Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: "Once Upon An Affair: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and It's Aftermath" by Mimi Alford

I'm 6 for 25 as of right now! It's exciting to make strides toward a goal. My sixth book was a little book called "Once Upon An Affair: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and It's Aftermath" by Mimi Alford. If you're intrigued (like I was!), read on!

From "In the summer of 1962, nineteen-year-old Mimi Beardsley arrived by train in Washington, D.C., to begin an internship in the White House press office. The Kennedy Administration had reinvigorated the capital and the country—and Mimi was eager to contribute. For a young woman from a privileged but sheltered upbringing, the job was the chance of a lifetime. Although she started as a lowly intern, Mimi made an impression on Kennedy’s inner circle and, after just three days at the White House, she was presented to the President himself.
Almost immediately, the two began an affair that would continue for the next eighteen months.
In an era when women in the workplace were still considered “girls,” Mimi was literally a girl herself—naïve, innocent, emotionally unprepared for the thrill that came when the President’s charisma and power were turned on her full-force. She was also unprepared for the feelings of isolation that would follow as she fell into the double life of a college student who was also the secret lover of the most powerful man in the world. Then, after the President’s tragic death in Dallas, she grieved in private, locked her secret away, and tried to start her life anew, only to find that her past would cast a long shadow—and ultimately destroy her relationship with the man she married.
In 2003, a Kennedy biographer mentioned “a tall, slender, beautiful nineteen-year-old college sophomore and White House intern, who worked in the press office” in reference to one of the President’s affairs. The disclosure set off a tabloid frenzy and soon exposed Mimi and the secret that she had kept for forty-one years. Because her past had been revealed in such a shocking, public way, she was forced, for the first time, to examine the choices she’d made. She came to understand that shutting down one part of her life so completely had closed her off from so much more.
No longer defined by silence or shame, Mimi Alford has finally unburdened herself with this searingly honest account of her life and her extremely private moments with a very public man. Once Upon a Secret offers a new and personal depiction of one of our most iconic leaders and a powerful, moving story of a woman coming to terms with her past and moving out of the shadows to reclaim the truth."

I, like many over the years, have a facination with the Kennedy's. For some reason, they're all beautiful, all rich and all apart of some fairy tale that we've all been left out of. 

The author of this story is no exception.

She begins this story by telling about her upbringing - white, rich, "yes mother, no mother", boarding school, and debutant balls. Her life was basically scripted out for her. How she walked, talked, and how she would marry. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Until she started working in the press secretary's office at the White House - which only happened because of MRS KENNEDY. Yup. She got a job from someone..and then slept with her husband for a year and a half. That's how you repay someone.

This story was written while Mimi was in her 60's, but I always felt the vibe that every bit of her 19 year old self shone through. Every story was written as though she was going to get into trouble..40 some odd years later, or that the behavior displayed by either of them was of the norm or okay.

More than anything, I found it to be difficult to read on a  few accounts:

1// The president essentially raped her. She was brought around to his residential quarters, and brought into the president's room - where they had sex. She categorizes the event as more of her being 19 and a virgin, about to do something monumental with a "childhood crush". The president never asked if she wanted to have sex. He periodically asked if she was okay during the first encounter and she saw that as consensual, but my frustration lies within the fact that it happened - and she was okay with how. He was the president, and you did what he said. 

2// She is aloof to his transgressions, even at 60-something years old (when "she should know better"). She remarks: "I begun to appreciate two things about him. The first was the great care the President took to shield his wife from his infidelities. I believe he placed her on a pedestal as the perfect partner to help him realize his ambitions. And he planted that pedestal in a private space where all his "other women", including me, would never be permitted to enter. The second was that, at all times, he was protecting himself, too..You build walls, you compartmentalize, you make sure no one ever knows you completely". 

She speaks as though it is normal what he did. That his life was never going to go outside of his transgressions - that no one was ever going to find out - because he could play the game. That she appreciated the game. There is no love in that. There is no kindness, or sorrow or wrongfulness. There's only selfishness, pain and disgust. She didn't and still doesn't see that.

3// And towards the end of their affair, Mimi is engaged. To another human being. After the president is shot, she exposes her secret for the first time to her fiancé. Later that evening, in anger (hate, spitefulness, rage) her domineering fiance (and domineering is not a strong enough word - he is a terrible, terrible human being) "yank[s] back the covers, climbed into my bed, and, without a word, initiated our first sexual encounter. I was so desperate to keep him, I didn't resist."

She, again, is raped. But because she has ZERO self esteem and ZERO confidence in saying no - by growing up in such a world that your essentially married into one way of life, and by saying goodbye to the fiancé, she would lose that way of life - she finds herself for the next 26 years married to a man who raped her. Neither could handle her revelation (he tells her she's never allowed to speak of JFK and her summers in the White House EVER again) - her out of fear of her husband leaving her, him out of being a cruel human with no social ability what-so-ever - they tip toe around. They don't speak about anything of importance and sweep things under the rug. The JFK affair is just the tip of the iceberg.

Alford is traumatized by the affair, whether she knows it or not (and I'm not sure she does). Her very first adult experience with the world taints her existence for a long, long time. I find it hard to have grace for her though. Our lives in this day and age are so tainted with promiscuity and cheating, that we're almost numb to it. We find it interesting and dangerous. We watch it on TV and listen to it on the radio. And it's just another brick in the wall sometimes.

Now, before you read this and go "you knew that you were reading about an affair! What did you expect?!" - I agree, I knew what was coming. I didn't know there would be very little remorse for what she had done. She found ways to explain her circumstances and make them lighter. That she was never cheating because she didn't think of Jackie at all. But she was. She is an adulterer. For the rest of her life.

As you can already tell, I'm angry with Mimi Alford. I would rather not fill this section out, because what she has to say shouldn't apply to daily life. But, in the spirit of grace, and the fact that she does have some wisdom to go around, I will give you a few.

1// “When someone listens to you, they may not realize it but they're giving you a great gift: They're making room for your voice.” 

Mimi spends 40+ years with a secret only few know. When she does unload the secret onto others, she finds her voice. The voice she so desperately needed from the age of 19. She needed people to hear what she had gone through and throw her a life raft. Eventually she found one, and found her place in a world where she didn't have to be ashamed for what she had done. She had to keep the name "adulterer", but she didn't have to live like one.

2// “I am proof that if we’re lucky, we emerge from our mistakes as wiser, stronger, better people—and if we’re extremely lucky, happier people.” 

I sure hope so.

I think the only thing I can say is read this if you're interested in John F Kennedy history. It's more of a side note, I'm hoping, to his legacy - but it is apart of his history. It made him less of a knight in shining armor, and less of a man too. But it's apart of it - and those who like history and like JFK would most likely enjoy this.


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