Bobby Kennedy had just died and I laughed. Not a loud, happy laugh but one that was stress-filled and unhappy and was a burp escaping so that I didn’t go mad from it all. Bobby was my first great political love. He was smart and he was tough and knew a thing or two about grief and loyalty and was sensitive so that he could see the terrible lives the very poor had to endure. I met him once, for a split-second and that is all it took. My family was in Brighton and my Dad heard about a Kennedy rally later that day a few blocks away. Bobby was running for Senator in New York and my Dad knew how interested I had become in politics and fairness and equality and the Vietnam War and the poor and middle class. I had already developed my dislike for the upper class and what it stood for. Bobby had the bucks of the upper class and its strength but also had compassion for the poor. He was my ideal politician – he had enough money that he didn’t have to cheat for his economic future, he couldn’t be bought off, and humble enough so that we only learned about some of his good political/economic works, like the revitalization of Bedford Stuyvesant after he died. So, my Dad and I went to the area the rally was to be held and Dad asked a police Sergeant he knew which way Bobby was going to approach. The Sergeant pointed to a direction and went to take care of a problem. Dad smiled at me and took me by the hand and we went in another direction. We got a few blocks away and a motorcade turned toward us. This was the Kennedy motorcade and I was transfixed by it blaring by. Bobby was in a convertible, getting ready to address the crowd and for a split second his exhausted eyes that had seen and felt so much pain locked with mine and a quick little smile came to his lips, like a shy little boy, and I fell in love with politics and trying to make it better. I don’t know how I could tell, really tell this was a good man, but I did.
In California during that Primary season I passed out leaflets for him and hung signs and because my ride told my Mom we would be very late, never got to the Ambassador Hotel. I listened on the radio to the returns and didn’t get to hear Bobby give his acceptance speech but went to sleep a happy camper. Dad woke me up gently during the night to tell me that there had been a serious problem and my Mom and Dad hung around the TV as Bobby clung to life. The night became dawn and my Mom ushered me to school, a numb frantic boy who needed to keep busy.
And the principal came on the P.A. and told us that Bobby had passed away and we were to go home. A boy made a crude laugh and I let out a laugh sob and the teacher, a young beautiful woman named Nora who we would never call by her name reprimanded us and the class was dismissed. I wanted to tell Nora that I really wasn’t laughing about the terrible misfortune of Bobby and for all of us but she shot me a look and I was too ashamed. Nora if you are out there please know that I carry the loss of that day even now, almost fifty years later. And I apologize, I didn’t mean it.