From time to time, I think about Monica Lewinsky. I remember her rise to notoriety went something like this: Young, pretty girl goes to Washington to work in government, gets White House internship, gets even closer to the president, gives him oral sex, (probably did more, but no intercourse if we believe what we've been told), gets transferred because people around Clinton think she is spending too much time with him, Monica tells someone, is recorded and her life changes forever. She is spurned by the world she was trying to embrace and cast aside by the man she trusted and, dare I say, loved.
By the time this scandal broke, it was just another story for me. I knew what had happened. I knew how she felt because I had been there myself, 10 years earlier. I was a young, attractive girl acting inappropriately with various men who were in positions of authority. At 25, there was very little consideration in me for things like consequences. I just didn’t care. All I thought about was making enough money to pay rent, partying, staying out late, sleeping in late, not being alone and having a good time. People do stuff like that in their 20s. I was young, free of the responsibilities of children and debt and determined to get into everything life showed me. But, by the time the Clinton-Lewinsky mega-bomb exploded, I was changing and beginning to walk the path I am on today: Being a wife and mother. I was 35. My party days were over. Hearing Monica and Bill got busy was really a non-story for me. It wasn’t complicated: Pretty girl, powerful man. She gets hurt. He distances himself. Got it.
In the 15 years since the scandal, I don’t think Monica got a fair deal. She isn’t any different than any other young woman who was testing the waters in her twenties. She’s probably a nice, competent person who had dreams, but got sidetracked by a major, and unfortunately public, mistake. It happened, too, just as the Internet was gaining ground so the media was all over Monica. She couldn’t quietly rebuild her life and move on like other White House girlfriends did. Girls in the White House was not a new thing. It would have taken Herculean efforts to stave off the President of the United States. Women in their 20s just don’t possess that type of muscle.
I am thinking of Monica now because she is about to turn 40. That can be a hard birthday. It can begin the descent to a lot of thinking that makes you feel bad about yourself: Left behind, left out, no kids, no husband, harder to keep off the weight, irregular periods signaling it might be harder to have children, people you know have lives you should have, pressure, pressure, pressure. What I’ve read lately is that she needs money and is planning a tell-all. I wish I could tell her to walk away from that project, but if she feels it is the only thing she has left, she is going to write her book.
All of us could have been Monica. And if we are honest, if we drop our judgmental natures, we know how she could be feeling. She might play out those years in her mind: Maybe Bill would leave Hillary for her and they would become legends. Hillary might have thought about leaving Bill, but by the time Monica came along, I am quite sure Hillary knew about Bill’s wayward ways. She was probably really, truly, deeply disappointed in him but ultimately decided she could forgive him: They have a long history, a daughter, and together they are more powerful than they are apart. Good enough for Hillary and Bill.
And Monica? I bet her parents were very proud to say, “Our daughter is a White House intern. She works for President Clinton.” By age 25, when the story broke, she was a punch line, hiding out in her mother’s apartment. Years rolled by. She tried a series of jobs and projects, went to school and in the process, lost her youth and dreams. That is a tough thing for a woman to experience. It makes you feel lonely when your best years are behind you and the future doesn’t seem much better. Things just seem a lot harder for her than they were for the other people involved, especially the Clintons.
She didn’t do the right thing, but she also hasn’t been able to escape that mistake, a mistake many, many other people – men and women – have made. No matter what she accomplishes in her life, she will always be “that White House intern.” Even if she lives another 40 years, her obituary will refer to her relationship with Clinton, probably in the first line, too. I just wish that weren’t the case.
Loukia Borrell is the author of Raping Aphrodite. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children and is working on her second novel.