the Girl Wrapped in the Red Convertible

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Theresa Camille Piazza couldn’t wait to start the day. It was November 22, 1963. The President was coming to Dallas, which meant the school day would be divided by a mid-day break. All students were expected to go see the Presidential procession, but Theresa had plans of her own.

The day before she had stopped by the grocery. She wasn’t buying anything, but she did intend to pick something up. It was no secret that the Grocer had a crush on Theresa. He had harbored a crush on her for so long, that she couldn’t recall a time when he hadn’t. All she had to do was stop by the grocery, smile a little too big and look him right in the eye. A few moments later she left with the promise to use his car. Theresa was sixteen, and a shiny red convertible was impossible to pass up, no matter who she had to flirt with.

So when Woodrow Wilson High School released its students to witness history, and when Johnnie and Antoinette assumed she was with classmates waiting for the President, Theresa and her girlfriends were cruising around Dallas in a red convertible. While her brother, Anthony, worked to support his wife, and while her sister, Fan, worked a new job, while her younger sisters, Rosemary and Maryann, were stuck in school, Theresa was inhaling her freedom. She and her friends flew down the streets of Dallas, shifting gears and tossing their hair. The wind whipped their flesh and flushed their cheeks. They felt important and famous and reckless, all wrapped up in a shiny red wrapper.

When they returned, the halls held the same school-spirited posters and banisters, but the air was heavy and damp, like a desperate fog consuming the school. Murmurs and whispers bounced off the walls and floors, making it impossible to figure out where they originated. Clumps of sniffling, weeping girls could be found stuck against various lockers. All eyes were red-reamed, even if there had been no tears.

Theresa took her seat in American History, watching tears find their way down the newly pale cheeks of Miss Abernathy. The bell pierced the air, silencing the murmuring but not the sniffling. Miss Abernathy stood, clinging to her desk for stability.

For those who had not been able to make the procession, President Kennedy had been shot. The desperate fog invaded Theresa, filling her with shock and disbelief. She felt disconnected from herself, from her peers, from the red convertible. That evening she sat in her fog with the family mesmerized by the t.v. Black and white pictures fluttered across the screen. Staticky and disjointed, pictures of the procession and a cop killer named Lee Harvey Oswald flashes before their disbelieving eyes. They spent the evening there, the Piazza family all together but each separately swallowing in the horror of the assassination of the first Catholic President.

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