some thoughts on jackie upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her 1st husband’s death

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she hated the 22nd, jackie did. hated that people chose to remember the day JFK died rather than the day of his birth or the inauguration or anything else. hated that they chose to remember the killing and not the life. she’d cancel the papers, but it didn’t matter because there’d be displays in store windows, people on the street, etc. one particularly bad year, on the anniversary, children from her son’s school followed the pair of them home shouting at the little boy ‘your father’s dead! your father’s dead!’ as he held his mother’s hand.

so i’ve mixed feelings re: writing now. re: posting tomorrow, which is why i’m posting today. because my loyalty is, as always, with her. 

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the kennedy assassination is usually, in america, thought of in very personal terms. people who lived through it remember where they were. they think about how the loss of jfk affected america and how it affected them. there has been entirely too little attention paid to how it affected her. in the biographies, her relatives who were willing to speak out were all ‘omg, we were amazed that she was so bothered!’ which isn’t too surprising as that seems to be the general response that grieving people elicit. but, still, reading this i kind of want to smack them upside the head because OF COURSE she was affected by what happened, never mind what she saw.

given people magazine’s cover this week this reluctance towards looking at things from jackie’s view may be easing off… and, while we may not be ready for jackie’s grief, we’re evidently gonna get the sensationalization of it, with details of her PRIVATE AGONY revealed!!! (which wasn’t exactly what i had in mind when i was hoping we could move towards a deeper discussion of grief.)

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and there she is, all pristine in that yellow and white check, proving just how static is the editors of people‘s view of her given the magazine used almost this exact same shot on the cover of its tribute issue in 1994.

i’ve never understood why it’s the jackie-as-kennedy image that’s stuck in our popular culture. in all honesty, i’ve only really ever been interested in her from about 1 p.m. on november 22nd and beyond.

because how do you survive that? seriously, how do you see that and survive? years later, on her new husband’s yacht, she worried that she would never be happy because she could never forget, because she knew how fleeting happiness was and feared its eventual end.

people who knew her then described her skin as like cracked glazed porcelain, fissured by the shock she’d endured.

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she saw and she survived. and went on to do incredibly fascinating things. and yet we reduce her to a fashion plate, a first lady, a woman whose husband was never faithful to her.

when i first encountered jackie onassis on that badly copied women’s history handout in 6th grade, i was struck by two things.

(1) the fact that everyone gushed that she was beautiful. because to me, she wasn’t. not conventionally. not attractively. and all these years later she still isn’t. and yet, upon reading about her, the various parts come together to comprise a wickedly smart woman with a biting wit who was, in fact, deeply beguiling and perplexing and stunning and strange, in ways not immediately clear to the eye.

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(2) her ambition. because, my god, yes. it takes tenacity to step outside the world you were born into. to actively claw your way to a fuller experience, be that college, a pay-check, a mixed-race marriage, whatev.

jackie had guts. scarlett o’hara style guts- a comparison that is both a compliment and deeply not. and that’s ok.

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because just as our fictional heroines need not be perfect so too that goes for real life.

one of my favorite photographs of her is this:

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it christmas 1974. look how she’s squatting on the floor. and look what she’s looking at.

one of my favorite stories of her is this:

she’s sitting on a beach in greece, wearing a bikini and drinking pink champagne, when she turns to her friend and marvels at how lucky they are to have escaped the world they were born into- the staid, isolated, bigoted world of newport- and to have got out, to have seen things, done things, how lucky they were to have lived.

JO

5 thoughts on “some thoughts on jackie upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her 1st husband’s death

  1. Pingback: finding jackie (the initial articulation of my philosophy of ‘life-reading’ [+ angst re: the gossip loop v. silence]) | finding jackie

  2. Pingback: we steal stories | finding jackie

  3. Oline, I don’t think we’ve met, but I’m friends with your mom. (My dad was your parents’ S.S. teacher in the 70’s.) Anyway, I love your articles and wish you the best in your endeavors. I am praying for you and hope to meet you someday when you come to Memphis. Keep up the good work!

  4. Pingback: jackie o: la collection de fashionz | finding jackie

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