When I was a boy, I had a vivid imagination that would take me forward and backward in time, and to the far off places like the center of the earth – and the moon. It was the 1960s and at age seven, I would lie on my stomach in front of the television and watch rockets blast off on their way into space and to the moon. In my mind, I was in a spacesuit on those rockets managing the controls and flying off into space.
By the third grade I was already an avid reader of books, and would imagine myself through the characters of each novel or series of books that were in the school library. I was a fan of Sherlock Holmes and The Hardy Boys, showing a youthful penchant for mysteries. I also liked joke books, and would memorize what I see in adult hindsight were some really bad and sometimes off-color jokes to tell at home after school. And I was a reader of biographies and voraciously read the life stories of famous Americans such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and the Wright brothers.
There was one biography that resonated through my core and that was the story of President John F. Kennedy. It wasn’t so much Kennedy’s good looks or World War II heroics as it was that he was alive – and killed – during my lifetime. John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961, a little more than a month after I was born, and he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, just three weeks before I would turn three. President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, also had two young children – one of whom was born weeks before me. And they had a child that was born during his short time in office – Patrick Kennedy – who died shortly after birth, devastating the family.
Every family has its hardships and so did mine. We had been a typical 1960s east coast family living in a New Jersey suburb, with a backyard, a nearby brook, and a springer spaniel named Freckles. My older brother George and I wore suits and bowties and carried little brief cases as we walked a quarter mile to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School each day to learn the 4 R’s – Reading, (w)Riting, (a)Rithmatic and Religion. At about the same time (1965), my younger brother Timothy, who was still a baby, had cancer, putting a strain on my parent’s already rocky marriage. My mother left my father in 1967 shortly after the birth of my sister, Patricia.
Mother put our house on the market, packed up her four children and moved us all 3,000 miles away to Bolinas, a tiny village on the Northern California coast that was the polar opposite of Mountainside, New Jersey. Arriving in Bolinas, we stayed in a hotel room behind Smiley’s Saloon, which happens to be the oldest bar in the state. I prayed to the God that I had learned about in Catholic School that I would get sick and die before I had to start the next day at the local school. I woke up the following morning with measles.
It was during this illness, while in and out of a fever (and a biography on JFK) that I began thinking things through clearly. I began thinking that there were just too many “coincidences” in my own existence and that of the Kennedy’s. For one thing, before our family had moved to New Jersey, we actually lived in Washington, D.C., where I and my two brothers were born. My parents had attended Georgetown University (in the same area where the Kennedy’s lived). According to the official records, I was born on December 14, 1960. But what if I had actually been born three weeks early, on November 25, as the twin brother to John F. Kennedy, Jr? What if, I imagined, I had been kidnapped by the Horvath’s – and was living a lie with this family in California? At the time, with an ample amount of thick hair on my head, it seemed like it could really be true.
Adding to my speculation was that my own “parents” (George and Diana) seemed more like the prototypes for Boris and Natasha than they did other normal parents. Dad had a thick Hungarian accent that was similar to Boris (and later Count Chocula). Mom was tall and thin and wore her hair up in a bun – ala Natasha. They couldn’t possibly be my parents. A Cold War kidnapping of the President’s son began taking shape in my psyche and this idea became a constant, recurring fantasy and a theme of my inner-childhood. I ached to be back with my “real” family. Although I had to keep in mind that my “real” father actually had his brains blown out several years earlier, so it would really only be with Jackie, Caroline, and our brother John-John. And I never really felt a close, personal affinity to Jackie — it was more about JFK — so my theory slowly began to go out the window.
In hindsight, seeing how much I look (and act) like a mix of George and Diana, both of whom as a 52-year-old I recognize as being my true bio-parents, it seems horrible that I would abandon them like this for a life of glamour and riches with the Kennedys. But looking back, I can also see why I was anywhere but in the present for this part of my childhood.
For one thing, I don’t really remember the divorce – just saying goodbye to our father from a phone in a hotel room on the way out to California. I remember crying because he wouldn’t be living with us. For another, things became kind of sketchy after arriving in Bolinas – some things that I would not change, and some that still give me bad dreams to this day. My siblings and I were taken from our mother and put into foster homes three times before I was 10 years old. We were released back to her each time, but only after legal struggles and encounters with social services.
By all accounts, I was in charge of the household and care of my younger sisters (two more came along) from seven years old until after mom died, when I was 21. But I don’t remember it that way. I think of mom asking me to help, relying on me to take care of the kids – while she tried in her own way to keep the family together all along coming to terms with her own demons. The alcohol and drugs flowed for the adults, tempered by relaxing days on the beach – instead of working – and nights at home that were often filled with outbursts and violence from mom’s string of boyfriends.
But for me, I had already checked out. I was imagining being reunified with the Kennedy’s! In the end, having an active imagination and escaping into it is the thing that saves some people.
While for me it was pretending to be a Kennedy (I still wear RayBan Wayfarer sunglasses like JFK), nearly everyone that I knew wanted to be someone or something other than they actually were. For some of my peers it was being a sibling to the kids on The Brady Bunch, who were perfect and didn’t have to eat Whole Wheat Bread. Generations of people thought that Bing Crosby had the perfect family because they appeared with him on television and in orange juice commercials. But off-camera, Bing was quietly beating his children – so who would want to be part of that?
Others in my generation dreamed of more realistic things like becoming teachers, doctors, policemen, farmers, actors, astronauts, writers, and professional surfers. Some actually went on to make those dreams come true.
After I figured out that I was not a Kennedy – and that I was indeed the true son of Boris and Natasha – I learned to live in the present, and to follow my bliss and genetic pattern. Genetics is a funny thing in that one can watch themselves evolve into their own parents. I used to see my mother’s (and JFK’s) eyes when I look in the mirror but am nowadays more often confronted with being the spitting image of my father, who actually hated the Kennedy’s.
But dad is somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, which explains a lot when I evaluate my own childhood fantasies, and may also explain why in 2013, I have a digital copy of The Warren Report on the Assassination of President Kennedy on my Kindle. I read it in bed each night, hunting for flaws in the official story of who killed a very special President.