40 years ago today Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on war protesters on the campus of Kent State.
Four students were killed and nine were wounded.
Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’.
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin’.
Four dead in Ohio.
Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are cutting us down.
Should have been done long ago.
“What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
I’ll never forget that day. I remember exactly where I was when I heard about what had happened.
It was a beautiful spring day and I was out on the swings on the playground at recess. I was feeling the pressure of first grade and just wanted to chill out.
Billy Connelly had just accused me of having cooties but I didn’t care. He couldn’t prove it. I still had my fruit cup from lunch and all was right with the world.
The excited squeals of the children filled the air as they ran back and forth across the playground in what to them seemed like a brief taste of freedom.
There was no freedom. It was an illusion. “The Faculty” watched us like hawks. Our overlords. They watched our every move. They controlled our every action and told us what we could and couldn’t do.
You even needed their permission to do number two.
Over next to the tree by the monkey bars some of the kids were huddled around a transistor radio that crackled out something that seemed to drown out the noises of dodge ball and hopscotch.
Something bad had happened.
I wasn’t close enough to hear yet but when I saw Mary Ianuzzo, the girl who sat next to me in arts and crafts and someone who actually had cooties drop her ice cream push-up onto the sand I knew something was wrong.
“They shot em'” cried out Timmy Galvin.
He was one of the taller boys and his freckled face was filled with rage and angst. He threw down his Batman lunchbox the ground and kicked it hard across the asphalt.
It burst open and his twinkies that he had saved from lunch had spilled out onto the playground along with an apple core and two mustard packs that he had planned to stomp on later next to some fat kid’s sneakers.
Some of the kids looked up to Timmy.
He was sort of a leader and ever since he threw finger paste at the blackboard and then made fart sounds with his arm pits he was hailed as rebel by the swing set crowd.
He got sent to office for that.
He had balls.
“They just shot’ em” he said, this time his voice more subdued.
“Who got shot?” I asked the sullen group as I approached.
“The protesters…the protesters” sobbed Cindy Krantz as she tugged on her red braided ponytails and tears trickled down her cheeks. Her father owned the liquor store on Main street and she always thought she was so cool because her mother would always buy her the expensive Mickey Mouse sweaters to wear. We all thought she was a poopy head though.
“Krantz Krantz smelly pants” one of the boys made up.
It put her in her place.
“Kent State”…wailed Timmy. His fists were clenched and he took a deep breath and curled his lips over his teeth and rolled his head to the side.
“Nixon’s goons” he moaned…”they shot em’ dead”
His hands were beginning to shake as he reached for a twizzler that he had rolled up in his shirt pocket and put it to his mouth and clenched his teeth on it.
“That peepee cucka…that damn peepee cucka” I shouted angrily.
My head was spinning from the news.
“When will it end..? Why can’t we just impeach the doodie face?”
The red metal bell mounted high on the brick wall of the library rang just then. It’s urgent metallic clang signaled to us that it was time to go back inside.
It was a noise that had always stopped the children in their tracks and would always trigger a long collective groan peppered with little whispers of no and already?
Our brief “freedom” had come to an end.
Back into to the poop.
The teachers marched over quickly and efficiently to round us all up like they were government paid border collies and promptly herded the children into little groups.
Back to our seats like good little sheep.
Back to a world where the government controlled us and tried to fill our heads with Pledges of Allegiances and American superiority in southeast Asia.
The veil was off and we weren’t buying it anymore.
I looked over at Timmy and he looked sick. Like he wanted to vomit and was heartbroken. He looked back at me and his eyes began to fill with water in the lower lids. His twizzler was still dangling from his mouth and as our eyes met he sighed and reached up and yanked off a piece of his twizzler.
He looked at me and said “Here…I think you need one too”.
I took it and put it in my mouth.
It had the texture of an electrical cord and the strawberry flavoring did little to erase the bitter taste in my mouth.
Yes indeed…recess had ended.
Maybe too ..so had our innocence.