Twenty-Five Years Later …

They were very happy times. Nikki and I had just returned from our trip out west the first week of September. We covered several thousand miles camping at Mesa Verde, Bryce Canyon and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We then proceeded to our next campsite at a hotel in Vegas for three days and three nights where we won a lot, lost more, but had a good time. We decided to continue to the west coast where we stayed a night in Beverly Hills, then on to Phoenix where we celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday with a few strangers that became friends for that evening. Finally, on to Albuquerque for one night and then back home to “Big D” to gear up for work following a couple weeks of well-deserved vacation. It turned out to be even more enjoyable than the previous year’s trip to Cancun.

We had picked up some items from an antique store somewhere near Prescott, Arizona on the way back … a pair of old cast-iron skillets and some white glazed enamel vases and tableware. The new general decorating motif for our small yet nicely accoutered third-floor apartment was becoming very country farm chic, old-fashioned simplicity with a touch of modern hi-tech.

Songs getting air time on our car radio as we commuted to and from our places of employment downtown, which was a good twenty minute ordeal each way, were “R. O. C. K. in the U. S. A.” by John Mellencamp, “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister and “Cherish” by Kool & The Gang. “Careless Whisper” by George Michael as well as Phil Collins’ “No Jacket Required” album mark the period. After a couple of weeks back into the work “grind”, Nikki and I watched Friday night’s season premiere of “Miami Vice”. I’m fairly sure it was the season opening episode or perhaps the second. I remember it being extremely graphic for prime-time TV in those days and left me with a certain nauseous feeling. Saturday, we decided to go to Collin Creek in Plano to walk around, shop and eat at the Tex-Mex restaurant in the mall. I still felt unsettled thinking it was from the previous night’s TV drama and remember having an intense headache all afternoon while we were window shopping. As I looked into one store window, I caught my own reflection in the glass and had some sort of eerie premonition. The bone structure of my head seemed unusual and distorted as if I was in a “funny mirror” or “house of mirrors” like at the fair or something. I just remember feeling “not right”.

We then went home that evening with a four-pack of wine coolers and watched “Rebel Without A Cause”. I had made a comment about the untimely demise of all three of the leading characters; Woods, Dean, and Sal Mineo, having no idea about the impending parallels soon to come about in my own world. I even remember making a mental note of how careless the youths seemed in the picture during the scene where Natalie Woods leaves the candle burning on the blanket while picnicking with James Dean at the old mansion just before the final scenes at Griffith Observatory. This was all just a few short hours from when I received “the call”.

Around 3:00 AM, the phone rang and the Cobra cordless phone by the bed (cordless technology was still archaic then) had a dead battery so I turned to my wife saying that it was probably her brother in jail again and that it was probably for her. She got up and answered in the living room and all I remember her saying was “Oh my God, Let Me Get Him!”. Well, my first reaction was that it was something regarding my elderly Grandmother or Grandfather, heart attack or something. When I got to the phone, my Mother’s voice had a very strange almost musical quality as she said “Steve, Kimberly has been shot. She’s gone forever.”. I asked her if she was sure and she told me that her and Ethan had gone to Westside Park and having been out too late, Don went to check and found the police there at a crime scene. The rest is history. I asked if Dad had been informed and she told me she was going to call him next. I said I would pass on the info since I could tell that she had had everything taken out of her just to tell me the news. Dad picked up right away and I asked if he was sitting down. He replied “I’m laying down”. After I gave him the word, there was silence followed by “are you sure?”. I told him that I would be up there directly and immediately called American Airlines for the first flight to Indianapolis. Deanie, Nikki’s Mom, lived in our apartment complex and drove us to DFW airport before the sun had risen. The only comment she made was “Only the good die young.”

By the time we arrived at the house, we had to be dropped off down the street due to the enormous number of vehicles and crowds of people throughout the yard and house. We burrowed through the crowd until I found Mom and we embraced as she cried “Thank God I still have you”.

The rest of the time was a blur, but I remember people showering us with food, affection and more food. Nikki’s Sister and her husband arrived from Chicago and provided some comfort but felt overwhelmed I’m sure and didn’t stay too long. By evening, we all sat around the TV and watched the live news coverage out of the Indianapolis stations. They had recent photos of Kim and Ethan covering the screen. Where they got them I do not know. That moment was the most gut wrenching moment of my entire life to date. I will never forget it.

Somewhere, out of the blue my good friend George Smedinghoff appeared and we took a trip to the local beer store. As we walked in, the clerk was in a very jovial mood and said “Hey! How you all doing tonight!”. George simply replied that I had seen better days and that it was my Sister in the news. The clerk’s mood changed dramatically and he offered his condolences as we went back out to the car. As we were sitting in the car in front of the store, Ethan’s Father with a friend pulled up and went inside. George and I could see the expressions on that poor clerk’s face again change from jovial to flabbergasted through the glass window. George and I let out a burst of laughter that released the immense stress and pressure of the last forty-eight hours. We both laughed continuously, without speaking for at least ten or fifteen minutes before leaving.[ref]It was in the wake of the realization of what the Dixon family must have been experiencing that my pal and I let loose of emotion. The laughter I mentioned above should by no means indicate any intention of disrespect to the Dixon family.[/ref]

The next twelve months were spent in a near catatonic state. Fortunately, I was employed at the time by the Southern Baptist Annuity Board where they held Chapel every Monday morning. Not only did they send one of the largest arrays of flowers to Kim’s services, they held a special commemoration in the Chapel the first Monday that I returned to work. It was assuring to see the goodness in human beings after experiencing the worst of them.

After a year, I snapped out of it and my career soared to the highest level that it probably ever will be. It lasted a good twenty years but eventually gravity brought me down. Mom passed at Candlelight services, Christmas Eve at the Church she had been married in twice. They say that being married more than once in the same Church is bad luck. Perhaps it wasn’t bad luck though. I doubt if Mom would have it any other way.

The news of George Smedinghoff’s untimely loss of his battle against brain cancer caught me off guard a couple of weeks ago and then his Mother of ninety-one years was in the obits yesterday morning.

With last Sunday’s Twenty-Fifth commemoration on the front page, all the feelings of that era came alive again. I remember like yesterday when Dad and I were watching the particulars of the Kennedy assassination on the little black and white portable in Poplar Apartments down in Durham, NC. The impact of the Kim and Ethan assassination has been telescopically more. Not only did this sorry world miss out on a couple of tremendous prospects like Kim and Ethan, but I wonder how much of a positive influence I could have contributed to society had this event never taken place.

September 28, 1985 – A date that has lived with me in infamy.

Steve D.

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