The first time around, I married into a Camelot family.
There were family compounds and yacht trips and sit-down dinners for two hundred. There were limos and private jets and helicoptered rides to remote locales. There were Staff and entourages, TV appearances and red carpets, box seats to concerts and sporting events.
There was money to throw at any problem, no matter how big. There was noise, noise, noise: a constant pulse of excitement to jolt you out of any doldrums you might fall into, although doldrums were strictly prohibited.
Unlike the Kennedy clan, my clan-by-marriage did not have a moral imperative to better the world. There was no greening of the environment, or advocating for universal health care, or creating organizations to bring the underprivileged up in life.
The blatant capitalist privilege that supported my lifestyle made me more squeamish over time — until staying became unbearable.
Leaving my Camelot nine years ago was a world-altering exodus. Just days after being booted out of my impeccable manse, with its sponge-painted walls, ornate crown moulding, and custom Italian floor tile, I sat on the couch in my boxy rental house sipping tea and staring at stark white walls. Luca, then six, was at his dad’s. Franny, still an infant, was asleep in her crib.
And as I sat in that sterile box of a living room, it hit me: there was no more noise. My world had collapsed into itself. The hubbub that had made it difficult to hear my own thoughts was replaced by mundane silence.
And this I had not anticipated. That I would miss the noise. The bigness. The constant stream of people dropping by, the ringing phones, the UPS delivery men walking up the front steps carrying packages. We were always getting presents. I don’t know why it is that rich people are constantly given stuff they don’t need, but they are.
Now, I felt pulled down by the weight of reality. I had not realized how, for so many years, I had felt as thought I were drifting on a VIP cloud that deposited me at the front of life’s line, with fanfare, and an invisible cloak of unmerited Specialness.
I had not realized that my marriage had been a kind of addiction, and that leaving would be like cold-turkeying without a rehab.
And so I wonder about Mary Kennedy.
I never met her. All I know of her comes from media reports that detail her history of substance abuse and the darkness that laid underneath. I heard from my personal grapevine that she’d had multiple suicide attempts, that Robert Kennedy had taken their four children to L.A. to protect them from her.
Her husband had filed for divorce, and I assume that he did so, in part, after years of watching her descend into her own private hell that impeded her ability to be a mother.
There was a wicked custody battle, she was reportedly up to her eyeballs in credit card debt due to being cut off from the Kennedy funds, and her children were living in L.A. as their father squired a TV star around town.
Was a wicked custody battle really necessary? Especially one in which power was skewed so massively in one direction? Especially when one person was clearly screaming out for help and in no position to fight back? Why on earth was the mother of Robert Kennedy’s four children reduced to living off of credit cards?
And so I imagine Mary Kennedy shuffling around her mansion, the one that she had greened within every inch of its life, the one that reporters and luminaries had toured to listen to her talk about transforming into an eco-friendly dwelling. Did she stand outside, drink in hand, surveying the empty grounds that had once been the scene of kid-friendly barbecues and capture-the-flag games and wonder how things had changed so radically?
The family I had married into was nothing near as fabled as the Kennedys, the details of my divorce not known to anyone but friends and relatives. But, still, I feel a tug of empathy for Mary Kennedy.
I know what it’s like to let personal growth fall by the wayside and get hooked on a life that buffers self-doubts, that offers an unwarranted sense of Special to fall back on as age and existential crises creep in.
And when that life crumbles, what is left? The dimming of the laughter and the noise of the crowds. What is left is silence — and who you are at your core.
I never struggled with substance abuse, but I took my prescribed cocktail of antidepressants and sleeping agents to get me through meetings with attorneys and forensic accountants and a steady stream of threatening e-mails from the father of my children.
For a year, I subsisted solely on yogurt and almonds, my size 0 clothes hanging off the sharp angles of my body. I had supportive friends, but no family nearby. My brain was in a fog from anti-anxiety medication and I don’t remember how I got through graduate school. I do remember the life raft that was my internship, how each morning I walked through the doors of my new workplace and felt the promise of a new, more authentic existence stretching ahead.
But it was a two-steps forward, one-step back journey.
I remember one warm spring afternoon, how I laid on my stomach on the grass, my arms stretched out, my cheek nestled in the sun-kissed blades beneath my face. Franny was napping and Luca sat next to me, begging me to play frisbee. I remember the fog in my head and the weight of my body. I remember murmuring something, that I just needed to rest. I remember being completely unable to hoist myself off the ground as my son tugged at me to get the hell up and act like his mother.
And so I imagine Mary Kennedy, whose life had been so much grander and was so much more public, who did struggle with substance abuse and debilitating mental illness. What was it like to be all that, then stand in the supermarket check-out line, smacked in the face with tabloid photos of her husband arm-in-arm with a toothy, blond celebrity?
How was it that I mustered the stamina to pull myself off the grass and she did not?
I think age was on my side. I was just 40, a decade younger than Mary Kennedy. I had more of a horizon in front of me, the promise of a new career, the absence of shame that comes from public displays of substance abuse and psychological breakdowns.
But at 52, perhaps Mary Kennedy’s eyes were glued to the rear-view mirror as her former career and her Camelot life drifted behind her.
Here’s my guess. Mary Kennedy was as much addicted to being Mary Kennedy as she was to booze and pills. No addict can get sober without finding something to replace their drug of choice.
I was addicted to my Camelot too. Had it not been for the birth of a new career, for better brain chemistry, for younger children, one of whom was an infant and who desperately needed me, for the saving grace of having an ex-husband who was not at the time interested in getting custody, for a freight-train of determination I didn’t know I had, I could have been Mary Kennedy.
Because in some ways, I was.