The fall chill

It hits me every November, early in the month – that feeling. What feeling? Unease? Discomfort? Nervousness? Yes, all those.

But why it hits me, I can’t tell. All I know is one day it’s not there and the next day it is.

At first I think it’s caused by the seasonal changes less light, colder temperatures, grayer skies, leafless trees. But regardless of cause, it’s telling me something’s wrong with something, somewhere.

Finally, by the second week of the month, I know exactly what it is – another Nov. 22.

I was a senior in high school. Seventh period art class had just ended, the bell rang, and I stepped into the hall, now full of students going to their next class.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Cathy Klein ran up to me, eyes as big as saucers, and shouted, “The president’s been shot!”

“What? What?” I shouted back.

“The president’s been shot!” she repeated.

It was so far beyond my comprehension, I knew it had to be a joke, though a really lousy one.

“Yeah, right,” I said.

“No, no, it’s true!” she said and then darted back into the mob.

When I got to my next class, French, I took one look at Madame Godson and realized it wasn’t a joke. Normally light-complexioned, now she was ghostly white and shaking.

After we were all seated, Mr. Murphy announced over the P.A. that indeed President Kennedy had been shot earlier in Dallas and was now dead.

I don’t remember my walk home, except it was gray and cold. In reality, it may not have been, but whenever I look back at that weekend, everything was gray and cold.

Given the photography and television of the day, 1963 was a black and white world. But when I think of that weekend, I see it in muted black and white. It’s like the feeling I get looking at sepia tone photos of people from the 1800s, formal, stiff and distant, made eerie by the certainty they’re all long dead.

The rest of the weekend was a blur. There was a funeral procession, a lying in state, a funeral, and somewhere in between the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. All of it was on T.V., live, recorded, replayed and rehashed, till forever engraved in my memory, as it is in everyone else’s.

Even though I watched it all on television, when I think of it now, which I do only at this time of year (and then only because I can’t avoid thinking about it) I see it as a series of snapshots rather than a movie. First there’s one scene, then another, then another, on and on, in no logical order, perhaps one scene more disturbing than another, but all of them disturbing nonetheless.

The whole long weekend a pall hung over everything, a feeling of grim foreboding that nothing would ever be the same. And in many ways, it hasn’t been.

Every year, Nov. 22 receives special attention in the media, but this year it’s received more attention than most, since it’s being touted as “the fiftieth anniversary.” Which indeed is true.

And true as well is it’s an anniversary I could gladly do without.