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Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard

Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard PDF

Author: Louis Bayard

Publisher: Algonquin Books


Publish Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN-10: 1643750356

Pages: 352

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Of all places, the East Village. Miles from the Upper East Side, and there she was, sauntering down Avenue A in a linen skirt and black blouse. The Nina Ricci sunglasses clamped on like aviator’s goggles, the carriage nowhere more equestrian than when she stepped over the snoring, splayed drag queen. Was she coming or going? Catching a flick at the Hollywood Theatre or meeting a friend at Old Buenos Aires? There was no way of asking, with the gentleman-thug from the Secret Service following ten feet behind. I could have damned the torpedoes, I suppose, but I’m embarrassed to say that at the sight of her I did what every other New Yorker does. Stopped and gawked. As if she were some golden hind, yes, trotting out of a glade.

Imagine my frustration. Some six years have passed since I last gazed on her—her, I mean, and not her immaculate Christmas cards—so it was startling to have the universe, after all this time, grant me such a clear angle on her—and, in the next breath, withdraw it. One second, I mean, she was coming straight at me. The next, she was turning the corner at East Sixth, her shoulder bag swinging after her.
Now it’s certainly possible that, before she made the turn, she caught sight of me. It’s also possible that, even if she saw me—and this is the scenario that haunts me a little, a few hours after our crossing—she didn’t know me.
I bring that up because I don’t cut the same figure I used to. Since we last laid eyes on each other, I’ve become a stouter specimen, slower. The lungs whistle, the hair’s longer. I’ve watched friends of long standing pass me in the street with-out a second glance, and in my mind now, I imagine myself somehow slipping past the Secret Service goon and stealing up to that sunglassed figure and murmuring in her ear. “It’s Lem,” I would say.
And Jackie, having failed until now to connect the spec-tacle before her with the man she used to know, would hear my voice, climbing always higher than I mean it to, and would call up every inch of her breeding and say something like, “How perfectly lovely to see you.”
The thing is it would have been lovely. No bean counting about all the times she could have seen me. Just the two of us, leaning in like old conspirators, the years laughed away. “Do you remember,” I’d say, “listening to Margaret Truman? And getting stuck on the Ferris wheel? Watching J. Edgar Hoover eat?” Such a pure back-and-forth that the bodyguard would instantly relax his grip on the hip holster and let us carry on untroubled down East Sixth—hell, all the way back uptown, that’s how much catching up we’d have had to do, Jackie and me.
And really, if I had gone to all the trouble of approaching her, if I had risked the full hail of Secret Service bullets, I wouldn’t have squandered the moment by asking her some-thing as banal as How are you? I mean, there are whole news organizations dedicated to exploring that question. Photographers have been legally enjoined from pressing it too hard. Maybe all I would have said was “I’m sorry.”
Now that’s odd. In conjuring this scenario, I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed the words that would come tum-bling from my mouth.
Also unexpected: that I should have had to go all the way down to the East Village to catch sight of the great Jackie Ohhh. I mean, she lives no more than three minutes away from me by foot. Several friends have reported seeing her jogging, escorted, around the Central Park Reservoir. More times than I can recall, I’ve walked Ptolly past 1040 Fifth and silently counted up to the fifteenth floor. If it’s morn-ing—say, seven-thirty or eight—I might imagine her greeting the day. (For, of course, she’s back to paid employment.) The ablutions. The hair piled in its Amazonian helmet. Shoulder pads, belted dress, and then, perhaps in the very moment of sallying through the lobby, the Nina Riccis clapped on. The whole Onassis carapace that the world is already expecting, the one it thinks it knows.

Only it doesn’t know how she got there.

But I do. I was along for the ride.
And maybe the reason I couldn’t go up to that armatured creature on Avenue A was because she bears only a passing relation to the Jackie I once knew. The scrapping career girl, I mean, with the homemade clothes and the ladders in her stockings and the childlike sense of the ridiculous. The girl whose skin broke out every so often, who doubted herself at every turn, who wasn’t even sure she wanted to marry at all—certainly not the kind of man she was supposed to marry. The Jackie nobody else knew but me, really, and the Jackie who can no longer be.
It shouldn’t be too hard to recollect her. I am by nature an archivist and have assembled comprehensive scrapbooks of all my friends’ lives. News clippings, magazines articles, letters, telegrams, menus, leaflets, ticker tape, parking tick-ets, they’re all here, ready to jar loose every associated mem-ory. It shouldn’t be too hard at all. The only hard part will be finding myself in the mix.
For, of course, I was there too. Some version. Which, in this moment, feels like it wants to be known, too, no matter the reckoning. Words were said, deeds were done, and they can’t be called back, but they can be heard again in a new light.
And I ask myself: Do I really have any better use for my remaining hours? There are only so many books to read, episodes of Magnum, P.I. to watch. Only so many Kennedy relations requiring a guest room or a vomitorium. Only so many times you can read your own will and wonder if you’ve got it right.
Times Square is a terror, Central Park a savanna. The buses and subways are in the crapper. Our current presi-dent is a former Warner Brothers actor, and everyone in America is waiting for a giant panda in the National Zoo to get knocked up. All in all, it might be just the time to leave 1981 behind—a lark, even, to travel back to the passenger seat of Jack’s Ford Crestline, and reintroduce myself to the fellow who’s sitting there.
It’s the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, 1952, and there’s still a late-winter nip in the Virginia air, but Jack always keeps the top down because, by age thirty-four, he knows how dashing his hair looks in high wind. We’re due at Bobby and Ethel’s that night, but Jack instead cuts across Chain Bridge. I shoot him a look, and he says—imagine the offhandedness—that we have an additional passenger.

“Oh, yes?” I say. “And who should that be?”
“A Miss Bouvier.”
Mind you, there’s nothing in that honorific Miss to signify a lady of distinction. He refers to virtually all his girls that way. She might be a cashier at the Montelle Pharmacy or Finland’s deputy chief of mission, and you won’t know until you’ve pulled up in front of her apartment building and seen her tottering through the front gate, a blonde in a crew-neck cardigan or a brunette in a bullet bra, and it’s always the latter who raises her hand for you to kiss and the former who comes at you straight on like an encyclopedia salesman, and whoever it is remains “Miss” in our conversation until such time as the business is consummated, at which point she devolves into her component parts.
There is nothing, in short, about a “Miss Bouvier” to sep-arate her from her predecessors. Were I to search his face—his soul—down to the most granular level, I would find no clue, for there is perhaps none to find. Miss Bouvier is a des-tination. And now that we’ve crossed into Virginia, the only thing left to figure out is where she might live. Clarendon? Cherrydale? A group home in Fort Myer, maybe. But we speed past all those destinations before steering up Old Dominion Drive. Nature rushes forth, and the car dealers and the Hot Shoppes fall away before dogwoods and tulip trees, tatters of forsythia.

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