Sunday, September 20, 2009

John Edwards Affair and Paternity: Why It Matters To Me


I picked up on John Edwards around the same time that many average liberal citizens did, being attracted to candidates who publicly discuss the issues that matter to me- human rights, health care, the environment- for which Edwards has been a great spokesperson. As soon as I began to read about Edwards, I was reading about his wife Elizabeth, and the loss of their 16 year old son Wade in a car accident on a windy day by the beach. I watched the married couple rise together in the campaign for President, and came to an informal, casually knowledgeable opinion about Edwards, which is the description I would use for most of my opinions on politicians. I am not a passionate political follower, nor an in depth reader of political books or articles. I read a handful of articles through major media like the New York Times, and come up with an opinion.

What I was really interested in was his personal life; as a mother I was horrified and compelled to read about how a family survives after such a loss- I searched through their accounts of Wade's death as if there could possibly be such an inane thing as Tips on How To Survive The Greatest Tragedy of Your Life. There is not. There are only factors. John and Elizabeth entered their living hell with good mental health, money and support, which may or may not make it more likely for a person to survive such a loss without spiraling into addiction, mental illness or complete detachment. They also had other children to care for, and they did, and eventually crept into public consciousness, and my own, in the Presidential Election.

And then Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer. I read the People headline, the updates on MSN on her exact diagnosis and prognosis, and hoped for her a total remission. I was old enough to know that life does not have a limit on suffering. And so it proved: Elizabeth's cancer came back, and her prognosis was 'hope for ten years'. I read her memoir, largely about the death of Wade, their firstborn, and found her voice and her story to be obvious: she was a woman who had lost a son she loved with her entire self, and she was carrying on with the strength of her spirit for her children and her husband. The memoir revealed little about the dynamics of her marriage. John worked, she worked, they parented, the loved. No depths revealed, the marriage kept private, for whatever reason- to keep it sacred, or to keep it hidden, or both.

When the headlines announced John Edward's affair, I felt the blow in my gut. After years of reading about John and Elizabeth and being a married mother of 3, I felt the blow as women feel for one another in our homes, our health, our children, our marriage, these things are the centrifugal life forces for many of us. I stopped to think of the emotional crisis unfolding before me, paper in hand. The private lives of these two people, revealed in strangely shaped chunks that the media, and it's consumers, myself, would try to put together, spinning them around until they came up with a shape that made the most sense. But the truth of the emotional life of these two adults? We can only guess. All that is clear and obvious is that both of them have suffered irrecovely from the death of their son Wade and Elizabeth's cancer diagnosis, and John Edwards was not able to cope in a way that did not humiliate and devastate his wife.


And now the final media reveal: He is the father. A book deal in the works with a man close to Edwards saying that Edwards planned on marrying his mistress, the mother of Frances who is looking assuredly to be Edward's daughter. Edwards told his lover that they would be married after Elizabeth died, says the story. John Edwards sits in virtual seclusion, his family hiding out, waiting, waiting for the next move. My mind circles around Elizabeth like water round a drain, going nowhere. And yet I cannot help but wonder how she is coping. How she is feeling. Does she have any emotions left, or is she numb with the continual heartbreak of life? Is John Edwards ashamed of himself, devastated, or is he empty, exhausted and angry at being caught and cornered in his greatest fault and failing? How will Elizabeth find a peaceful way to leave this life? I look to those who are suffering because I have failed, and I have suffered, and I want to see how we do it, us human beings, how do we make it through when we make it at all?
gojirama said...

Well written, mama. My heart breaks for her.

Elizabeth said...

Yes. Yes. And Yes. And most of all, who the hell knows?

Ms. Moon said...

I, too, have been thinking about Mrs. Edwards. No one would have to suffer what she has suffered through. And you're right, the death of their child may affected Edwards in such a way to seek life with another woman- a healthy woman- but I have no sympathy for him. He acted shamefully. He should have admitted the affair, taken public responsibility for his child.
I have no respect for the man at all.
Is that wrong?

The Girl said...

I think sometimes you shoulder through because you have to. Because the human spirit is a forward-moving, kenetic thing, and cannot be kept still if only out because the habit of moving is so strong. It's what keeps us breathing when we think that surely we won't be able to again.

I feel for her. I wonder how she is, and hope that she has people near her to hold her hands and help her through, or to raise their voices in a chorus of 'fuck this,' if that's what she needs. I'm sure she probably needs both.

anymommy said...

It's so true, you wrote it so well. It's impossible to know the entire story.

starrlife said...

As a woman who survived my husbands affair (hopefully not having told the OW that he'd marry her after I died) I have total sympathy for Elizabeth. Thankfully our incident was brief and not public at the level of theirs. I doubt I could not have survived that humiliation... She is so strong.Our marriage survived with his remorse and retribution but the damage was severe. What really pisses me off is that I read that the ex-OW has moved into their hometown! How low my opinion of John went.... how low his self esteem must be now.
How do we make it? How could he do such a thing? They call it the fog,a kind of midlife madness. I went through it and I still don't know how.
Great piece Maggie May.

SJ said...

Honestly, I really don't know how in the hell any of us make it through. Especially since things just seem like one shitstorm after another anymore -it's a miracle when we come out on the other side, still able to smile.

Marinka said...

This is so beautifully written and so, so sad. I feel a lot of anger towards him and I was never a supporter to start with.

Patois said...

I wish I could care how what he was doing in seclusion. But I don't.

Well written. Very well put.

the real mia said...

I didn't know about this scandal, but reading your post makes my heart break. How can any human cause more pain and humiliation to a loved one that's been told she is dying? I can't for the life of me understand.

This is a beautifully written piece.

Something Happened Somewhere Turning said...

Your writing is amazing, Maggie. That last sentence moved me.

Simply Mel said...

To look at him, makes my skin crawl. How could someone be so inconsiderate and disrespectful to a woman who has fathered your children, supported you through death and life, and suffers from a terminal illness?

I do not know how ones heart, Mrs. Edwards', could heal after such tragedy and hurt. One must believe or have a faith in a higher power or search deep within to find strength to carry on with hopes of seeing a new day of better and happier times. Can one fully heal? Is it possible to forgive? Does life ever return to what was once 'normal'? Heart breaking.

Mwa said...

As if going through that in private wouldn't be bad enough, it must be awful having the press on your tail all the way.

I was thinking of you yesterday when I was listening to the BBC World Service. I know you like to hear about the lives of interesting women, too, and there was a programme about the life of Barack Obama's mother, Ann Dunham. I thought you would like it, too. It kept me in my car for fifteen minutes after I got home.

You can listen to the whole thing here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2009/09/090915_dreams_from_my_mother.shtml

Kitty said...

Mrs. Edwards' tragedy and suffering are so sad. I wish her peace and comfort. Her husband, whom I heretofore respected and trusted, is a douche nozzle.

Glimmer said...

He seems so very awful on the surface. And yet I think is there, could there be another side, the one we have not heard? What would drive him to it?

I know, it seems heartless of me to even think-say that out loud. But this is so tragic I can't imagine it happening and I think what is missing? Is there a missing piece? I am not being disrespectful of this woman who has suffered so much, trying to blame her at all. I promise you that much. But you know in the great tragedies how things seem so simple on the surface and then when you drill down there is a twist. Suddenly, the villain becomes human, the act maybe not forgiveable, necessarily, but at least something that can be more easily understood.

That is what I am looking for. The key that unlocks the motive. Just an understanding.

Miss Grace said...

You captured my feelings on this perfectly.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Maggie,
I felt the same despair over this. I, too, read Elizabeth's wonderful book. I am so angry with Edwards now. For awhile, he was a great hope of mine.

One thing I do know, Elizabeth has a really good support system in her friends. I hope that helps her.

Love you. I hope things are going better for you. You have been in my thoughts.

SB

redsneakz said...

It seems to me that the men who are attracted to public life, attracted to power, attracted to wealth, are those who really should least have it. I don't know if that's the case with women; certainly Carly Fiorina put paid to the idea that all women exactutives are inherently better people than the men who live in the corner office...

Magpie said...

It is a bizarre tale - the most bizarre bit being the part where he's talking about marriage after his wife dies. Maybe Elizabeth should divorce him and take him to the cleaners.

Ocean Girl said...

Thank you for reminding me that they are human. I saw them, both of them as politicians whose lives were interrupted with the scandal made public.

Woman in a Window said...

No one person can ever know anyone else's story. Not even if it is written out, an infinity of words on a page. It's difficult enough to own our own. And there judgement should snooze and understanding, or at least, support, begin.

Annje said...

Bueatifully put. I don't really follow political "affairs" much, but this one, as you said, feels like a punch in the gut. It goes beyond the "normal pain" of indifelity (if there is such a thing). His infidelity adds an insult to injury that is almost unbearable even to witness.

Lola said...

Well, you were much kinder than I would be if I wrote about this. Actually, I did write about it when the affair was first made public, because I was a supporter of his, and I was so let down.

After the affair broke, nothing in this terrible story has been surprising to me. Who knows what really goes on in their marriage or anyone's marriage.

That's a fabulous photo of them in the early years!!!

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