We had all been awestruck by the activities and national mourning around the Kennedy Assassination two years before. Seeing the levels of lamentation from our parents, we knew the world had suffered a jolt that would slap a big, black dose of fear onto our minds as we wondered about public figures taking on the great tasks of governing....and protecting us. We wanted to stop the bullets, but most of all we wanted to stop the sobbing.....
In those days, some of us were budding Civil War Buffs (more like Civil War Fantasy Theme Park enthusiasts). We tried to learn about the key players during that period in American History.
George was the scholar of the group:
"Hey guys, does anyone know what happened April 14, 100 hundred years ago? It's only ten days from now";
Some of us knew....I was watching the others, and after a few seconds, I blurted out, "Lincoln was shot! He died the next day, April 15, 1865."
Everyone fell silent....
George was always the one who kept the conversation going. "Hey, imagine if we had a time machine...;we could go back and save the guy. We'd have to go back a little early, take a train to Washington, and find Ford's theater."
"I'd put my finger in the barrel of Booth's gun!" Billy always had some ridiculous idea to blurt out in any discussion.
"You're a flesh and blood time traveler dip-shit, not Superman!" George said. He grabbed Billy's finger and twisted it slightly......
"Ouch!" Billy snatched his hand back. "Well, I think I'd probably go back to 1865 a few days early and give Lincoln a steel top-hat to wear......;tell him it's a new style, and glue it to his head!" >Cast Iron
Some of us chuckled......George rolled his eyes. "Hey, maybe scientists will invent a way to go back in time. If we're around, we can really go back and save him, then he could finish his second term. We need to figure out how to take something with us to stop the bullet.....like a steel plate!"
I thought about it. "Yeah, if science guys and engineer guys make a time machine by 1968, then we could go back, save Lincoln, and stick around for his final year in office......come back, and do a play about it 100 years later!"
George was looking down. "What about Kennedy?..... We could save him on the way back!"
All my buddies were silent......everyone except George was screwing up their faces.
Mom had been overhearing us.
"Boys.......You know you can travel into the future. Here...... right now, Bobby, Bill, Danny, Billy, George, Ronny, Gare, lets all make a pact to have a party again...right here on April 4, 1968!.....If we all agree, then we are time travelers together......OK"
My mom was so smart...we all liked the idea, so we made a funny document on Big Chief paper, and everyone signed it. Mom too.....
We all finished our cake, then Mom drove us to a movie at the Orpheum Theater in Wichita.
Several years rolled by, and all of us boys had forgotten about the pact we made......Mom didn't forget.
April 4th, 1968 was approaching, and despite my mother's abilities at stealth and secret planning, I knew she was giving me a surprise party.
The issue of time travel, and our childish pact had not entered my mind in several years
Of course scientists had not cracked the time travel riddle. It was a childish wish, and even though NASA had sent a craft to the Moon, and achieved several orbits, we boys were beginning to garner a more practical sense of limits within the realm of known physical laws.
In the finer realms however, I was beginning to come to some understanding of various consequences of selfishness, and the "Law of Retribution." Examples of retribution, in many creatively expressed forms were always delivered to me by my big brother.
The far-flung admonitions of my brother in the middle part of the 60's were inventive, sometimes cruel, but always interesting in their designs. His mind churned out some of the most convincing arguments for the irrefutability of my inferiority. I spent most of my early teenage years wondering why my parents did not do the merciful thing, and adopt me to a nice family, in a distant, exotic land...... or simply lay me in a wheat field somewhere to be discovered and raised by coyotes......... never suffering the breadth of my inferiority, and never bringing my genes back into the vast human pool......
In the arguments made by my brother in favor of my total emotional and spiritual demise, I occasionally found solace in excelling in the things that aroused his general interest. I was always able to "build...to solve some of the mechanical mysteries of nature and problems with various assembly projects. In our pursuit of affirming the growing spurts of the teenage years, we sometime worked in concert, forming a semblance of bonding......at least until my brother's friends came around. Then I was banished to whatever distant locale would satisfy my big brother' need to make me disappear.
With the endless conversations about the inadequacies of my brain function, my brother was always quick to point out many consequences of nature would always be beyond my understanding. He was superb in affecting seriousness when he attempted to convince me of ideas that were complete bullshit.
The morning of April 4, 1968, my brother came into my room...
"You know dick-head...you are going to suffer extreme consequences because you are having a birthday party today. Now Mom is obligated to bake you a cake and invite all your worthless friends. Think about the people who never have cake!"
He was so incredibly convincing......he continued...
"None of those shit-heads even want to come......Think about it...you are inconveniencing seven families, whose boys, except for one, are forced to come to your party. I' m sure they hate your guts!"
He was making me very uncomfortable......I was turning fifteen. I was old enough at this point to understand some measure of complete crap when I heard it. It didn't matter anymore. At that point in time, I was beginning to feel like it was a mistake to keep letting Mom think I didn't know she had planned a surprise...having my pals show up that afternoon, pretending they were surprising me.
I was not completely naíve, but I was very superstitious. My brother had talked to me about the Law of Karma a few times...always using my actions, good, or bad, as an example of events that would cause severe, impending retribution. It didn't matter where that retribution came from. It was just an unalterable fact.........inescapable, and final.
"Your stupid party will probably cause a terrible calamity......with the money and time Mom spends on you, how many starving children do you think we could feed?.............. Well..... I'm glad I'm not you......"
In the late afternoon, I tried to hide from a slow sense of dread. Up in my room, I gazed through the window...... some of my buddies were running across the yard, ducking and turning......in the way all us boys did when we were several years younger, playing out our best stealth tactics in endless, childish war games. I saw Bob and Dan dive under some bushes, making their best efforts to follow my mother's instructions: "Don't be obvious."
I counted six bodies zigzagging across the yard, and after a few minutes, I knew they were assembled downstairs. I heard Mom calling.
"Gare!..........Honey......come help me move this thing down here
I walked down the stairs into the kitchen.
When I heard the chorus, all I could think about was the warning of"Birthday Party Retribution" my brother had talked about earlier. I smiled and shook hands all around.
"That's so sweet!......I guess all our little boys have grown up!" Mom and I were at that difficult, repetitive stage where everything I did made her think of a miniature grown man.......
> Birthday Party, 1968
We all had hot-dogs, with potato chips smashed on them with mustard, then cake. Soda pop all around....... When we were full and quieter, we all gathered in front of the TV in the lower level rec-room..... I excused myself and went back upstairs.
In my room, I couldn't help uttering a silent prayer: "If something bad is going to happen......please let it happen far away......please...... make it happen far away."
After a minute or two, I heard a small commotion from downstairs.........George shouted out:
"Gary......Martin Luther King Jr. has just been assassinated
I guess the effect of blood leaving the upper body sometimes causes hallucinations......I remember sensing time was moving slowly, and sound seemed muffled and indistinct for a few seconds....I saw the light get several shades lower in my room........."Clouds," I thought. Finally, I came around to normal awareness.......
I felt my brother's hand on my shoulder.
"See turd-face...Looks like you really did it now!................Hey.....What's wrong
A truly singular moment in our relationship happened in that second. I could sense he was struck by my sudden confusion and fear.
"OK......maybe your party didn't cause it......but we will never really know, will we?"
I looked in a hallway mirror and I swore I could see the stain of culpability creeping across my face and neck......I heard my own small voice, "Did I kill this guy?"
George came into my room, having heard my brother's torments......He took up my cause (I was never certain what that cause was, but with George, the cause was always the preservation of our mental well-being).
"Greg, you're so full of shit......You might explode if you're not careful. You ought to treat your brother better. I love my sister, but I'd give anything to have a little brother.
It felt good to have an ally helping fend off the conceptual assaults. My penchant for argument was not fully formed. Help from loyal friends, especially George, had a remittent quality in bolstering my confidence. I always admired his courage, especially around older kids. He was the only friend of mine my brother would occasionally ask about.
"Where's that paper we all signed in 1965?" George was drawing a rectangle in the air...
I hadn't thought about the Time Travel Pact for years.
"I think it's in here." I opened the lower drawer on my dresser, lifted some badly folded shirts, and found nothing......just a couple of stray socks, ugly ones.......... but no paper.
As we left the room I caught George and my brother shooting dirty looks at each other.
"Are you boys looking for this?" Mom was standing at the foot of the stairs, holding up a yellowish, wrinkled paper, with writing on it. The Time Travel Pact!
Suddenly things were getting interesting again. George and I took a bit of floor in front of the TV with the others. As we all watched the news bulletins, we passed the paper around.
After several minutes, George said, "I guess we have two guys to save now. Wish we could'a just gone back a couple of hours ago..... "
We watched the news until late that evening...... until the concerned parents began calling. Before everyone left, we wrote out a new pact, mostly authored by George, we all signed it, and Mom stapled it to the original. The new pact did not specify the next date we would meet.....it simply said: "Date Pending..."
The next day George called, and we talked about the riots in all the cities across the country.
"You can't blame 'em.........some son-of-a-bitch shot a great guy."
We knew about Dr. King's speeches, because we discussed his activities in American History class. We were all full of admiration because he included everyone in his dream of a better world. All of us had working dads, and we knew he stood up for working folks. We also knew he did not support the Viet Nam war, and we were impressed by that. With all the gung-ho guys in the senior class over in the high school, primed and ready to enlist, it was difficult to oppose the war. It was especially hard being fifteen years old and opposing it.
A few weeks before the assassination, an older alumnus returned from the war on medical disability, with half his face gone, and half of his body paralyzed......we listened......He spoke to our history class. The ex-soldier told us he thought Dr. King was the bravest man he had ever seen. He also said they would kill him.
"They?......who are they?" we asked.
"Agents of Evil." His one good eye bulged, and his words shook the classroom.
We all puzzled at the answer for some time after his talk. An "Agent" was someone who had a gun with a silencer.....a guy in a suit, with a sports car, and lots of enemies. But an "Agent of Evil" must have been different...... maybe he drove a Chevy, and he had such a bad-ass reputation, that everyone wanted to be his friend. A few of the hoods hanging around our high school could fit the description, but I came to reason "Agent of Evil" had to be different somehow...akin to a bad cop, ex-FBI guy, or something like that......
The potency of my superstition over the idea of my party causing the shooting gradually wore off. It had never made any sense that there was a shred of truth to the idea, despite the brilliance of my brother's arguments, but in the 15 year old mind of a dreamy, country boy, emotions sometimes trump reason. I could still wonder, and fanaticize about time travel......It was true.....as Mom said years before, we could travel there.....into the Future......we all found out we just couldn't change anything...not unless we went the other way......
For several weeks afterwards I looked for pictures of Dr. King. I saw a framed picture of him with some other guys on the wall of our preacher's office, in the United Methodist Church. He looked so cool, handsome, proud, so self-possessed......
Dr Martin Luther King with James Meredith at the "Meredith March" in Mississippi, 1966
I remember wondering if anyone had given Dr. King a party for his last birthday...I hoped very much that someone did.........I remember wishing all my buddies and me could go back in time, so he could have more birthdays