It’s an old story.
Really old: young woman, Great Man.
Predictable outcome: heartbreak for her, no consequences for him. But wait … there’s a twist. He dies, abruptly, although he lives on in song and story, in history and in her story. “She”—her, me … I just plain live on. Flattened at first, marked by an invisible hoofprint seared into my being, but then reconfiguring and gathering speed toward an unexpected life.
Here’s what happened.
The Temptation of Light
“Well, my dear, you have the advantage here. You know that I’m Jack Kennedy, but I don’t know who you are … ”
Neither did I … know who I was. But I knew I was vibrating with excitement. My first political dinner, and for this moment I was sitting next to him … the man of the hour, the evening, the future. He had come to our table, he had noticed me, and he was talking to me!
It was 1958: I was 20, a junior at Radcliffe College, and wishing I was not. Read, take notes, write papers, pass exams, get good grades, repeat. Caged in anonymous lecture halls and yearning for an exit from my life. Searching for a compelling focus, and purpose.
I was wilting.
But here, now, in this ballroom, adrenaline poured through me. A star galvanizing a crowd. Lights, candles, action. Loud voices, gusts of laughter, and intermittent shouts of recognition, and display. There he was. Center dais. Easy in the spotlight.
An evening demonstration of Democratic hegemony in Boston. Kickoff for a senatorial re-election campaign, even, maybe, the precursor to a national campaign.
After an hour of introductions, jokes, and thanks to all the fine people who had made this evening possible—The Speech. I would come to know it well. Humorous and purposeful. A skillful invitation to commit to a better world. Change to come. Cheers, and wild applause. I was on my feet. We all were. Finally, a place to land. A place to belong. I just had to become part of this: glamour, drama, suspense. How would it turn out? Then, suddenly, the senator was at our table.
Whom would he talk to? Who would get the smile, the clap on the shoulder, the handshake? I wanted to be one of the favorites. Actually, I wanted to be the favorite. I knew the protocol. I’d been brought up by one handsome man who was almost always the center of attention. My father moved through life radiating purpose and vitality. When he arrived home each evening, it was like the curtain going up on an exciting, witty play where he was the director, writer, and star. Here I felt the familiar flash, cross wiring of eager and anxious, high seas ahead. I didn’t know the senator, but I knew his energy. I felt it in my body.
The senator was standing directly across the table. And he was looking … at me. Oh, God, don’t let me blush, I prayed. Useless, of course. We all stood up. He gestured to us to sit back down. “This is the table I need to be at. You young people will set me straight; the rest of these guys just tell me what I want to hear … ” We glowed. We mattered. He walked around the table to stand behind my date, hand on his shoulder. “James, I hear you’ve done great things for us … Now I want one more effort.” James leapt up: “Anything, sir.”
“Give me your seat, so a tired old man can sit next to a pretty girl.”
“Now, my de-ah”—this was Boston speaking—“who are you? What’s your name?” I could barely gasp out my name, much less muster a coherent sentence.
“So, are you really interested in politics?”
Why couldn’t I think of something smart to say? Everyone at the table was no doubt judging me for getting a turn they should have had. They would be engaging with him on substantive issues. I tried to remember what my date had been talking about with the other campaign workers earlier in the evening. Nothing.
The senator was standing directly across the table. And he was looking … at me.
This was not only embarrassing; it was familiar. In my father’s house there was a question: What do you have to say for yourself? Smart mattered. Articulate mattered. Literary, historical allusions mattered. Best to respond with something sharp.
Scurrying thoughts, how to hold this man’s attention? I had to justify my favored position, sitting next to him. Finally, the right thought: “I’ve read your book.” A lie. But people liked it when you said that.
“And … it’s wonderful.”
A slight smile, he turned away to talk to the group at large: “So how do you all think it went?”
“You were wonderful,” I breathed. Inane.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that, but do you actually have any experience in all this, or do you just feel sorry for an old guy?” He laughed, high good humor, and suggested that we come to another event, this time outside of Boston. He rose, signaled a man standing nearby, and started to leave.
“I’m going to count on seeing you next week. Dave here will give you the details.” Slight wave of the hand and he was off.
Dave gave us the information: date, time, place, a community center in one of the nearby suburbs.
I couldn’t wait. Ecstatic days. The landscape saturated with color. Trees emitting a vapor, a special oxygen just for me, and the branches waved me on into this dream of wild adventure.
In my closet, my dresses chittered and chattered, fluffing their sleeves and whisking their hems, vying for my attention. As I would be vying for his attention, as soon as I saw him again.
And when the actual evening finally arrived, Driver Dave appeared at the door of Gilman House, my off-campus residence. Dave told me that James, my date from the benefit, was needed at headquarters.
“The senator doesn’t want you driving around the back roads with some kid who might get lost or drink too much. He’ll feel safer having me drive you, O.K.?”
So O.K. I went to one rally, and then another, giddy with the knowledge of my special place. In the car after a rally, the senator would tease me: “You know I’m working pretty hard for just one vote here … ” But underneath the teasing, our connection was tapping into a vein of possibility. He said he could see there was “something special” about me. Could that be true?
I didn’t realize then that I’d simply been netted, separated from the other students, who might have offered some emotional ballast in this situation. It wasn’t just he who paid attention to me; I was entirely surrounded by his circle. They were so attentive, always someone to talk to or bring me a cup of coffee, call me “sweetheart.” I thought it was grand. What they were actually doing was making sure I was inconspicuous at these public events and remained at an appropriate distance from the center of attention.
What could I have been thinking? Obviously, I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling, in full movie-star-infatuation mode. Only this movie star was a worldly actor who was going to make everything different. And I would be part of it, carried along in the wake of his power.
I didn’t realize then that I’d simply been netted, separated from the other students. It wasn’t just he who paid attention to me; I was entirely surrounded by his circle.
One of the many advantages of being in movie-star-crush land was my happy inability to consider the facts. For example, the fact of this man’s marital status. He never mentioned it, so … I decided not to think about it. I stayed in my bubble. It was easy, and emotionally convenient, because Mrs. Kennedy did not participate at this level of suburban campaigning.
“I’m expecting great things from you, ya know.” Always laughing, always looking at me in what I hoped was a special way.
It became a routine. Dave would take me to an event. I would listen to the speech and try to think of smart things to say. At the end of the evening I would get back into the car, the senator would get in, and we would talk about what had just transpired. I would be delivered to Gilman House, caught up in his contagious vitality.
“You know how I feel about you … ”
I did? No, I didn’t, although I hoped I did. He was so attentive, even if he did tease me.
“Listen, Dave, we have to put our best foot forward here. We’re competing with … the library.” Always laughing, so much fun.
“Dave, we’ve got a scholar here. Now, explain to me one more time what you’re studying and why.” And I would deliver myself of some sentences about how the Middle East was an important arena for post-colonial international competition, talk about my graduate-school plans to study Arabic.
“Hmm, so did we pick up any votes?” And that would be my cue to make a megaphone with my hands and announce: “By overwhelming majority, John Kennedy sails to victory!”
And he’d say, “I can tell that you are special. You have a spark. I can see it.” A spark, a gift … for what? I may not have been a dust ball in the corner, but what “spark” exactly had I demonstrated? The gift of rapt attention?
Then one evening when he got in the car, he said, “I’m hungry. Let’s go to the apartment. We’ll find something to eat.”
Ah, yes, the apartment. The place he kept in Boston. There, I would find out how to be special. It was much simpler than I thought and had little to do with what I did or did not have to say for myself.
In this apartment, something different. He was leaning toward me, with such a sincere gaze. Yes, I knew how he felt about me. How could I doubt this moment of such profound connection? This was love, for sure. And … now, it was sex, for sure.
His hand on mine. Mine were icy cold. Oddly, my impulse was to flinch away. I didn’t, but what was the matter with me? This was love … love not spoken, not the explicit words, but silently conveyed in so many ways. So why the confusion?
After all, I was 20 years old, with a full supply of hormones and madly in love with this compelling man. Why wasn’t I flinging myself into his arms? First thought: fear. At some subliminal level, I knew the social cost of “adventure.”
It was different then. There were consequences for young women who might stray from the accepted path.
Nice girls didn’t have sex. If they did, trouble started with a “bad reputation” and rolled downhill from there. Choosing John Kennedy meant choosing a fast-track, super-highway exit from a desirable position in the social order to which I belonged. Forecast for the fallen: Not a nice marriage to a nice young man. Not a prosperous and predictable life in New York City.
It had happened to my mother.
Writing to her best friend while living in Berlin in the 20s, my mother announced, “My New Year’s resolution is to kiss as many men of different nationalities as possible.” She was young and beautiful. Why not? But then she made a mistake. Despite her parents’ strong disapproval, she married a foreigner (my father, who was from Hungary and was not “one of us”).
At first, all was forgiven: lunch at the Cos Club, bridge, children. Dinner parties, visits to friends with country houses. But then, trouble: a divorce. She never regained the social ground she’d lost even as my father re-married and forged forward in his life and profession. She drifted out of my life, my stepmother becoming ever more dear to me. And I got a message: men could be trouble, tears-and-long-days-in-bed trouble.
Ah, yes, the apartment. The place he kept in Boston. There, I would find out how to be special.
Looking back at that moment in his kitchen, were these the thoughts that preoccupied me? Of course not. But they were ever present, an invisible riptide waiting below the surface of my decisions and actions. I was not a natural rebel. I was afraid of losing my “nice” status, but, at the same time, I yearned for vivid, breathtaking CinemaScope and stereophonic sound. And it had brought me to this moment, with this man.
He led. I followed.
Now, in twenty-twenty hindsight, let’s pause and consider. Let’s think about loaded words: consent, choice, abuse. Does it have to be abuse if an older man enchants a younger woman? What if this particular young woman longed to be enchanted? I was past the age of consent. Could it, should it, have occurred to him that at twice my age there might be a power differential? That at least chronologically he was a functioning adult and presumably capable of making a more thoughtful choice? That respect for his family, his religion, the honor of his position, might suggest a path of self-respect as opposed to the rut of self-indulgence? For a Great Man, he was still in the throes of the male mythology of his time: see pretty young woman, have pretty young woman.
Circling the Sun
The affair began. Nineteen fifty-eight. For some months, the routine of the Senate re-election campaign. Then less frequent meetings: he was away, launched in full sweep along the presidential path. I read all about it and occasionally heard all about it from him. A tryst at the Carlyle. Yes, I used that word to myself; it was so romantic, and I wanted the language of embellishment to prop me up during absences. The Carlyle, just like a movie: large windows, soft sofas in pale colors, flowers, crystal glasses, a bar tucked into a corner.
The Carlyle specialized in service and discretion. I was so excited to see him. I rang the bell, the door opened, he drew me in. Thousand-watt smile, full-body embrace. “Glad to see you … great timing. There’s good news, we’ve—” A phone rang. I was released and wandered over to the window. He answered the phone, beckoning me over to tuck me into his free arm. But his body was stiff. Finished with the phone, we sat down, he began to talk, I was at full rapt attention, but we were interrupted again. More phone. He was distracted. He held up one finger and mouthed, “Sorry, just one minute.”
Choosing John Kennedy meant choosing a fast-track, super-highway exit from a desirable position in the social order to which I belonged.
Hang up the phone, take my hand. “Now don’t make that face at me. You of all people can understand what a campaign is. We’ve been together in this from the beginning … ” Really? Even I should have known that was too glib. But I was the French housewife, talented at turning any scrap into a meal. Easy compliments and clichéd phrases passed as sustenance. At least I finally had his attention. The circumstances and reassurances were mollifying enough to carry on. But the evening was not the romantic fix I had pictured.
I brooded, no one to consult. The next time we met, I asked him, “Don’t you care about me anymore?”
“Yes, of course I care about you … but you have to understand, so much is going on … You’ll come to Washington, it will be better there.”
Well, yes, I understood, but reality was not my strong suit.
I left graduate school and came home to New York for the summer, to prepare for a move to Washington.
The diet of scraps continued. “I’m so attracted to you, you’re smart, you have a spark … ” Meager rations. For me, “You know how I feel about you,” while he held my hand, allowed me to connect the dots of the unsaid things I longed to hear.
What did we talk about? Please. There were no deeply meaningful conversations regarding our innermost thoughts and feelings. It was chit and chat and then some sex and then go home.
I went for the daring adventure outside of my world. If it involved sex for attention … well, O.K.
What would you have done?
Soon, a startling coincidence. My father left one evening for a business dinner. Captain Charisma returned in high good humor. A certain senator had been intrigued by what he had to say.
The next morning, the telephone: The senator would like some private conversation with Mr. de Vegh. Would he be available to accompany the senator on his flight back to Washington?
He would. He did.
I was catapulted into the surreal. My secret love in “private conversation” with my father? What if my father found out about “him” and me? An all-day vigil near the front door. Panic when the door slammed and my father returned. Relief. My secret appeared safe.
The election was reaching a crescendo. His win assured, I packed my bags for the move to Washington. Gossip, rumors, headlines, all Kennedy all the time. The exquisite children, the beautiful mother, the beaming paterfamilias. Despite the daily dose of photomania, I still believed I was part of the whole enterprise. Distant, but special. I had a job, I had an apartment, and life resumed with my secret love. If he didn’t have any trouble with a double life, why would I?
Could it, should it, have occurred to him that at twice my age there might be a power differential?
Then, one evening during the inaugural festivities, I was invited to his Georgetown home. I expected exuberance, gala good cheer. Instead, he looked at me with an expression I had not seen before, almost hesitant. “So, are you any relation to the Swiss banker I met this summer?” Swiss Banker? My dad was a Hungarian economist. Well, so what? Foreigners sound foreign.
“Of course, he’s my father.”
He had put it together that the man he had met, and consulted with, was also the father of the young woman he had seduced, who was standing in front of him beaming expectantly.
Writing retrospectively, I wonder what might have been going on in his head. In the moment, had he registered a worrisome breach of the separation between the real world of men and the fringe position of women? In any case, he was not pleased at this problematic wrinkle. And in that displeasure, I realized that I was generic. Mine is a distinctive surname, yet it had taken him six months to put it together.
The man with whom I believed I was having a love affair did not want to connect certain dots. In fact, he wanted me to be as isolated as possible, alone on the vast sea of his attention.
A full-body wave of fear pulsed through me. Sweat ran down my body. No breath, no muscle, no bones. A bright flash: a doll on the shelf. A stranger passing by picks up the doll: Nice, yes, this one.
“Charge and send, sir?”
“No, I’ll take it now.”
And he had taken me then, and I’d shone with joy. But what to do with dolly now, given these new circumstances? Best to put her back on the shelf, in a no-tears, no-upset kind of way. Nice dolly, nice shelf.
It was all unraveling. Was he thinking about his own daughter, small then, but future prey for men just as charming as he was? I didn’t know exactly what was going to unfold, but I knew the shape of trouble, the cloud of invisibility that was enveloping me. He did not want an emotional scene; he did not want any scene.
“We’ll meet when all of this is over.”
And finally, at last, a flicker of my own agency. No, I thought to myself, no, we will not meet when this is over. The moment of clarity was short-lived, but it was a moment.
He bundled me off. “You’re tired. We all are. We should get you home.”
Once there, I found a bottle of wine, got drunk, got sick, and foggily wondered what would happen next. I couldn’t call him, tell him that I wanted to talk. Maybe I hadn’t understood what he had been saying, maybe … maybe nothing. The nature of one-way relationships is that only one person initiates. The other person waits. And over time, the waiting made me happy to hear from him.
“Hello, dear.” It was Mrs. Lincoln, his personal secretary, on the phone, a few months later. “Are you well? Are you settling in O.K.? He wants to see you. Can you come over at … ?” Whatever time, whatever date. She couldn’t have been nicer. “Hello, miss, let me bring you upstairs.”
Yes to conversation, yes to listening to Johnny Mathis, yes to dinner, yes to afterward, yes to being driven home. Lovely? Lucky me?
Proximity to a supernova can cause wild exhilaration. It is dynamic: I flew up, wings beating like mad. I hovered, then, somehow, I deflated, floating down, my skirts outstretched around me.
Who was I now? Girl on her back. Big ho hum.
This was a company town. I was rumored to have “access.” Naturally, I was scrutinized.
In those days, dinners all took place in private, at Georgetown houses. Round tables of eight with place cards and floor-length tablecloths. There were candles with softly glowing light to show off women at their prettiest. This particular evening, I was seated next to Bobby Kennedy.
I don’t remember much of our conversation, with the exception of the opening interrogatory: “Why are you here? What are you doing in Washington?”
I was so terrified that I was afraid my hands would shake and did not dare reach for a glass of wine, although my deep desire was to drink a lot of it. I knew that the rapt attention I paid his brother would not work with this man.
He leaned in. “Well? You have a job, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir. Research assistant at the National Security Council.”
I wanted to reach for a reassuring cigarette in hopes of being enveloped in a cloud of smoke to avoid his laser stare. No such luck.
“And how did that come about?”
Was this public humiliation? Deep breath. Calm voice. Think fast.
“I was studying Arabic in graduate school. I met Mr. Bundy because my father was on two visiting committees at Harvard.”
I went for the daring adventure outside of my world. If it involved sex for attention … well, O.K.
I suspect now that his job was to look me over and decide if I might be potential trouble. Finishing with the first course, blessedly, he turned to his partner on the other side. My shoulders began to descend from my ears. Dinner rolled on. After dessert, I withdrew with the other women to have coffee in the living room, leaving the men to brandy and cigars. As I passed by the attorney general, he looked at me and gave a faint nod: I’d passed.
It was all so amazing. But, no, it was not, no matter how many times I told myself this was the best life ever. Actually, the best part of any event was reading about it the next day in The Washington Post. It confirmed to me that I was in the right place at the right time. I’d always depended on the outside to know how to feel on the inside. My values, beliefs, interests, were all layered onto me by the people around me. I was lined with the most expensive wallpapers, reflecting the training in manners and expectations that had been the story of my life so far. But the guidance had not included how to be a good 22-year-old mistress.
I knew enough to write thank-you cards and send flowers. I knew how to give dinner parties, featuring great wines courtesy of my dad. But I did not know how to tell the truth, certainly not to myself, mired in shame.
“We” were dwindling. We were not meeting very often. He said I was “cold”; I thought he was. “What’s happened to you?” I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just sat there. I don’t like this, came the unbidden, and very unspoken, thought. My resentment shimmered. I would show him that I was independent. For our next visit, in the Executive Office Building, I wore what I considered to be a fashionable but decidedly casual ensemble—a striped Saint James sweater and a navy skirt. “Don’t you have something better than this to wear in the White House?” I did, but this was maximum defiance from a very good girl.
He had brought me into his world: he had chosen me. But to be chosen means that one could be unchosen.
What if the doll went back on the shelf? No job, no invitations, no longer a person of interest?
Then I began to hear certain names. I didn’t know these women, but I read about them with obsessive interest. Not just the girls on the other side of the White House, the trio of young, lively charmers about whom everyone chattered. Other names—adults. Mary Meyer, Helen Chavchavadze … I was jealous … I didn’t care … I did care.
I managed my feelings about them by clutching my substantive job ever more closely as a marker of identity. But how had I gotten that plum position at the National Security Council? I have since heard it was payback from the president to McGeorge Bundy, who had suggested that the affair with the Radcliffe student be terminated. Unasked-for advice, which in the end terminated with “Meet your new staff member, Mr. Bundy.”
The job was déjà vu all over again, Radcliffe on steroids. Papers. Piles, heaps of papers for me to read and organize. Cost-sharing in NATO, the possibility of disarmament negotiations with the Russians. The trust territories. Always the clock ticking through the days, weeks, then months, between summonses.
Panicking, ruminating, hurling silent accusations at our next tryst: “You don’t love me anymore and I hate you … ”
Yet he had deftly avoided ever telling me he actually loved me: special, smart, a spark … but not “love.” That was my embroidery, the meticulous arrangement of my tattered fantasies. I had misunderstood much. My problem, not his.
What I thought was the rapture of true love was simply a feeling. He could twist the dial, flat to fluffy. He beamed, I glowed: conferred radiance. Without him? Flat, stale, and self-critical.
In reality, our relationship was superficial and circumstantial. Of course, I did not want to know this, and redoubled my commitment to fantastical daydreams, to even the possibility of the next summons. My mantra: “It will be better next time.”
When John Kennedy lost interest in me, I also lost interest in me. Inexperienced in adult relationships, it didn’t occur to me that women could be angry with men, so instead I turned on myself. Paralysis, confusion, and ever more waiting ensued.
“Why are you doing this shit?” Marc Raskin, my boss at the N.S.C., was standing in front of my desk.
Thus far, we had exchanged the bare minimum of conversation. On this particular day, he paused to read the file titles on my desk.
“What is this? You don’t like this. You’re bored. Do something else.”
What? Would he give me the equivalent of a bad report card?
But as one door was opening, another was closing. I was called home. My father was ill, very ill. I took a leave of absence and drifted through his last days. Unmoored, untethered, lost in a futureless dream. Or, from a different perspective, released from a futureless dream. I was in a daze, reminded of my reality by a phone call.
“Mrs. de Vegh? Hold, please, the president is on the line.” I handed the phone to my stepmother. I didn’t want to hear that voice. “Sorry … fine man, valued adviser … ” I started upstairs. Slowly it dawned on me: the imperative of flight.
A good father figure, Mr. Bundy suggested I come and see him. “Now, Diana, what are you going to do?” he asked.
And out of my mouth came the syllables of a word representing a thought I had never thought.
There was one final scene pre-departure.
Not a tryst, not an assignation, not a dinner. Just two people. Standing where? I can’t remember. It had to be either the residence or the Oval Office. No idea, though I think there was late-afternoon sun coming into wherever we were. But that could just be a nostalgic shine to add a theatrical glow to the proceedings.
He came toward me and took my hand.
“I was sorry to hear about your father, a remarkable man.” He looked at me intensely. “How is your mother doing?” That was his charm. He knew to ask after her. I loved my stepmother. I was glad of the gesture. “And I hear you’re leaving … Well, I will miss you.”
Another look, the sincere gaze that had so entranced me.
I took my hand back.
I said good-bye. I left.
Outside, I registered one breath of disbelief.
It was a beginning.
A Clearer Light
I was lucky. The word “Paris” had come out of my mouth. Literal-minded, I went there. I found another world. I came back aglow for a life in the theater. Not my ultimate landing place, but, oh, the people I met, the places I went …
Yet I still waited for the phone to ring, hadn’t truly learned to count my blessings, rather than my phone calls. I lived in a small apartment near the Eiffel Tower on Rue de l’Université. During the day I studied with a woman; I spoke words in English and she wrote them in French. One night, I was in a bistro, eating dinner alone. Above the bar, a small television flickered, black and white veiled in blue cigarette smoke. At once, the show stopped. A flurry of urgent voices in a language I was still learning. Then I looked again, and I knew. You ask me now what I felt and I wonder, still. To say I had no feelings at all was not because I’d hardened my heart. But because I could not comprehend. I’d grown up in a world where bad things did not happen to important people. I lingered for some time, then walked through the city alone until I found my apartment, where I remained all night, numb, alone.
Eventually I found my way to social work and, ultimately, a private psychotherapy practice. In a funny way I came full circle, but with a difference. Like my young self, I listen with rapt attention. But no longer in hope of reflected glory. Now I listen to be of service, to help people see and understand themselves in all the ways I was once too frightened to do.
It took me years to recover from my relationship with Kennedy, and almost as many years to finally write this. So why now? It’s a question I ask my clients.
#MeToo has provided a specific context for needed re-evaluation. Then there is the broader context of a world still obsessed with stargazing. Inequality and idealization as the component parts of celebrity glamour. The hovering promise: This, too, could be yours. Lock your energy onto a mental picture of how it will be when …
But I’m also writing because I am old. Old enough that I can look candidly and with compassion at why I was so easily hooked. Why, all these decades later, for so many people, it is still an ongoing project not to get hooked by a passing supernova. Why it is still so easy for so many of us to abandon self-knowledge for the siren call of wealth and prestige.
When I was 20, John Kennedy had all the markers of a romantic hero. But this is not a romantic story. Back then I thought it was. Was I a dope? For sure, so what? Twenty-year-olds are not supposed to be wise. Ardent and hopeful, yes, heart on sleeve for sure. Underneath, fearful, unmoored. How much I did not know.
What happens when the star strides on? Useless, futile, ridiculous rage aimed at his disappearing back? A rapid ride down the escalator of self-hatred? All of the above. But then what? In John Kennedy’s compelling and shiny presence I could hide from my insecurities, my lack of identifiable gifts or interests, my directionless rudder. I do not believe I was the only young woman to prefer “swept away” to the contemplation of “What next?” Job? Career? Future?
Twenty-twenty hindsight: I needed a lesson in pronouns. What I really wanted, though I did not know it then, was my vitality, not his, my internal light board, not his thousand-watt smile, the cellular explosion of my aliveness, not his star power.
Back then, I thought my job was to become pleasing, an enabling acolyte to a master of the universe. I know now that my job was to become myself. To excavate my abilities and hone them. To live from the inside out rather than the outside in.
Then, I was young and dazzled. Now, I am old and blind. Let me tell you which I like better: hands-down, old and blind. My version of old and blind, I hasten to add, the good-fortune version, featuring health and resources. Now I have more vision than sight, but every day I see truth and beauty in the lives of my patients, my friends, and my family.
Good luck and hard rowing, companions on the road who opened my heart, have brought me to this place. To love and work, to usefulness, to freedom. To using accurate pronouns so we can all live lit from within.
Diana de Vegh is a New York–based psychotherapist