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Like Mother, Like Son
VIRGINIAClinton is not as enigmatic as he might appear. Much of his behavior can be accounted for by the simplest and most commonsense psychological explanation of all: He takes after his mother. As a psychologist, I knew I could never comprehend the man without understanding his parents. While Bill Clinton’s every move has been overreported, overexposed, and overanalyzed, Clinton biographers have, for the most part, accepted Virginia’s version of her life at face value, relying on her memoir, Leading with My Heart. But my clinical instincts told me there was more to Virginia’s story than meets the eye. What I had not expected was how much more I would discover when I traveled to Hot Springs, where I interviewed her oldest friends as well as the first and last men she ever loved. By the end I had unearthed a startling portrait of an amazing woman that shed a new light on the psychology of her son. Friends and associates, most now in their eighties, provided me with straight answers about Virginia, answers that often contradicted the official version of events presented by Virginia in her memoir. Virginia was an unforgettable character who always left a strong impression. Part of the impression was visual. In high school she began wearing the signature heavy makeup that would become her trademark."She stood out, with that makeup, she really did. She piled it on," said Jenny Sue McKee, who attended high school with her. Indeed, virtually everyone I spoke to about Virginia brought up her makeup. From midlife on, Virginia sported a white stripe down the center of her black hair, creating an appearance thatreminded many of a skunk. She achieved this effect by coloring her hair black, then leaving a swath undyed. She liked the look, and in this, as in so many things, she didn’t give a hoot what anybody else thought. She dressed in idiosyncratic ways that made her stand out: sporting white cowboy boots to formal black- tie events; donning a white Mexican wedding dress to a funeral; and at election time, covering herself from head to toe—literally—in campaign buttons. But a far more powerful impression was made by the force of her personality. She was intensely gregarious. She"never met a stranger," her friends Marge Mitchell and Nancy Adkins told me, and she always managed to be the center of attention in any room."She’d mix with anyone. She loved people. If she walked in that door right now, she’d hug and kiss me, and probably you too," said McKee. And she was funny,"a cutup," according to McKee. In their yearbook Virginia wrote,"I’d like to take life seriously, but things are just too funny." Virginia was a tireless extravert who commanded attention. And as we will see in her son, her endless need to be the center of attention had a compulsive, driven quality:"Truth is I like bright colors and I like people to notice me. I think Bill and Roger and I are all alike in that way. When we walk into a room, we want to win that room over. Some would even say we need to win that room over. . . . If there are one hundred people in a room and ninety- nine of them love us and one doesn’t, we’ll spend all night trying to figure out why that one hasn’t been enlightened."1 Indeed, Bill Clinton would forever view anyone who didn’t like him simply as someone who had yet to see the light. It has been said that in Bill Clinton’s world there are two types of people:"constituents and potential constituents."2 Virginia was oblivious to the normal social boundaries that might prevent her from commanding attention. For example, when she was a student nurse in New Orleans and would go to clubs to hear live music, she got into the habit of jumping onto the stage with the performers."When we had time off we would go to the French Quarter and hear Dixieland Jazz or big band music," she wrote,"and I would embarrass my friends by getting up and singing with whoever was up there. I wasn’t obnoxious or anything, I was just convinced I had more talent than most of the singers we heard, and didn’t want to deprive anyone of the chance to hear me."3 Virginia had extraordinary energy, drive, optimism, and self- confidence that made people feel good when they were with her. In short, she had that hypomanic charisma."She was bigger than life," said Bill’s childhood friend Larry Crane. But in addition to having hypomania’s assets, she also manifested its excesses and liabilities. Virginia needed continuous stimulation and excitement. She chain-smoked, gambled, drank, and partied, all while running a very successful and demanding practice as a nurse anaesthesiologist, which required her to be on call twenty- four hours a day for seventeen years. She seemed to have an endless capacity to burn the candle at both ends throughout her life. As she wrote in her memoir,"For someone working the hours I was working, nightlife was a strain. On the other hand, how could you resist?"4 "She laughed hard, drank hard, played hard, and worked hard," said Larry Crane."And she loved a party." Virginia describes herself as"flirtatious," and Clinton biographers briefly allude to rumors of her having had affairs but pursue it no further. However, to understand how Bill Clinton became who he is, it’s important to know that these were more than rumors. Extramarital sex was a lifestyle for Virginia; perhaps we could even say an addiction. Joe Purvis’s mother was one of Virginia’s best friends in high school, and Joe had been friends with Bill Clinton since their mothers walked down the streets of Hope, together pushing their boys in strollers."There are things I probably shouldn’t tell you, and I won’t," Joe Purvis told me,"but Virginia was exuberant in her love of life, and people, and good times . . . and she loved guys. There was always a guy in Virginia’s life." Like Bill, Virginia had a long string of adulterous affairs that till now have been undisclosed. Her liaisons, including her five marriages (she had four husbands, but married Roger Clinton twice), were often impulsive, and usually showed poor judgment. The extent of her promiscuity was one of the most surprising findings in my research. And, of course, when confronted about her sexual liaisons—she lied. As we shall see, young Bill Clinton was not shielded from this. Just the opposite. He was inculcated into the Kabuki dance of adultery, jealousy, and lying from an early age, and it became an unconscious paradigm that was burned into his psyche."If Bill has been shown to have a roving eye, he comes by it naturally," Joe Purvis told me. These traits expressed by Virginia—energy, drive, impulsivity, optimism, infectious exuberance, creativity, and charisma—are all signs of hypomania. Hypomanics are highly gregarious, active, and need little sleep. They often seek out pleasure and excitement in such areas as sex, gambling, and substance abuse. They behave impulsively, often showing poor judgment about the probable consequences of their behavior. And when things blow up in their face, they rarely take personal responsibility. They are often unconventional mavericks and creative visionaries who unapologetically do things their own way, and think the world should follow their lead, not the other way around. If they have a self- esteem problem, it’s that theirs is outrageously high. In the social hierarchy of Hope, Virginia’s family, the Cassidys, occupied the bottom rung, just one step above African- Americans. In those days, people like them were called"common," what today we might derogatorily call"white trash." But brimming with the unquenchable innate confidence of a hypomanic, Virginia wrote,"I’ve never felt inferior to anybody. . . . I like myself—did even as a girl."5 When one girl told Virginia that her parents had forbidden her to play with her because Virginia’s family was"not good enough," it didn’t even faze her."That’s all right, I have lots of friends," Virginia retorted.6 Virginia’s inborn high self- esteem was captured in a photo that appeared in the local paper, the Hope Star, which featured half a dozen high school girls in bathing suits positioned around a diving platform."I was standing at the very top. I had a nice figure, but the thing that people comment on is my facial expression: the camera had caught a look of supreme self-confidence that makes me look older than my years. As one friend said, ‘This was before people talked about attitude, but you had it even then.’"7 Like most hypomanics, Virginia had a powerful, positive exuberant force inside of her that she used to overcome all obstacles, both internal and external."I compensated by calling attention to my cheerfulness, my flamboyance, my optimism, my upbeat outspokenness. I kept the darker feelings inside, deep down and out of sight."8 Yet, there is one extraordinary trait that Virginia passed on to her son that has nothing at all to do with hypomania. All the people I spoke with described her as the most loving and caring person they had ever encountered. This was not mere sentimental praise for the dead. Over and over people who knew her for decades emphasized to me how her capacity for love was a phenomenon unprecedented in their experience. Many employed spiritual language to explain this exceptional gift. As we shall see in Chapter 3, Bill Clinton’s ability to feel and communicate love was an irreducible part of what made him the most charismatic political figure in a generation. Virginia died soon after finishing her memoir. Bill Clinton read the manuscript with Jim Morgan, who co-authored Virginia’s as-told-to memoir, at his side in a cabin in Arkansas. When Clinton finished the book, he looked off into space for a moment, and said:"Mom lived a large, messy, sprawling life."9 But if she had lived a smaller, neater, and more contained one, she never would have produced someone as remarkable as Bill Clinton. As Virginia’s old high school boyfriend, Richard Fenwick, said:"Some people around here just can’t get it through their heads. No matter what Virginia did, no matter who she ran around with, from her being a president of the United States emerged." THE FAMILY DRAMA It was the same nightmare, night after night. Except it was no dream. As young Virginia lay in bed, seeking the refuge of sleep, the madness would begin. Her mother would scream at her father, curse him, beat him, hurl things at him. "I remember lying awake in the dark in that little house on Foster Avenue, listening to my mother shrieking at my father in their bedroom next door," Virginia recalled in her memoir."Just pacing the floor and screaming. Sometimes this would go on all night . . . These fits went on for years."10 Her mother, Edith Cassidy, accused her father of cheating on her. While Virginia was too young to understand the source of her mother’s"nightly screaming fits," she understood that her beloved father was being accused of doing something bad with another woman. Her father, Eldridge Cassidy, would deny it emphatically, repeatedly pleading with his wife to be reasonable, begging her to calm down and consider the terrified young child in the next room. For three generations in Bill Clinton’s family, the plot line would be much the same: accusations of adultery and emphatic denials. Virginia’s parents, Edith Grisham and Eldridge Cassidy, grew up next door to each other in the southwest corner of Arkansas, in the hamlet of Bodcaw, population one hundred. Actually, they grew up outside Bodcaw, in an area called Ebenezer Community that consisted of only three families, two of whom were the Grishams and the Cassidys. These families barely eked out livings, raising cotton on their hardscrabble farms. The real price of cotton had been dropping steadily since the mid-1800s, which reduced the subsistence farmers of Arkansas to an existence well below the poverty line. When Edith and Eldridge married in 1922, their horizons seemed pretty limited. They crossed a little dirt road in front of her parents’ house and moved a hundred yards away into a four-room tin-roofed shack.It was Edith’s drive that got them out of Bodcaw. After Virginia’s birth, in 1923, Edith insisted they move to the big city of Hope, seat of Hempstead County, with a population of around five thousand."So it’s no wonder that my mother wanted to move from the monotonous country to the aptly named Hope," wrote Virginia."In Hope, at least, there were possibilities."11 Though she never graduated from high school, Edith dreamed of becoming a nurse, and enrolled in a correspondence course taught through the Chicago School of Nursing."For something like eighteen months she received her lessons and pored over them at the kitchen table and then shipped them back as quickly as she could. Her energy was amazing, because while she was doing this, she was also keeping house, and fixing meals and taking care of me," wrote Virginia.12 Edith received a practical- nursing degree in the mail. That was sufficient for her to get good-paying work, and more important in the Depression years, steady work, at the first rung of the professional ladder. By all accounts she was an excellent and hardworking nurse. Virginia recalled:"I inherited some of my mother’s willfulness—which could be good or bad depending on how I used it—as well as her energy and ambition." The force of Edith’s personality had a dark side: She was aggressive, suspicious, and controlling, while in comparison Eldridge was relatively amiable and passive."Eldridge was a nice guy who was just hen- pecked," said Joe Purvis."Edith was stronger than cat food. She was a control freak. She was the one in charge." Purvis remembered that when Edith came to pick up Bill from kindergarten, he was impressed by her nurse’s cape and uniform, but also noticed that she had a"stern demeanor" that scared him. Virginia’s cousin Dale, according to one friend of the family, thought Edith was just"plain mean." From her father Virginia inherited the sunny optimism and sociability that we would later associate with Bill Clinton. She wrote,"I had also inherited my father’s outgoing personality and his love for people."13 In later life Eldridge ran a small grocery store. In small towns the grocery was the local hangout, where people gathered and talked. So it was the ideal environment for the extraverted Eldridge."My father loved to be with people. He had an infectious smile, which lit up the room." He was"irrepressibly friendly."14 Virginia’s friend Virginia Heath recalled that"Eldridge was well liked. He had a wonderful personality and was real kind and nice to everyone."15 Eldridge’s store was one of the few places where both blacks and whites shopped. Eldridge was an unusual white man in Depression- era Arkansas. Genuinely unprejudiced, he treated his black customers as friends. Playing with black children in his grandfather’s store is one of Bill Clinton’s earliest memories."Bill could not understand why children with whom he played every day should not be able to attend school with him," wrote William Coleman III, Clinton’s African- American Yale Law School roommate. Coleman found Clinton’s racial attitudes unique among whites."Dealing with these issues at an early age caused him to reject racism with a personal ardor that, frankly, I have found rare in people who are not themselves victims of racism."16 At Yale the blacks segregated themselves, as happened at many universities in those days, but Clinton appeared oblivious to the color line. One day"a tall, robust, friendly fellow with a southern accent and a cherubic face unceremoniously violated the unspoken taboo by plopping himself down at the ‘black table.’"17 Clinton became a regular member at the table, the only white student at Yale to do so. Everyone remembers Eldridge sold illegal whiskey that he kept hidden under the apples. Hempstead was a dry county (and still is), but the police typically tolerated one designated bootlegger, and in Hope it was Eldridge. Ironically, the man who supplied his whiskey would become Virginia’s second husband, Roger Clinton. "Eldridge drank a lot," Virginia’s high school friend Jenny Sue McKee told me. One biographer respectfully describes him as suffering from"a moderate drinking problem."18 Eldridge introduced Virginia to drinking early in life, offering her belts of whiskey beginning at age twelve. Virginia became a drinker, and all the men she liked were drinkers, too."I knew all her husbands. They were all real nice, but they all drank," said McKee. In 1957, Virginia’s father died at age fifty-six, in part due to liver- related complications suggestive of alcoholism. There is a strong link between substance abuse and even the mildest forms of mania. While hypomanics are naturally high, they often artificially seek to maintain or even enhance their preferred mood state. As mentioned earlier, drugs, alchohol, and hypomania have a similar neurological mode of action: They stimulate the same pleasure center in the brain, a small limbic structure the size of a pea called the nucleus accumbens, which is fueled by the neurotransmitter dopamine. Virginia used alcohol excessively (incidents with alcohol are mentioned twenty-six times in her memoir), and she was a chain-smoker, as well. There was"never a moment when there wasn’t a cigarette in my mouth, my hand, or an ashtray nearby."19 Virginia smoked unfiltered Pall Malls, five packs a day. Indeed, vulnerability to addictions runs through Bill Clinton’s family tree. His grandmother, Edith, became addicted to painkillers late in life and his half brother, Roger, was both an alcoholic and a cocaine addict. In addition to chemical substances, Virginia would use behaviors such as gambling, sexual acting out, and unending social activity to maintain her upbeat mood. Evidence suggests that these behaviors also stimulate the limbic system and cause the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Hypomanics are addictive personalities. They may be workaholics, sexaholics, shopaholics—typically they are not limited to one compulsive behavior—but underneath there is a common cause: their underlying hypomanic temperament. The Clinton family, including Bill, participated in family therapy as part of Roger’s drug treatment, which makes Bill Clinton the first president to have participated in psychotherapy (or at least the first to publicly admit it). One of the insights he obtained from these sessions was,"I think we’re all addicted to something," as he told his friend Carolyn Staley."Some people are addicted to drugs, some to power, some to food, some to sex. We’re all addicted to something."20 On the other hand, it seems doubtful that Virginia herself gained much insight into her own addictive personality from her brush with psychotherapy. Her close friend Nancy Adkins said:"I went with Virginia to all of Roger’s court-mandated drug education classes. After we got home, she poured us each a tall glass of whiskey." Adkins asked:"Virginia, do you think we ought to be doing this? We just got out of a drug education class." "Why not? We’re not the ones with the drug problem," replied Virginia. The combination of her mother’s ambition and energy and her father’s optimism, gregariousness, and a weakness for substances equipped Virginia with all the elements that compose a hypomanic temperament. This biological underpinning goes a long way toward explaining why Virginia Cassidy would become a serial adulterer, but in addition, layered upon this neurological foundation were psychological issues, rooted in her experiences with her dysfunctional family. One of Freud’s most enduring insights was his discovery of the "repetition compulsion." Put simply, there is a powerful unconscious drive to recreate in one’s adult relationships the relationships you experienced as a child. In my twenty years of practicing psychotherapy, there is no single idea that I have found to be more useful or universal. Time and again, the origins of the most inexplicable, destructive relational patterns can be found there. It is as if, when we are born, our minds are like wet plaster, and the structure of the relationships we encounter forms an impression that hardens into a mold. We’re just not sexually attracted to potential romantic partners who don’t fit our mold. What feels right to us, powerfully and compellingly so, are the comfortable and familiar relational patterns of the past. We recreate our childhood paradigm using three basic techniques: We pick partners who are inclined to play their assigned roles; we provoke them to behave in these familiar old ways; and, finally, we project our past family figures onto them, distorting our perceptions to convince ourselves that they are behaving like figures from our childhood even when they are not. And, amazingly, we engineer all of this outside of our own awareness. Paradoxically, it is the traumatic relationship patterns from the past that we are most compulsively driven to repeat. The theory has it that re- creating the traumatic situation allows us to feel a sense of mastery over it. It’s not being done to us. We’re doing it, which allows us to feel more in control. The irony is that when we are unconsciously driven to repeat destructive patterns, we are out of control by most objective standards. To understand the pattern Virginia was repeating, consider her mother’s nightly screaming fits, which she experienced over and over again. Usually, when we think of traumatic events, we think of hurricanes, war, or rape. But psychologists believe that it is the stone in your shoe that makes you lame; repetitive experiences do more damage than a one- time catastrophic event. These screaming fits were so traumatic because they went on night after night. Secondly, these events were caused by malevolent human intent, as opposed to bad luck (e.g., natural disaster, illness, accident), making them much more traumatic. This relational pattern—fights over accusations of adultery that are repeatedly denied—was seared into Virginia’s unconscious, and she was programmed to replicate it. Virginia unconsciously re- created her parents’ tragic drama in her own adult relationships. If Eldridge were inclined to be unfaithful, his job gave him ample opportunity. Before opening his grocery store, he delivered ice to the kitchens of Hope’s women. The gregarious Eldridge used to like to"stop off and have coffee with various customers—usually the prettiest ones," recalled a boy who assisted him on one of his routes.21 But the unanimous consensus among the people I spoke to was that Eldridge was not unfaithful."I never heard of Eldridge going with any women," Virginia Heath said."Oh Lord, he’d be the last guy to be unfaithful," said Joe Purvis. However, whether or not Eldridge actually cheated, young Virginia repeatedly witnessed her enraged mother accusing him of infidelity, which he denied over and over again. This laid down a pattern Virginia would feel a compulsive need to repeat, a blueprint she would follow the rest of her life."Roger would keep me awake all night with his tantrums and his accusations of infidelity and his jealousy about everything under the sun," wrote Virginia. Ironically, the rumors around town were that Edith, rather than Eldridge, was sleeping around."Her relatives would later talk about relationships they thought she had with a few doctors," wrote Maraniss. Those relatives were deceased when I conducted my interviews, but I spoke to Peggy Lloyd, archival manager at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, whose aunt had worked in the same hospital with both Edith and Virginia. Lloyd said her aunt disliked both mother and daughter because, she said,"they were both man crazy." Jenny Sue McKee told me,"It was Mrs. Cassidy who had the affairs. . . . Virginia took after her in that." Thus, Virginia’s identification with her mother was another important contributor to her adult sexual behavior. I had difficulty finding many people left alive who remembered Edith Cassidy. But one woman in Hope, Jewel Dean Moore, had quite a story to tell about Edith Cassidy’s jealous rages, which supports Virginia’s claim that her mother suffered from pathological jealousy, bordering on paranoia. Today, Mrs. Moore is ninety-one years old and blind. Yet still spry, she makes lunch for her two grown sons every day. Seventy years ago, Jewel was a twenty-one-year-old newlywed, working as a cashier in a grocery store that was jointly owned by Eldridge Cassidy and his cousin Calvin."It’s still all very fresh in my memory. I’ve forgotten a lot of things, but some things you don’t forget," Jewel told me. Before she began work at the grocery store, the Cassidys’ neighbors warned Jewel about Edith."I don’t think you want to work there," they said."She’s already run off two or three girls." Everything seemed to be going fine, until one day Edith offered Jewel a ride home. Once they were alone in the car together, Edith"proceeded to tell me that she did not want me to come to work no more. That was to be my last day. " ‘I won’t have Eldridge being nicer to anyone than he is to Virginia and me,’" said Edith. Jewel wasn’t sure what Edith meant by that but gathered that she was jealous, imagining some kind of relationship or mutual attraction with Eldridge. The thought had never crossed her mind. Eldridge had been a perfect gentleman toward her. Jewel appealed to Calvin. He laughed and told her to come back to work. But Edith refused to be ignored. She came into the store one Sunday morning when Calvin was not there and, standing in the middle of the store amid the customers, she began shouting in a booming voice:"Jewel Dean! I’ve warned you and I’ve warned Eldridge: If you continue to work, you’ll take the consequences!" Edith stepped up her campaign of intimidation. First she sent Jewel a threatening letter. Then Edith began coming into the store and glaring at her."She would sit behind the counter and stare at me for two or three hours." Edith’s stare could be quite intimidating. According to Virginia,"I’ve never seen anyone burn with intensity the way she did. Those eyes could bore in on you and disintegrate you with their heat."22 "It got so bad that when I saw her coming I started having a chill," said Jewel. When the staring campaign failed, Edith got rougher. She began positioning herself behind the counter. And each time Jewel would pass"she would knock up against me, saying, ‘You little bitch,’ and things like that under her breath." The neighbors across the street warned her that one night Edith"got up on a drinking spree, and she was out in the yard screaming. She was going to shoot and kill Eldridge, and she was going to kill me."The neighbors warned,"You want to watch out for her. She could be dangerous." Jewel’s dad lent her his pistol, and after that she came to work every day with a concealed weapon. "I went to Calvin and said: ‘I can’t come to work anymore.’ I was on the verge of a breakdown. "He said, ‘All right, don’t come into work tomorrow. To night I’m gonna talk with Eldridge. Either he’s gonna buy me out, or I’m gonna buy him out.’" Eldridge had no money, so Calvin bought him out. He came to Jewel’s home and assured her parents that she could come back to work, and to further reassure them, he told them he had obtained a restraining order against Edith, forbidding her to enter the store. This was a serious commercial setback for Eldridge. The Ward 4 grocery he had co-owned with Calvin was a very successful operation, with several full-time employees and located in a good section of town. After Calvin bought him out, Eldridge ended up renting a much smaller store with a dirt floor in a poor African- American neighborhood, and that is the store everyone now remembers. A second psychodynamic layer in Virginia’s psyche to affect her adult sexual relationships was oedipal. Freud believed that every girl, at a deep unconscious level, wants to sleep with her father and kill her mother, the chief rival for her father’s romantic affections—just as every boy supposedly wants to sleep with his mother and kill his father. According to Freud, almost every conceivable mental problem is rooted in these types of conflicts. This sweeping view has been debunked. Indeed, if you want to pick a single factor that accounts for mental illness, you’re better off looking at genes rather than Greek myths. But while it may now seem laughable to think that oedipal conflicts explain everything, it doesn’t mean that they explain nothing. While I hesitate to invoke the Oedipus complex, since the entire discipline of psychobiography has fallen into disrepute largely because so many psychoanalysts reduced the actions of their famous subjects to this simple formula, there is good reason to emphasize oedipal dynamics here. While these dynamics affect every family to some degree, there is reason to believe that in Virginia Cassidy’s family they were of primary importance, since they fit what we know about both her development and her adult behavior. For example, all of Virginia’s sexual encounters I learned about involved a love triangle. Almost without exception, Virginia became involved with married men. This pattern is too consistent to be a matter of mere chance. If she were indiscriminately promiscuous, why not have sex with single men? At a deep unconscious level, there had to be a psychic reason why she was compulsively, systematically, and exclusively attracted to married men. While oedipal feelings are normal and universal, there are reasons why they became so intensified in Virginia. Even in a normal family, she would have been a"daddy’s girl," and there is nothing wrong with that. Neighbor Jenny Sue McKee told me,"Her daddy idolized her. So she was closer to her daddy than she was her mother." Virginia’s memories of her father are all warm ones. For example, though he had to leave for work to pick up his ice at 3:00 a.m., he always made sure to stop by the house to give a kiss to his little"Ginger"—a pet name for Virginia only he used."That was the highlight of my morning," she wrote.23 At the opposite pole, Virginia had an exceptionally cold and hostile relationship with her mother, whom she describes as someone with"a vindictive, manipulative mind," who would"stop at nothing" to hurt people she thought had betrayed her.24 Considering her mother’s nightly screaming fits, it’s not hard to understand Virginia’s feelings. While she lay listening to her mother shrieking, Virginia heard her father begging his wife to calm down for their daughter’s sake:"Please, please, the baby," he pleaded."Please, the baby has to go to school tomorrow. Please."25 While her father was trying to protect Virginia from her mother’s aggressive tirades, Virginia was lying in the dark wishing she could protect her father. The fact that she couldn’t drove her into a hateful rage:"It hurt me very much to lie there listening, hearing my sweet daddy pleading with her to calm down. . . . She would keep shrieking and sometimes she would lunge at him and try to hurt him physically. He protected himself, but he never took the offensive. I thought at the time, Why don’t you stand up to her, maybe strike her once? Maybe, just maybe, that might teach her a lesson. But he didn’t. [Emphasis in the original.]"26 We can’t blame Virginia for wishing physical violence on her mother. Her mother’s actions toward her father were among"the cruelest acts I’ve ever witnessed."27 She probably wouldn’t have minded striking Edith herself, if she could have. Likely, Virginia harbored the classical oedipal fantasy: If Edith were conveniently killed, she and her father could live in peace happily ever after. Which, under the circumstances, wasn’t an entirely unreasonable idea.Freud said that the intensity of oedipal feelings is naturally attenuated by the loving feelings every child feels toward their same- sex parent, the one that they are supposedly competing with. So, for example, while a three- year- old girl might tell her mother,"You can’t love Daddy. Daddy is mine," there are other times when the emotional pendulum swings the other way, and she wants Dad out of the picture so she can have Mommy all to herself. Freud called this the"negative Oedipus complex," and it offsets or counterbalances aggressive and competitive feelings toward the same- sex parent. The problem here is that Virginia had virtually no positive feelings for her mother that could offset her aggressive ones. In her memoir Virginia has virtually nothing good to say about her mother. Virginia Heath, her friend for almost fifty years, recalled,"Virginia never did speak real good of her mother. She and Virginia didn’t get along." According to Freud, parents have oedipal feelings as well. And it seems likely that in this family the oedipal triangle was not just a matter of Virginia’s fantasies, but an accurate description of the dysfunctional family dynamics. Though not overtly incestuous, there was a romanticized connection between Virginia and her father that, at the very least, bordered on the inappropriate, and Edith was jealous of their bond, all of which is illustrated by this story that Virginia recounts:"At four thirty in the morning, I felt somebody shaking my arm. ‘Baby,’ a man’s voice whispered. ‘Baby,’ I rolled over and squinted into the face of my father, who was smiling. ‘Come, go with me,’ he said. . . . Daddy would wake me early and want me to go have coffee with him at the little all-night café down the street. But of course this would make mother mad. ‘You let her sleep,’ she would tell him. . . . Between us there were no secrets, and these predawn hours were when we talked the most."28 Clearly, all three members of this family were deeply involved in this oedipal drama to an unhealthy degree. As Heath put it:"There was jealousy there. He was crazy about Virginia. And Virginia was partial to him. And Edith didn’t like it." Bill Clinton agreed:"Mammaw [Edith] had been hard on her [Virginia]. Perhaps because she was jealous that Papaw loved his only child so much."29Maybe Freud was wrong. Maybe every girl doesn’t want to marry her father and kill her mother, but this one did. If we braid these psychic strands together, Virginia’s adulterous adult behavior was driven by no less than at least four psychological components. First, on a psychodynamic level, Virginia had an unconscious attraction to love triangles, an oedipal desire to steal another woman’s husband, who in most cases also happened to be an older man. Second, she was modeling her mother’s infidelity. Third, she had a compulsion to reenact the nightly traumatic family ritual over infidelity. And, finally, at a biological level, her hypomanic temperament heightened all her drives, including her sex drive, to a pitch that made her prone to act on them. The resulting combination was a real femme fatale—a woman whose sexual behavior would be described as out of control by most people’s standards. A HOT ROCK Richard Fenwick, Virginia’s high school boyfriend, lives in the small Arkansas town of Camden, just north of the Louisiana border. Though he is eighty- five years old, Fenwick plays golf every day. He has a ruddy face with an impish grin, a shock of thick white wavy hair, and an offbeat, sly sense of humor."I bet you didn’t expect to meet a character like me," he chuckled. Fenwick and Virginia met in sixth grade."We both came from the wrong side of the tracks—the poor side of town. We were poor, real poor. We were so poor that my mother made me eat my cereal with a fork, so my brother could drink the milk. Now, that’s poor. And that’s a true story. My children don’t believe it, but it’s true."30 Fenwick, Virginia, and their other friends banded together to survive their Depression childhood."We grouped together and helped one another in our troubles." Fenwick recalled that despite her carefree demeanor, Virginia was no underachiever. Like Edith, Virginia was ambitious and focused."She knew from the very beginning that she wanted to be a nurse, and she knew that she would do it." Jenny Sue McKee recalled,"She was smart in school. She didn’t play around. She made good grades." She was a member of the National Honor Society, along with the science club, music club, library club, and press club. And she showed traits of leadership, being both a member of the student council and freshman class secretary. But the drive that was most intense in Virginia was her sex drive. She says that she"developed early" and"discovered boys early, too."31 In her high school yearbook, she"wills" to a friend"my magnetic attraction for boys," to which the editors of the yearbook added,"(Help us, please, if she turns it on full force)."32 She also developed a reputation for being"loose.""Hop-along Cassidy" was what one of her boyfriends nicknamed her, because he thought that Virginia Cassidy would hop into bed with just about anyone who came along.33 Fenwick described how their relationship evolved: "By ninth grade we got old enough to call it a date. For fifteen cents we had a Coke and a Lucky Strike cigarette, and that was a date." But if they could borrow his brother’s car, they "had a little more time alone." As Virginia mentions slyly in her memoir, the object of having a car "wasn’t necessarily transportation." Fenwick said,"If you want to put it plainly, she was one hot baby. If you unzipped your zipper, she’d beat you to the floor. She just loved it. She was crazy about it, the whole thing. It was real. It was physical. It was there. If there was a way to do it, we got it done. We’re talking about quite a gal. She was a hot rock. She was ready. Some women are just like that. I guess Bill Clinton inherited some of that." Though Fenwick became her steady high school boyfriend, Virginia would never allow herself to be fully tied to one boy. She wanted to play the field and refused to be contained by Fenwick’s jealousy, or anyone else’s. Virginia wrote,"There was a song out when I was young called ‘Don’t Fence Me In.’ I liked that song and I liked the ideas it conveyed. I dated several boys during my first couple of years in high school; I wasn’t jealous of them, and if any of them got jealous because I was going out with others, I crossed him off my list."34 Fenwick had to accept that"I was not the only cock in the walk. She had other dates." But he wasn’t happy about it. Conflict about fidelity made their relationship"kind of a love- hate thing." But he knew better than to try to control her. "She was a freewheeler. If she made up her mind she wanted to do something, she’d do it. She didn’t ask about whether you liked it or not." When she was still a high school student, Virginia began her habit of dating older married men. According to McKee, she dated a number of local businessmen:"For some reason, she particularly liked car dealers." McKee thought that if some people in town looked down on Virginia, it wasn’t because she was poor, as she claimed, but"because of how boy crazy she was, who she dated. She didn’t care whether they were married or not." At one point, Virginia began dating McKee’s youngest brother. When McKee’s father saw them together in Texarkana, he read his son the riot act:" ‘I’m gonna tell you right now, I don’t want you goin’ with that girl. I’m not gonna have it,’" he said. "I don’t think he had to say why," said McKee."It was Virginia’s reputation for running around and all." After Fenwick graduated from high school and before he left for the service in World War II, Virginia wanted to get married. Virginia wrote,"The house on Hervey Street [where she grew up] had a front porch with a swing, and Richard and I would sit out there for hours on end, talking and swinging, ruminating about our future . . . Most people in town expected us to get married someday, and I guess we did too."35 Virginia proposed, but Richard said no. "We knew—or I did—we’d never get along as man and wife," Fenwick told me. When I asked him why, he cited several reasons:"First of all, I was leaving for the war and felt like I was never coming back. And I remember telling Virginia, ‘That’s stupid. I’m getting ready to go overseas and get killed.’ I knew I was going to the Pacific Rim till the end of the war—if I lived." Then there was the practical problem that they had no money."I guess we would have made it OK in the bedroom, but we couldn’t afford a bed." But the last reason he declined her proposal was probably the most important: Fenwick just didn’t believe that Virginia was capable of remaining faithful to him for that length of time. He reasoned that if she was unfaithful while he was living in Hope, he could only assume that more of the same would go on when he was halfway around the world for an extended length of time."If I’m in New Guinea, Japan, or the Philippines, and she’s back here in nursing school . . . well, you know, dah, de, dah, dah, dah—a lot of things would have happened that I would not have been real pleased with. . . . There already was a lot of that going on." Though they weren’t married, the couple parted with some ill-defined understanding."Before we parted, Richard gave me a ring," she later wrote."It wasn’t an engagement ring exactly—more like an engaged- to-be-engaged ring. Richard says now that he must have gotten it from a Cracker Jack box, because we sure didn’t have the money to buy fine jewelry. But it didn’t matter. I loved it. The ring was the thing, its circle tying the future to the past. We kissed for the last time on my front porch swing, two kids about to discover that there are no guarantees in this old world."36 Excerpted from In Search of Bill Clinton by John D. Gartner.Copyright © 2008 by John D. Gartner.Published in 2008 by publisher St.Martins Press.All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.