This is about a book called Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis…The Untold Story, by Barbara Leaming, a writer I happen to like. She wrote a great book in 2006 about JFK called, The Education of a Statesman I highly recommend, more than I can say for her new one.
First off, can we stop beating this poor horse to death…the writer and reader? Have we really run out of alternate themes?
According to Leaming, Jackie confided in a Jesuit priest after the death of her husband, she wanted to kill herself, having little reason to live. Sounds fishy to me since we can think of two reasons without going too far…Caroline and John. I’d stake my right ear on suicide never really being a serious option. Yet, it’s the whole basis for this book.
This is what I know.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy had just turned 34 that August after losing a baby boy who only lived two days. Her husband, uncharacteristically, was visibly crestfallen bringing her closer to him than she’d ever been in their tempestuous ten years of marriage.
She agrees wholeheartedly to campaign with him, another first since she hated it so.
Dallas, November 22, 1963.
Imagine that sunny, glorious day riding in a limousine wearing her bright pink Chanel suit, waving to the crowds one minute, then holding her husband’s head together in her white gloves, the next.
When the first shot rang out she, along with the secret service, thought it was merely a motorcycle backing up. These were trained men who shouldn’t have assumed that, but yet they did. When the next one hit JFK ricocheting into Texas Governor, John Connally, it was pretty much already over.
In the Reuters film, when we see Jackie crawling to the back of the limo, something she forever claimed never remember doing, it was to retrieve a part of the president’s scull according to secret service man, Clint Hill.
Comedian Roseanne Barr in her comedy act used to say, Jackie was just gettin the hell outta there…and if that were true, who could have blamed her?
Leaming uses words like slaughter to describe the bloodbath Jackie witnessed suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder for the thirty years left of her life.
In a split second, life as she knew it was over, blood and brains splattered even across that famous face. She held a chuck of bone and skin in her hand as she followed her husband’s body into Parkland Hospital, she reluctantly handed to a nurse in the ER. They tried keeping her out of the room they took him to, but she defied them, kneeling to pray. When they told her, he was dead…she pulled back the sheet to kiss him, placing her wedding ring on his littlest finger she later asked for back.
On top of all this, she’s pounced on by LBJ who wants to be sworn in as president on the plane before take-off with her by his side to show the shocked country he had her support, thus the photograph of a stunned, not-yet-cold, first lady in a bloody suit she refused to change. “Let them see what they’ve done to him,” was her response when it was recommended she do so.
Bobby Kennedy was waiting for her when the plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base having made arrangements to take her to the White House. But she refused to leave her husband, going along for the autopsy sitting for hours now making plans for his funeral, Lincolnesque right down to the smallest detail.
They did not want her walking in the open behind the casket on its way to the church. If this indeed was a conspiracy, there were other targets, and there would be too many heads of states attending.
No Mrs. Kennedy, we’d rather you rode.
She said, “The heads of state can do what they want…I’m walking behind my husband.”
This caused problems…for instance…
French General Charles de Gualle had a rare blood type, so they had to have a supply on hand God forbid he was shot. When suggested he not walk, he said, “I’m walking with Mrs. Kennedy.”
They all walked, 92 people in total, and nothing happened except for an extraordinary, indelible image etched in our minds forever.
A woman this strong was never committing suicide. A woman who had the mind to bring her two dead babies to be buried beside her husband at Arlington, so they’d all be together, wasn’t checking out.
It was she who wanted the eternal flame, lighting it so long ago where it now shines also for her.
It was her son’s third birthday the day of the funeral…in the midst of such chaos and circumstance, she insisted he have a party so he wouldn’t feel forgotten.
The decisions she made her whole life were wrapped around her children. We hated her for marrying Onassis, even calling her names, but she always claimed, it was to protect them. After Bobby Kennedy was killed in 1968, she said, “If they’re killing Kennedys my kids are first on the list.”
When Bill Hicks died, I didn’t much want to open my eyes either, loss shutting you down. But then we emerge…like being in a tunnel finally coming out the other side, changed… humbled to be sure, but rallied stunningly stronger by what we survived.
And so did she.
Barbara Leaming is a wonderful writer. I’m just not sure if this particular book was all that necessary.