Cardella: Haunted

By Tom Cardella

November 21, 1963. I had trouble sleeping that night. How do I remember a dream that many years ago? Must have been some dream. Wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare. An unforgettable nightmare given the circumstance. In the nightmare, I saw this guy’s face. A guy I worked with at the time. His name was Cy. I hardly knew Cy. Knew him just enough to say “hello” to him. We both worked in a government office that was a huge converted warehouse in Northeast Philadelphia. In the nightmare, I kept asking, “Why the hell am I seeing Cy’s face?” Cy looked grim. He didn’t answer. And just as I saw Cy’s face, a bloody head rolled by me in the street. Couldn’t identify the face on the disembodied bloody face.

When I woke up the next day and went to work, I could still vividly remember the nightmare. It was still playing in my mind when I got to work. Wouldn’t stop. That afternoon, I had to walk to the other side of the office to look at the transaction register. As I was leafing through the register, I saw Cy sitting at his desk. His face was grim. The nightmare face. And he was motioning to me. All he I remember him saying is, “They shot the President.” At that instant, my life changed forever. The lives of all of us would be changed forever. The Kennedy Generation. That was what we were. Nobody called us that at the time. You don’t live through the assassination of a president without being changed forever.

I don’t remember how soon after I heard the news that I connected it to the nightmare I had the night before. Cy. The bloody head. I’m not somebody who looks for omens or necessarily believes in the meaning of dreams. Sometimes through the years that have followed, I’ve thought that maybe my memory is confused. Maybe I had the nightmare AFTER I heard about Kennedy’s assassination. It’s possible. Memory has a way of playing tricks. Perhaps I want to think that I had a premonition of his death. Maybe I just want to interject myself in the tragic event that has haunted my generation through the rest of the last century and into this one. I don’t think so. You can be the judge. All I know is that every November about this time, I think of that nightmare. Funny thing is, I never told Cy about my nightmare. He wasn’t a friend or anything like that. One with whom you would confide. I left that job 10 months later and never saw Cy again. Cy — the unwitting harbinger of doom.

During this month leading up to this anniversary of the murder of JFK, the cable channels will show the events that day. The news anchors will remind us that not all of the secret files on the assassination have yet been released. The endless speculation continues about whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. The government could unmask every redacted word in every document and we still wouldn’t ever accept their conclusions. Those of us who lived it in 1963 are still having trouble shaking the feeling that what happened that day in Dallas never really happened. It couldn’t have.

I can’t watch the old film of that day without hoping for a different ending. I watch the Kennedys coming off the plane at Love Field. Jackie wearing that rose-colored outfit, carrying the blood red roses. I want to scream at them, “Turn back! Turn back!” I watch the motorcade wending its way toward Dealey Plaza. The Kennedys smiling and waving at the crowds, and I want to yell, turn that limo around and get them the hell out of there! I can’t watch the Zapruder film without cringing at the exact moments of the rifle shots impact. When I read Stephen King’s great novel Nov. 22, 1963, I was entranced at the possibility that the central character might travel back in time and prevent the killing of Kennedy. Wanted to be that person. Kennedy’s savior. The Kennedy Generation still roots impossibly, unrealistically, for a different ending.

I confess that I have never fully forgiven Dallas for being the site of the assassination. I know how unfair that is. How can I blame the entire city for a murder 54 years ago? Many of the folks living there weren’t even born when JFK was killed. I have tried to get over it, but I can’t. Rational thinking plays no part in my feelings. Only anger and outrage. Others may “hate” Dallas because of the rivalry between the Cowboys and the Eagles. My hatred is different. Deeper. More visceral. Dallas. A boiling cauldron of hatred in 1963. Dallas killed Kennedy as much as Oswald.

My first stirrings of idealism occurred because of Kennedy. He was the president I cast my first precious vote for. As a student, I stood in the rain for over an hour on the campus at Temple University just to see him. Hear him shout, “We’ve got to get America moving forward again.” I still remember as if it were yesterday, racing to 5th and Snyder to see his motorcade pass. Almost getting close enough to shake his hand. Seeing his handsomely tanned face.

Still haunted by that nightmare premonition. Still hoping for a different ending.