The In Between

John F. Kennedy Jr.: New documentary focuses on John F. Kennedy Jr. and  Carolyn Bessette's turbulent relationship - The Economic Times

He went missing on a Friday night, and then came the waiting.

I remember the waiting because it was mind numbing. It was like knowing too much without knowing anything at all. In the morning, the glimmer of hope we all held to felt like the kind of lie you tell yourself when faced with the ugly truth. By the afternoon, there was no glimmer or lies left to hold to. All that was left was to stop pretending there was a miracle to be had.

We spent those desperate hours holding hands with the voices on the other end of the line. Because there were a lot of phone calls being made the day after. It was as if John was a part of our own families. We cursed and we drank and we cried just that very way. We wanted it back, we wanted all of it back.

Camelot was long gone by the time I was a boy, but I read and learned and knew enough about that magical idea to know the theft that had been perpetrated. Two brothers lost to assassins’ bullets, two men’s lives cut short with decades worth of legacy yet to be written. It was Shakespearean in its lonesome destiny, the idea that brilliant men could be silenced so damned easily.

The kid was going to introduce a final chapter to this hard wrought tale, and while it was no certainty he would assume the family mantel, there was always that whisper of anticipation. He was never inevitable, but neither was he blind to the responsibilities he had been born into. He wasn’t John or Bobby, and in a lot of ways, that was a very good thing. His soft spoken tone and his ability to get along with everyone seemed the kind of difference that was going to serve him well in the next chapters of his life.

And we dreamed what those next chapters would look like. Man, did we ever. We imagined a marriage of history and nostalgia because his was the family seal that came closest to American royalty. It was okay that he kept such talk at arm’s length while we embraced such a thing fully. He had time. He had all the time in the world. And dammit if I really did believe it would be different with him. All of it.

And then, just like that, it was late Saturday afternoon and all the time in the world had run out. The final act was playing out in the same way as the two which had preceded it. Only this time, it was all happening in slow motion. It was the cruelest of flourishes sent down from that cursed star that had taken a father, an uncle, and now a son.

It was the day after John went missing and the day before the news became official that I still remember most distinctly. That long Saturday, the in between, from one forever to the next. It’s where we mourned the prince of a city who had so much left to write. It’s where we said goodbye to an idea like Camelot one final time.

I’m always going to want it back.

 

If only . . .

If is such a wickedly precarious word. If is an anomaly of diction in that it is neither here nor there, and yet it elicits a gamut of emotions. For this story, If is a heart wrenching tale of what might have been . . . if only.

If only he had waited. It wasn’t his style, to wait around. Not having known him, I can only hazard a guess this impatience came from having been born into royalty, where life was oftentimes lived inside a giant goldfish bowl for all the world to see. I can’t help wondering if sometimes the kid wished he could have been anyone other than himself. The whole world considered him silver spoon lucky; with all the looks and chances and girls. Perspective tells me his restless soul was desperately looking for his true north. All that money and family history, all those primo jobs and runway models made him a modern day Marco Polo, but it didn’t make him whole.

He’d just had his cast removed the day before. No doubt his ankle was talking back to him, and who’s to know if this compromised his ability to fly that little plane. The one thing that is certain is that the weather wasn’t doing him any favors that night. In the days after, his fellow pilots would mournfully remark at how the conditions were abysmal, and how John should have waited. It didn’t help that he got a late start since the girls were running late that evening. So instead of making the trip with the sun riding shotgun, he had to rely on his instruments. John hadn’t flown solo in a couple months, didn’t have an instrument rating and had precious few hours of night flying under his belt. Add to this the fact he had just upgraded to a Piper Saratoga and was still familiarizing himself with it. He turned down a flight instructor’s offer to accompany him and he decided against having Carolyn provide some navigational skills even though she had done it before. When you add it all up, John was playing with the fates that night. And Lord knows the fates hadn’t been kind to his family.

John was tired but giddy on the day of the flight. He’d taken in a Yankees game the night before, after which he went out with friends for drinks. He showed up to the offices wired. When asked about his final hours, many of his work pals talked about how he had roamed the hallways, making small talk and waiting for the day to be done so he could fly out of town with his wife and sister in law.

He wanted to be with family. The handsome man about town was more grounded than most outsiders ever knew, and family was everything to him. They afforded him a peace that had become increasingly difficult to find inside his stormy personal life. Things with Carolyn weren’t ideal, and the magazine had fallen on hard times. He probably saw the weekend as a respite, an opportunity to decompress and recharge his batteries.

John was big on keeping his promises. It was something he learned from his political lion of an uncle. It was something that had been ingrained in him by a strong mother who had experienced unbearable grief and who had come back stronger. Jacqueline raised her celebrity children to be human beings who understood the world around them and yearned to give back rather than simply take. John and Caroline were the offspring of a historical icon and a mother whose grace and strength ran through their veins.

He had promised his sister that he would serve as representative to their side of the family at his cousin’s wedding in Hyannis Port since she was vacationing with her own family and wouldn’t be able to make it. His first stop would be Martha’s Vineyard to drop off his sister in law, Lauren. It had been another promise, this one to his wife.

All those promises would be lost inside the miles when his Piper disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean. Network coverage of the search and rescue mission was a painfully desperate thing to witness, as shock turned to fear turned to horrible reality. When the news finally came down, I sobbed. It felt as if the fates had conspired to thieve a family seal once again. As the years passed and the world changed dramatically, I couldn’t help but wonder if this theft went deeper still.

If . . . John flew into Martha’s Vineyard the next morning on the advice of his fellow pilots, he would have found his career at a crossroads. There were rumors that John had been mulling a run for the New York senate seat in 2000. Maybe a long weekend with family would have convinced him to throw his hat in the ring. Win or lose, perhaps John would have found himself in the doing. And who knows from there?

This is to say nothing of what JFK Jr. might have accomplished in the wake of September 11th. He was the Prince of New York, and I can’t help but believe his activism would have been felt everywhere: from the halls of Congress to the other side of the world. Might the events of that day have spurred him into the biggest of big picture outlooks? Might he have come to understand what his legacy could mean inside the worst of times? 

If . . he had waited to fly out the next morning, maybe the Senator from New York would have thrown his hat in the ring in 2016. And maybe he would have scored the democratic nomination. And maybe he would have made the pompous and bombastic billionaire with the bad hair look small in three televised debates. 

If all that came to pass . . the political slogan could have read “Make America Believe in Camelot Again”

If only . . .

The following is part of the “If” Challenge 2018 that was constructed by the inimitable composer of all things humor and music at A Frank Angle. His blog is a righteous tilt, so go on over and give it a whirl.