Monica Lewinsky writes in the new Vanity Fair, on the 20th anniversary of the Ken Starr investigation which introduced her to the world, reflecting on the changing nature of trauma, the de-evolution of the media, and the extraordinary hope now provided by the #MeToo movement.
Don’t judge, Judy. Just read. Put yourself in her place. The story begins like a movie…
“It was Christmas Eve 2017. My family and I were about to be seated at a quaint restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village. We had just come from Gramercy Park—on the one night each year when the exclusive park (accessible only to nearby residents with special keys) opens its gates to outsiders. There had been carols. People had sung with abandon. In short, it was a magical night. I was happy.
Amid the glow of candles and soft lighting, I strained to look again at the Man in the Hat. He was part of a small group that had just exited the main dining room. They were now gathering their belongings, likely vacating what was to be our table. And then it clicked. He looks just like . . . no, couldn’t be. Could it?
A student of Karma, I found myself seizing the moment. Whereas a decade ago I would have turned and fled the restaurant at the prospect of being in the same place as this man, many years of personal-counseling work (both trauma-specific and spiritual) had led me to a place where I now embrace opportunities to move into spaces that allow me to break out of old patterns of retreat or denial.
At the same moment I stepped toward the Man in the Hat and began to ask, “You’re not . . . ?,” he stepped toward me with a warm, incongruous smile and said,
‘Let me introduce myself. I’m Ken Starr.‘
An introduction was indeed necessary. This was, in fact, the first time I had met him.
I found myself shaking his hand even as I struggled to decipher the warmth he evinced. After all, in 1998, this was the independent prosecutor who had investigated me, a former White House intern; the man whose staff, accompanied by a group of F.B.I. agents (Starr himself was not there), had hustled me into a hotel room near the Pentagon and informed me that unless I cooperated with them I could face 27 years in prison. This was the man who had turned my 24-year-old life into a living hell in his effort to investigate and prosecute President Bill Clinton on charges that would eventually include obstruction of justice and lying under oath…”
She further describes the incident, and it is stunning. But the point of the piece on the anniversary of her “anis horribilis” was her public humiliation and the fact that she was nearly patient zero of the troll epidemic we all suffering through now.
“If I have learned anything since then, it is that you cannot run away from who you are or from how you’ve been shaped by your experiences. Instead, you must integrate your past and present. As Salman Rushdie observed after the fatwa was issued against him,
‘Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.’
I have been working toward this realization for years. I have been trying to find that power—a particularly Sisyphean task for a person who has been gaslighted.”
And then, someone elses words strike a cord in her…
‘I’m so sorry you were so alone.‘
Those seven words undid me. They were written in a recent private exchange I had with one of the brave women leading the #MeToo movement. Somehow, coming from her—a recognition of sorts on a deep, soulful level—they landed in a way that cracked me open and brought me to tears. Yes, I had received many letters of support in 1998. And, yes (thank God!), I had my family and friends to support me. But by and large I had been alone. So. Very. Alone. Publicly Alone—abandoned most of all by the key figure in the crisis, who actually knew me well and intimately. That I had made mistakes, on that we can all agree. But swimming in that sea of Aloneness was terrifying.
Until recently (thank you, Harvey Weinstein), historians hadn’t really had the perspective to fully process and acknowledge that year of shame and spectacle. And as a culture, we still haven’t properly examined it. Re-framed it. Integrated it. And transformed it. My hope, given the two decades that have passed, is that we are now at a stage where we can untangle the complexities and context (maybe even with a little compassion), which might help lead to an eventual healing—and a systemic transformation. As Haruki Murakami has written,
‘When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Who were we then? Who are we now?‘”
Read the whole piece here. We all make mistakes, but do we learn anything meaningful from them? Monica’s mistake we are all STILL learning from –and apparently, so is she.
Check out 2003’s doc Monica in Black and White, directed by World of Wonder’s Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato for the T on that whole time. It was fascinating then. It’s herstory now.
(Photos, YouTube; via Vanity Fair)