was born eight years later. The flower child had taken over … crossing Kansas. The light had returned.



Late November 1963, Kansas City


Friday started with an early, frigid carpool ride across eastern Kansas from Lawrence to Kansas City. My vision was blurry with sleep surrendered too soon. It was Kansas, cold, stark to the bone. High, streaky crystal clouds sliced the grey-blue sky. This Friday was the last day of a tortuous, convoluted week, but thankfully my first day back to work. I had just returned from a bleak roundtrip to Milwaukee, most of it over black ice in an old, drafty, Pepto-Bismol-green Chevy, with Jim driving too fast and my newly pregnant body objecting in myriad ways.


My mother, Alice, had died on November 17th, Jim’s 21st birthday. Bleak and stark was that trip. Alice would have willed herself to live had she known I was pregnant—she had so wanted a grandchild. The year had been daunting—married, pregnant, the funeral. Now it was almost over and I was simply relieved to return to a normal workday. I craved the vacuous routine as much as I craved sour pickles dipped in chocolate sauce.


My boss was a combination of Peter Lorre and a cigar-smoking Groucho Marx—ominously funny. He hugged me hello and quickly retreated to his inner office, remembering, I’m sure, how his ever-present cigar smoke had inspired me to wretch into the trash can the week before.


Looking out from my window on the 12th floor, I noticed that the streaky crystal knives had given way to an ominous, puffy, eerily glowing display of winter’s arrival. I hoped then that I would be sent home before snow iced the roads. I tediously gathered up legal forms to fill them in with appropriate names regarding divorces and deaths. There was radio music coming from the inner office. That lightened my mood—especially since the old man NEVER did that. So I busily typed away, keeping one eye warily on the darkening sky.


With a sudden WHOOSH, sullen grey sleet rammed the window and immediately turned into angry ice rivulets. The old man burst through the door—sobbing, tears blurring his vision. He grabbed onto my desk for support and in a tremulous voice wailed, “They’ve killed him! JFK is dead!”


Outside the wind was screaming like a madman in anguish. The light was extinguished.


Kansas City, Missouri

November 22, 1963

 

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