It was 1998 when she was destroyed. I was 29, and she was just 24. We share the same birthday, five years apart. I’m making it sound like I know her, but I don’t. I know her the same way we all do—the girl with the love-stained, blue dress, who got down with the 42nd president right in the Oval Office. Back then, we couldn’t stop looking. We sopped up every single word that was written or spoken about her. “Viral” wasn’t in our vernacular yet, but, wow, did this spread like creamy peanut butter. This story had sex, lies and audiotapes with the most powerful man in the world as the leading male and his unsexy wife and overweight staffer in supporting roles. We were hypnotized for 13 long months, but she lived it for much longer. Slut. Fat bitch. Home-wrecker. She read those words and wanted to die. We had to imagine feeling scared shitless and all alone, but she didn’t.
How did Monica eventually get out from under her covers? I’ll tell you how she explained it when I went to hear her speak. First, let me confess something. I was there to listen, but I wanted to really look at her. Was she still chubby? Did she look a lot older? Did she have her shit together now? Was she going to wear a dress? I couldn’t be alone in my voyeuristic curiosity but maybe just in my admission. Here are the quick answers: no, she’s slimmed down; no, she looks young and vibrant; yes, her shit seems together; yes she wore a dress (wasn’t blue). Let me top it off by saying that she is very pretty. Her skin is smooth and clear, and I couldn’t see any traces of Botox (was right next to her at times). Sitting in the row behind her before she went up to speak, I noticed a tiny hole in the back of her dress. My mind went right to the connection between this and her other marred dress. See, this is the kind of stuff she just won’t be able to shake. I’m sorry, Monica.
Standing at the podium, Monica had us. She just did. She meant every word she was saying and didn’t want our sympathy, but she got mine anyway. She was just telling her story, and we listened hard—Jewish upbringing, one brother, divorced parents, college, jobs, then off to DC. She could have been my childhood friend, my cousin, my college roommate. At one point, she asked everyone who had ever made a mistake to raise her hand. One hand from everyone in that room shot up quickly. Then she told us to keep our hands up if everyone in the world knew about the mistake we made. You can guess that hers was the only hand still remaining. My friend and I couldn’t help leaning in to exchange a “Wow.” Monica explained that in an instant, she went from being a private person to being well, the Monica Lewinsky everyone knows. She was a constant punchline for the late-night hosts, and she says she is mentioned in over 140 rap songs. When I asked my 16-year-old daughter if she knew who she was, she said, “Yeah, we listen to ‘Monica Lewinsky’ every morning on the ride to school.” She then put on the song by G-Eazy. Let’s just say it won’t be making its way into any of my playlists.
When Monica actually spoke the name “Bill Clinton,” whoomp, there it was. She was letting us into this very personal place, where no news story could ever take us. Yeah, Clinton was the prez, but to her, Clinton was the man she was in love with. They were in a relationship; it wasn’t a fantasy or some fling in her head, as much as DC spun it that way to keep Bill out of trouble. Remember, her feelings were not unrequited—he bought her gifts and set up private meetings, even if they were of a sexual nature. She was crushed when he, like everyone else, abandoned her. This was her boyfriend, and he completely ditched her. It was during these moments that she went from a headline to a very real person. The world knew that he was out to save himself and his role in history. No one cared that Monica was trying to save herself, too. The paparazzi were like bad gas trailing her everywhere, and she was deeply depressed. I know, I know, she screwed a married man. Yes, she did, but she was only in her early 20s and was lured by Clinton’s power and charisma.
So, how did she survive all this? It’s not hard to guess it was her family, mainly her mom and dad. They had their own overdose of pain watching their daughter diminish day after day. (They, and her aunt, were threatened with legal action, too. Ken Starr was a mean mofo and was ‘gonna do anything he could to take down Clinton.) Monica told of how her mom sat at her bedside every single night and how her dad didn’t allow her to shower with the door closed. Did anyone ever speak of this looming fear, how maybe she would try to hurt herself, or was it just understood? I wondered if she cried a lot or was too numb. There were endless hours of counseling from the regular kind of therapists and spiritual ones, too. Her mother eventually told her to go help other people, who were suffering like she had. Yup, this is the oldest self-help advice, but I think this is when “the change” happened. This is how Monica refers to the most pivotal part of her life, which was when she started living again. She specifically credits the Diana Award, a UK charity helping young people, with making her feel wanted when it opened its door without any judgment. She thought maybe it was because over in England, she wasn’t as demonized. She’s a “do-gooder” and social activist now, helping people avoid being on either end of slut-shaming, fat-shaming and bullying—her old, personal Satans.
I have to mention that she did say up front that she is sorry for what she did, and she knows it was wrong. We all know women who have screwed married men, and you may have even screwed one yourself. If Clinton came on to me, I probably would have gotten naked with him, too and would have granted entry to more than just a Cohiba. Besides being handsome, he could have gotten me really good seats and backstage passes at concerts. The 24-year-old Monica made a bad decision, yes, but that scandal has caused permanent damage. When she takes her last breath, she won’t be remembered for the good work she’s doing now; she will be remembered for the affair and the circus with all its trappings—Bill, Hillary, Ken Starr, Linda Tripp (two-faced bitch), the dress, the cigar and the Oval Office. If I’m still alive, I hope I instead remember this night, one that allowed me see a Monica who was not the floozy behind the gossip. She was engaging and bright. She was funny and sincere. She’s no more flawed than the rest of us. She just had some seriously shitty consequences.
I dedicate this blog to Monica, even though it was inherent in my writing. I want her days to be sunny and her clouds to be few. I wanted to hug her after she spoke. I happened to walk part of the way out with her, and I said, “You were awesome!” She gave me a warm thank you. Then I thought, “This will be the only time I ever speak to her, and ‘awesome’ was the only thing I could come up with? Wtf is wrong with me?” Anyway, I hope inner peace is within her reach, and maybe a man, too, if that’s what she wants. She didn’t talk about that part of her life. It makes me wonder if the whole thing rewired her capacity for intimacy and trust. I hope not.
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