Tuesday, January 29, 2008

what jackie knew

Video: The Zapruder Film on YouTube

The other night one of the egghead channels ran a program on the Kennedy Assassination, and as part and parcel to that story they played the Zapruder film, of course.

I’m just as fascinated by the bullets’ trajectory as the rest of them, but on this night, as they looped it endlessly, I couldn’t take my eyes off Jackie.

That timeless domestic gesture as she leans in to her Jack, sensing his first indication of pain, her posture a question mark: Honey, what is it? Are you okay?

Anyone who has cared for another recognizes the impulse: how we execute it without thinking, how it’s wired into us to lean into the ones we love and inquire into their suffering.

And then the next moment, when everything changes, and the movie, although silent, seems to sing of the gun’s report. Her husband’s head recoils from some great force and she scrambles -- Jackie, our queen, who we know as all poise and dignity -- she scrambles onto the back of the limousine.

An automatic impulse, a gathering of what has been scattered. That’s how I’d always seen it: A wife collecting her husband’s bits and brains, the way she might collect the pieces of a shattered vase, to see if it could be pieced together again.

But watching the film something else struck me that escaped my notice before: Her proximity to the final blast.

We know our history, of course. We know she escaped unscathed -- but she didn’t know her history then.

In that moment she sat within inches of the force that took her husband’s life -- as it took it. As it so easily could have taken hers.

And I had to wonder about that final scramble -- was she really gathering up what was lost, hoping to return it -- or was this an impulsive moment of escape? A scramble to safety?

To know in that moment that your husband is lost and to fight in a flurry to save yourself.


patrick said...

What a coincidence! Using Netflix's "watch now" feature this weekend, I watched a couple segments of a film produced in 1989 involving Kennedy's murder and supposed cover-up.

I must admit that I've always been more interested in Kennedy as a politician and public servant (I recently got around to pulling An Unfinished Life from my shelf to read) than the conspiracy theories, but occasionally, my curiosity is piqued. After all, I was alive and aware of the events on the day it happened, so it remains one of the days in my life for which I have a somewhat clear memory.


I recall reading years ago that Jackie was attempting to recover part of his skull (or brains) after the fatal shot, but as I was watching the segment again this weekend, I had similar thoughts as you. Trying to imagine myself being eighteen inches or so away from that explosive experience had to be co completely jarring to her senses that I suppose I can believe almost anything. Her first instinct might indeed have been to go after her husband's parts; it might have been to flee.

In any event, the trauma of being thrown — in the mere fraction of a second — from what had to be a near euphoric state (his reception in Dallas had been better than anyone would have predicted) to the violence she witnessed so closely can probably be understood by very few people.

Enyasi said...

I have always found this footage hard to watch. That feeling of not knowing what truly happened and the realization that JFK was more than a heroic figure, but a real person.

But the thing that bothers me so much about this footage, and the act that destroyed such a promising future, is the very real possibility that it could be played out again with a future leader...

Lolabola said...

whenever I think of this event I think of my mom. she got her first period at the same time and her mom was too glued to the tv to pay attention to her "mom! mom!" Imagine knowing exactly when you got your first period!

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