At Mike Deaver's home Monday night, a small knot of friends joined hands and prayed for Jim Brady. The press secretary had been hit in the gunfire that just missed White House aide Deaver, a scene Deaver's young children watched on television. At first they thought the bald man on the ground was their father.
At East Wing staff director Peter McCoy's house the same day, his wife, Kacey, burst into tears. "I thought, 'God, it could have been Peter,'" she says. "Did I come this far to see someone I love shot down? You begin to wonder. . ."
The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan has sharply hit the tight circle of Californians who migrated east to the White House. They had spent two heady months assuming power, an assumption hardly marred by recent political snags, which they saw as business as usual.
On Monday, telephones rang continually, connecting the West Coast and Washington. Secretaries called: Yes, everything is all right. Families whose lives have centered on Reagan for more than a decade huddled together, brought close by violence just miles from their new homes.
"You're swinging from euphoria to anger, horror and disgust," says Nancy Reynolds, a longtime friend who's helped introduce the Californians to Washington. "It certainly has taken the edge off. Of course it's going to take its toll. The bullet just missed Mike Deaver. Just missed him."
Reynolds and a few other staffers and friends had gathered at deputy chief of staff Deaver's house Monday night to watch television. Reynolds came first after she'd spoken to Deaver's wife, Carolyn, who'd been on Connecticut Avenue getting her sewing machine fixed when she heard the news on the radio. She picked up one of her children at school, then rushed home.
"When I got there," she says, "there was a message that Mike was all right. I'm so thankful I got it before I turned on the television, because in the film clips, it looked like he had been shot."
As Deaver told friends when he got home about 9:30 p.m.: "God had His hand on my shoulder."
Others at his house were Cabinet secretary Craig Fuller and his wife, Norine, and Shirley Moore, Deaver's secretary. All are longtime friends.
"We sat and watched television," said Norine Fuller, "just kind of getting over the shock. It was a comfort to have other people there with you. gIt was a situation that was incomprehensible.
"It's been a remarkable transition," she continued, meaning the past two months. "Easing in so beautifully, having all those wonderful events. But this shows that reality is still there -- and that things can change in a matter of minutes."
How much this will subdue the exhilarated mood of those closest to the president is hard to say, but certainly, it has to affect the tone of the rest of their terms. "Yes, it does," says Kacey McCoy, "but let's talk about that some other time. I can't think of it now. I'm just numb."
"I wouldn't say the bubble has popped," says presidential assistant David Gergen, who is new to the California entourage. "Most of the people I know don't see this as a matter of lost innocence. But this has unfortunately become a recurring tragedy in American politics."
"It'll put a damper on everyone," adds Pat Allen, wife of National Security Affairs Adviser Richard Allen. "The president is such an outgoing man, but he'll never be able to erase that."
The Allens aren't from California, but are close friends and neighbors of the Bradys. On Monday night, Pat Allen went to George Washington University Hospital to see Sarah Brady, who was with her husband after he'd just undergone almost five hours of brain surgery. Richard Allen met them there, then went with his wife back to his office at the White House. A few staffers were still around.
"We didn't talk much," says Pat Allen. They soon went home.
Sarah Brady, by several accounts, was holding up well. Her husband is the most seriously injured of the four men shot, and yesterday, doctors could not say how much brain damage the press secretary may have suffered. But according to Reynolds, Sarah Brady told Nancy Reagan at the hospital that "they're both strong men -- and they're going to make it."
As Gergen puts it: "People here are so relieved that the president is making such progress. They're inspired by his attitudes. He's really carried a lot of people with him."