In the summer of 1962, nineteen-year-old Mimi Beardsley arrived in Washington, D.C., to begin an internship in the White House press office. After just three days on the job, the privileged but sheltered young woman was presented to the President himself. Almost immediately, the two began an affair that would continue for the next eighteen months. Emotionally unprepared to counter the President’s charisma and power, Mimi was also ill-equipped to handle the feelings of isolation that would follow as she fell into the double life of a college student who was also the secret lover of the most powerful man in the world. After the President’s assassination in Dallas, she grieved alone, locked her secret away, and tried to start a new life, only to be blindsided by her past.
Now, no longer defined by silence or shame, Mimi Alford finally unburdens herself with this unflinchingly honest account of her life and her extremely private moments with a very public man. This paperback edition includes a special Q&A, in which the author reflects on the intense media attention surrounding the book’s initial release. Once Upon a Secret is a moving story of a woman emerging from the shadows to reclaim the truth.
I remember not too long ago seeing this interview with Mimi Alford and found myself intrigued by her story. I remember thinking I'd like to read her memoir to hear more of that story, but it was a book title I quickly forgot in the ridiculously long list that is my TBR. I'd entirely forgotten about it until just recently when it popped up during one of my casual book browsing trips.
I ended up having mixed feelings about this one. If you're one to idolize JFK, this one's likely to put some tarnish on that silver. It's tough, in one respect, to read a book like this because the dead are not around to defend themselves -- and while Alford is completely respectful when discussing Kennedy, her tale does shed some unflattering light on Kennedy. Particularly with her description of the first night the relationship moved past professional, Kennedy's behavior appalled me. Alford insists that he was kind and considerate, but given the circumstances I say that a "kind and considerate" man would have stepped back and been man enough to admit that proceeding on would have been wrong. A man needing to get himself off is no excuse for irrevocably affecting a young girl's life.Then there was Mimi's side. She adamantly says she "has no regrets" in this matter but then goes on to repeatedly recount moments that left her "ashamed" or brought about cringes in remembrance. Seems like that's at least in the vein of regret?
One thing I think Alford's memoir does illustrate really well is just how susceptible a young woman barely in her adulthood can be to the mystique of "the older man". I myself have succumbed to it so in that, I could relate to her descriptions of the heady intoxication of a man's charisma, the confusion of feelings that ultimately come about. It's easy for someone to read her story and think "how could she be so stupid as to fall for that?" but from my personal experiences, I can attest that you can't know that you wouldn't fall for it yourself until it's there in front of you, giving the option to go forward with it. I didn't always agree with or like Alford's reasoning for her actions, but on some level, I could see where she was coming from. After so many years of this tumultuous period of her life haunting her, I was happy for her that she was able to find a silver lining.