I was born in January 1961, a few weeks before President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, and less than two months after his son, John Jr., was born in November 1960. As I think I've written before on this blog, the Kennedys have been an endless, lifelong source of fascination for me, & I have several shelves full of books about and by the family and its various members.
For the girls of my generation, JFK Jr. was almost as much a fantasy object of desire as Donny Osmond or David Cassidy. He was famous not so much for what he did as for who he was -- the son of a glamorous young president who was murdered in his prime, the adorable little boy, saluting his father's coffin (and breaking hearts everywhere as he did). He was a Kennedy, he was rich and, of course, he was drop-dead gorgeous. People magazine named him the "Sexiest Man Alive" in 1988, and one of Seinfeld's most famous episodes revolved in part around him (although he was never actually seen on camera).
I remember when one of the guys in my office quit his job in the early 1990s to study at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. All the girls wrote something in his farewell card along the lines of "Say hi to John-John" & "Feel free to pass along my number to JFK Jr." (Never mind that JFK Jr. never lived in Boston or studied at Harvard.) The closest I ever got to him was in early July 1999. A front-page story in the Toronto Star revealed that he had been in the Toronto area the day before -- flew his own plane (along with a flight instructor) to Buttonville Airport, north of the city, and was then taken to Magna headquarters to meet with heiress and sometimes politician, Belinda Stronach, to discuss financing for his political magazine, George. (What?? And he didn't call me??)
Less than two weeks later, while flying the same plane to his cousin's wedding on Cape Cod (minus the instructor), he was killed, along with his wife and sister-in-law. It was all horribly, horribly sad, particularly in light of the umpteen other tragedies faced by his family over the years (several of them involving plane crashes). All I could think was, "What a waste."
Now, more than a decade after his death, one of Kennedy's ex-girlfriends, Christina Haag, has written a memoir about their relationship, Come to the Edge. Cynics have questioned her motives in spilling the beans all these years later (she reportedly received $1.2 million for writing it), & much of the press to date has focused on salacious details such as the fact that he packed a book on tantric sex for a Jamaican vacation, & finished off a joint offered by one of the locals.
If you pick up this book expecting to read more of the same, you will probably be disappointed -- this is about as "scandalous" as it gets. There are some interesting tidbits about & insights into the Kennedy family -- for example, a description of John's Aunt Pat (Lawford) "in her cups," and Ethel Kennedy, disapproving of their sleeping arrangements at the Kennedys' Palm Beach house. Christina also writes with great affection about John's mother, Jackie, who told Christina that she reminded her of herself, and who continued to send her books and notes even after the couple parted.
But mostly, it's the story of Christina & John -- how they grew up in the same circles in New York City, acted in a play together, fell in love, and ultimately drifted apart. We get glimpses of JFK Jr. the risktaker -- the romantic -- and the heartbreaker (while he told Christina he loved her and expected they would ultimately be together, he just wasn't ready to commit). I felt badly for Christina when I realized that she was the one who introduced John to the romantic, secluded vacation spot, Cumberland Island -- where he returned several years later for his top-secret wedding to Carolyn Bessette.
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked it up -- but I quite liked this thoughtful, sad but ultimately uplifting book. Besides an enduring affection for JFK Jr. ; ) I felt a bond with her in other respects. Like me, Christina turned 50 within the last year (she'll be 51 soon), and has experienced grief and trauma (beyond the loss of JFK Jr., she's also a breast cancer survivor) and, like me, she has no children (although she has had men in her life since JFK Jr., she has never married). Fat paycheques totally aside, I understand why she might want to revisit & reflect on pivotal events and people from the past at this point in her life.
*** *** ***
If you like this book, I can also recommend another beautifully written memoir about love and loss, involving many of the same people, but written from a slightly different angle: What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love, by Carole Radziwill.
The story reads like a fairy tale -- at least, up to a point. While JFK Jr. was sometimes called "America's Prince," his cousin, Anthony Radziwill (son of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's younger sister, Lee) really WAS a prince -- a Polish prince on his father's side of the family. Carole, from a working-class family, was a producer with ABC News when she met and married him. Anthony had already survived a bout with cancer before she met him and, because of that, she knew they would not have children together. Sadly, the cancer returned, and soon she would not have her husband either.
In July 1999, John was already writing a eulogy he planned to deliver at Anthony's funeral, which everyone knew was imminent. But instead, Carole & Anthony wound up dealing with the shocking, sudden loss of John and his wife Carolyn, whom Carole had come to consider her best friend. Anthony died just a few weeks later.
I read this book when it first came out, five or six years ago, and I still think of it often. Even if you're not interested in the Kennedys, it's a beautifully written account of how we deal with life's unexpected twists and turns -- both good and bad.