Fighting old demons.
President Bill Clinton was sitting behind his desk in the Oval office, working on some documents. He stopped writing and stretched his neck and back, trying to get rid of the cramps. Second day of the Government shutdown. There was so much work to do. He was angry and exhausted. Angry with his political opposition that has put him in such a position. Exhausted because since he got sworn in it had been one battle after another.
Bill decided he needed a break. He got up and went to see what was happening around the offices. Because of the shutdown, most employees were on furlough, so only the essential staffers came to work assisted by unpaid interns.
“Mr. President,” a member of his staff called him. “Would you like to come into the room? We’re having an informal birthday party for Jennifer. There’s cake.”
Bill’s ears peaked up at the mention of dessert. “Sure, why not.”
He followed him and walked inside the office. “Happy birthday, Jennifer!” He exclaimed with his loud voice attracting the attention of everyone in the room. Some people were there, taking a break from all the hard work.
“Thank you, Mr. President.” The special assistant smiled.
Soon people were mingling, while enjoying a piece of cake. Bill’s gaze landed on a young brunette who he had been noting everywhere lately. The young woman smiled at him with a bright light in her eyes, and he smiled back. It was not the first time women would look at him that way. He was ashamed to say he would bask on it. He knew they were attracted to his charisma and charm and he knew how to use it to make them drop to his feet.
At one point, they stood next to each other to take a picture and he could feel her admiration for him embracing him. It was a nice feeling. One he hadn’t felt from a long time from someone who wasn’t his family. Soon it was time to go to work.
Bill was walking down the corridors, when he saw the young intern again. This time she was standing in his Chief of Staff’s office talking on the phone. She must have sensed his eyes on her, because with a quick and effective movement she lifted the back of her jacket giving him the view of her pink thong. For a moment he thought it had been accidental, but then she looked at him with a playful smile, he knew she had done it on purpose. He felt the old stirring in him again, the one he had managed to suppress for years now. His old demons were coming back to the surface and for a moment he bathed in the excitement it produced in him.
He continued with his day but knowing that she was present somewhere in the building was calling him like a siren. Now he knew how Ulysses’ sailors felt as they were bewitched by the siren’s song, because he found himself walking in that office more times than he could count with no real motive. He was trying to control his instincts and at the same time trying to find a way to deal with the shutdown with most of his staff gone.
He needed space, a refuge.
He found it in his Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy’s office. Finally, some quiet so he could work in peace. He was reading through a file when he noticed that this time his siren had come to him. He was too tired to resist.
Bill got up and invited her inside. “Come on in here for a second.”
She followed inside. She seemed nervous.
“Monica, right?” he said. “I’m Bill.”
She giggled nervously. “Yeah, I know.”
Bill started asking her questions about her life, trying to make her relax. He went to the minibar and offered her a can of diet coke.
They were talking when she suddenly blurted out. “You know I have a really big crush on you.”
Bill laughed. Yeah, he had caught the signals. The problem was what he was going to do about it.
He looked around and saw that the door was open. They were too exposed. He asked her to follow him to the back office. Bill looked at her.
Two parts of himself were battling against each other: the religious man devoted to his wife who knew that he was about to commit a sin; and the darker side of himself that found solace where it shouldn’t. That was the part he hated, but couldn’t control, the excitement of doing something forbidden.
“I did notice your attention and flirting. I’m flattered that such a young energetic beautiful woman would pay attention to an old guy like me.”
“Well, you are the President?” she battered her eyes at him.
“Yeah, there’s that.” He smirked. “So, are you attracted to the power of the presidency or to the man?”
“We could find out.” She played the ball again in his court.
And there it was: his escape.
He could stop things there before they would escalate, but for the first time in so long, maybe because his good side was weak from all the rounds it had to endure, his dark side won.
“May I kiss you?” He whispered, slightly surprised by his words.
She nodded, and he bent his head until his lips touched hers. Bill had forgotten how good it felt to kiss someone for the first time. He loved the mystery behind it. The kiss was nothing spectacular, it didn’t rock his world, but when they separated he could tell that she had enjoyed it and was clearly smitten by him.
He touched her face and tucked her hair behind her ear gently giving her a sad smile.
“I have done this before.” She told him.
Bill frowned, not understanding what she meant.
“I have been with a married man before. I know the rules.”
Bill felt a twinge in his heart. There was that word: married. He felt the guilt creepy up on him. He let go of her and put some distance between them. “I have to go back to work.” He said, concluding their forbidden meeting.
He saw her pick up a card and write something down.
“Here’s my name and phone number.” She gave it to him with a smile full of promises..
Bill went back to his desk in the oval office and tucked the card under a snowball. He continued working for another hour or so, skipping dinner. The following day would be the third day of shutdown.
He sighed. He looked down at the card and picked it up. Monica had been a great distraction. He remembered how it felt when his demons took over. It felt good not to think about the consequences, enjoy the forbidden fruit, keep a secret. That was what he was addicted to: the thrill of doing something he shouldn’t.
He should call her and seek her out again. She could take his mind off things. Take the edge off. It could do it once and then when the shutdown is over, he wouldn’t see her again. Where was the harm in that?
He smirked, playing with the card in his fingers.
Then his eyes landed on a photo of Hillary and Chelsea. It was from their trip away in India. They were so happy and free. For a moment he had forgotten about them, how hurt they would be if they ever found out. He looked at the calendar; each day up to that date crossed out. The promise he had made to himself and to Hillary the last time he had lost control. The fortieth year he had been walking on this Earth, when for a moment he thought about divorcing his wife just to spare her the continuous hurt he was putting her through and to leave everything behind. The love for his daughter had saved him then and their love was going to save him now. He started feeling out of breath as he started gasping for air. He felt like he was drawing. He started undoing his tie that began to feel like a noose around his neck. He suddenly felt sick to his stomach as a bile started rising from down his throat. He rushed towards his private bathroom and vomited. After he had nothing left, he went to the sink and washed his face. His reflection in the mirror looking back at him, like it was judging him.
“You’re disgusting,” he whispered to his image. “You don’t deserve them.”
Soon tears started rolling down his cheeks mixing with the drops of water and he collapsed on the floor, head between his bent knees. If somebody would walk past the door, they would certainly hear his loud sobs. And it was at that moment that he heard the faint noise of footsteps. Bill’s head jerked up. He panicked as he started quickly drying his eyes.
“Bill?” He heard a familiar voice calling for him.
It was Hillary.
“Bill, are you here?” She called out again.
For a moment he wanted to keep hiding in there. He didn’t want Hillary to see him like this, because that would mean explaining the thing he had done and the thoughts he had. But something in him snapped.
“In here.” He said with a hoarse voice.
He saw the bathroom door open and Hillary walked in. “Hey, I tried calling your office, but you didn’t answer. I wanted to see if…” she stopped talking when she noticed her husband in distress.
“Bill…” she said worriedly as she kneeled in front of him. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
Bill avoided looking in her eyes. He could lie to her. Tell her that everything is fine. He has been doing it for months. Years. Not wanting to burden her with his problems since she was dealing with hers too. But then he remembered how hurt she had been the last time he had shut her out in 1986 and how it nearly destroyed their marriage.
“I’m sorry…” he started sobbing again. He was surprised he had any tears left. “I’m so, so sorry.” He hid his face.
Hillary was shocked. She could see her husband was hurting but she didn’t know what the cause was.
“Bill,” she put a hand on the back of his neck, caressing. “Tell me what’s going on. I don’t understand.”
“I kissed someone.”
Hillary removed her hand like his skin had burnt her. “What…?” she gasped.
“I kissed someone today.” He confessed. Then the words just came out of his mouth. “There’s this young intern. She’s been flirting with me for a while and I guess I smiled back because it felt good having someone looking at me like that. Then today she showed me her underwear…”
“She did what?” Hillary exclaimed outraged. Who would be so bold to show their underwear to the President?
“I started feeling like the old times.” He whispered. “I’m so tired, Hillary.” He sighed.
Hillary was hurt by his words. Was he tired of her? Of their marriage?
“I’m tired of fighting all the time with everyone. This shutdown was the last drop. I feel like a fifteen round boxing match has been extended to thirty, and she was offering this distraction. I approached her and after flirting a bit more, we kissed.” He told her.
There was silence as he waited for her reaction. While he had been talking, confessing his sins, Hillary had got up and leaned against the sink, giving him her back. She couldn’t stand looking at him.
“And…” He continued.
Her head jerked up. There was more?
Their eyes met through the mirror.
“She gave me her number and I was about to call her to…” there was no need to finish the sentence. She could imagine what he wanted to do. “I feel so ashamed.”
“Hillary, please.” He begged. “Say something.” He got up. He wanted to touch her, but he didn’t know if she would let him.
She turned around and crossed her arms in front of chest, like a barrier. She sighed. “What do you want me to say Bill? I really thought we were better now. I didn’t even know you were unhappy.”
“I’m not.” He quickly stopped, taking a step closer.
“Aren’t you? You wouldn’t have needed the validation of someone else, someone young, if you were. You said it yourself. She made you feel good. You were looking in her something that apparently I can’t give you.” Hillary started crying and looked away.
“No.” This time he did touch her and brought his arms around her. “Don’t you ever think that my shortcomings are your responsibilities.” He cried with her “It’s all me. I thought I had conquered my demons, but at the first sign of difficulties and anxiety, I just crumbled…”
“I need help, Hi’ry. I can’t do it on my own.” He sobbed again, head bent down.
Seeing him suffer like this broke her heart. He was her best friend, her partner, her daughter’s father, the love of his life. And she chose him, faults and all. She had been going through all her problems and battles since he took office, and she hadn’t noticed that he had been suffering too, on the edge of a breakdown.
Hillary caressed his cheek and gently lifted his head up, so he could look at her.
“It’s okay…” she whispered. “It's okay. We are going to get through this. Together.”
Bill looked at her gratefully. “Thank you. I love you so much. You are my life. It disgusts me when I feel tempted, when I need to lie to the people I love. Sometimes I feel you would be better off without me.”
“I wouldn't,” she reassured him. “You are my everything too; always remember that. We’re in this together.” She smiled. “For better and worse.”
He recognized the vows and smiled back. “Until death do us apart.” He leaned down to kiss her, but she moved her head at the last second.
“You need to clean your teeth and rinse your mouth, before your lips can touch mine again.”
He nodded, understanding her hesitation.
They were making their way outside, when she suddenly turned around and stopped him with a hand on his chest. “One more thing. Where’s this intern now?” She asked, her tone saying that she wasn’t messing around.
He was caught by surprise. “I’m not sure. With the shutdown, the turns are crazy. I wanted to see if Betty could see how to transfer her, but I didn’t want it to look like an abuse of power or something.”
Hillary was thinking what to do. She understood his concerns, but they couldn’t have an intern showing their underwear to their boss just like that, or even think it was okay to flirt with him.
“Where’s the card she gave you?”
Bill tried to remember where he had put it. He put his hand in the pocket of his trousers. He found the crumpled piece of paper there and gave it to her.
Hillary quickly read it and held on to it. “I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.”
For a moment Bill felt bad that she had put this young woman in that position. She looked smart and good at her job, and she fell victim to his weakness. But between her and his wife, he would always choose Hillary, without hesitation.
He was grateful that he had finally let her in and she would take care of everything, be the rock of their family. He loved her so much and he needed to get better for her and for Chelsea.
“And tomorrow I’ll look into a counselor who could discretely come here. And this time we’ll do it together, okay?” She wanted him to know that he wasn’t alone. She understood that a lot had happened in the last few years: from her father’s death, his mother’s, Vincent’s, the Whitewater investigation, travel office gate, the failed attempt to healthcare… It was too much for one person.
He nodded. “Okay.”
No matter how many times he disappointed her, she was always going to be his ally in fighting his old demons.