Ann Landers answered my letter today. “If you are married to the leader of the free world, as you say you are, then are you not one of the free? Or are you one of the led? You see the contradiction inherent in your self-description. Each of us harbors within our hearts the desire to be subjugated and the desire to be liberated. It sounds to me as if it were high time you got off your high horse, lady, and thought all this through. Good luck.” This tells me nothing I did not already know. I must and I will break away. My little valise sits at the back of my closet already packed and waiting for me with a few clothes, a few overnight things. I will move out. Leave the West Wing for the South Wing, abandoned as it is and crumbling, full of cobwebs, rats and the ghost, or so say the Secret Service, of Mary Todd Lincoln. During rainstorms, she floats through the corridors mournfully requesting a tarp. RN will not follow me there, or rather he will never get very far. The walls are lined with portraits: McKinley’s children, or at least the ones who survived the boobytrapped sled; Millard Fillmore on his pony, Scamp, with a bachelor friend, also named Scamp; Dolly Madison lounging on an Empire sofa after the fashion of “Odalisque.” RN will stop and talk to each of them. On and on and on. Then, if he has drunk enough (and he will have drunk enough), he will lapse into patter songs, Gilbert and Sullivan numbers his mother taught him beneath the clementines long ago, when they were both in their mid-30s.
I try to remember when the romance died from our life together, but then I try to remember when the romance actually began, and as I keep searching I go back farther and farther until I reach a strange, cloudy image of my sister dressed as Santa Claus and swinging wildly at a reindeer pinata. By that point, who knows how many hours have elapsed? An undersecretary of something or other comes in and tells me. Four hours and thirteen minutes, precisely, have elapsed. And now they are back from shopping, RN and Kissinger. Bags from Garfinkels and Lord & Taylor’s are flung onto the furniture. (The click of the whiskey decanter being opened, the exchange of limericks that end with “Cambodia.”) RN shops to forget, they say, the editorial pages say, the wise men of The New York Times, and how long will the public tolerate it? What did it take for the “people” to storm the Bastille? The introduction of a postage-stamp series, “Vacation Spots of the Bourbons.” Can it be true that our days here are coming to an end? Deep Throat nods and says, “Oh yes, yes it is true, my dear Pat, and then for you — what? What next, I wonder? A delicious question. By the way, did you see, there was a letter to Ann Landers from a woman married to the leader of the free world, and Ann told her that one can be free or one can be led. That was followed by a letter from a woman who thought adult diapers from a fiance was a thoughtless gift. And, Pat, guess what else? Shall I tell you? Ben Bradlee is in love with you. He wants to ride in on a white steed and rescue you. But he knows a white steed won’t fit through the White House fence so he’s out in Virginia horse country looking for something slimmer.” The light is growing dim inside (outside it unaccountably grows brighter) and I realize, or rather I ask myself, or rather I am saying this out aloud: Is it Deep Throat who loves me? Have I loved him all along? Is this the beast in the jungle Mamie Eisenhower was always going on about before Ike had her put down? It is all too complicated, and I throw him out.
Dinner. RN as always now is fulminating over injustices, perceived and imagined. When were we ever in the Aegean with Armani and Passolini? Rosemary, ever present factotum, loads a tape into the machine, turns it on and stands back deferentially as RN dictates the evening’s menu. He disgusts, disturbs and vexes me with his compulsive taping. The wind in the trees, Spanish evangelicals on the radio, even the singing of my little canaries. (Are they a metaphor for me, for us? Was it a mistake to name them Patty and Dickie?) Tonight there is so little conversation between us that Rosemary is assigned to play me. But she has no dramatic imagination and she is quickly reduced to calling out bingo numbers. My own thoughts I resolutely keep to myself. Those are safe, at least, since the Court ruled that the investigative committee cannot subpoena woolgathering, not even if they offer to send over aides with packing material. But I will “spill the beans” once we leave here. I will pick up the phone and call Dick Cavett, or David Frost, or Barbara Walters, whoever happens to be home and close to the phone, and I will offer them my exclusive story, tell them everything. That Checkers, the most artful hoax of RN’s early career, was not a spaniel but an oiled poodle. That Haldeman and Ehrlichman were actually Ehrlichman and Haldeman. That we have an imaginary son off at boarding school, and RN and I argue over who is responsible for his lousy test scores. That the only reason we have an enemies’ list is because we tried to make a list of friends and found we had none.
The helicopter lifts off from the White House and flies us out over and down the Potomac, then turns around at Andover, Maryland, and flies us back. RN makes us rehearse the departure again and again, and for what? It’s full dress every time, with the press on the lawn, the understudy at his vanity table applying a five o’clock shadow and the Joint Chiefs of Staff showing off their freshly waxed legs. I am certain now that I will leave RN, strike out on my own. Deep Throat has not yet expressly declared his love to me, although yesterday when we were at Level B in the parking lot he leaked it to me on background. It torments me that I still do not know whether I love him for himself or the fact that his real name is Placido Domingo. Meanwhile my mind is whirling with new prospects and projects that promise a glory that I have never known as a politician’s wife. Could I, myself, become a politician — a good politician in every sense of the word: wise, honest, decent, beloved? No. I cannot fool myself. For years I have rented an office, and yet I know I will never have the courage to run for it. Besides, so many other ideas have accumulated in my mind. For instance, I think you could use aromas and fragrances as a form of emotional therapy. I gave RN a sachet of lavender once. He sniffed it with his long nose and walked away. But he nodded in a way that indicated some fleeting moment of happiness.