Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
William Butler Yeats
Fifteen years ago today John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed his Piper Saratoga into the Atlantic Ocean as he began his descent onto Martha's Vineyard. The plane was also carrying Carolyn and Lauren Bessette. There isn't much to say, really. I said it all in my memoirs. But I do want to tell you that I'm actually doing okay this year. I think it helps that my story is now out there for everyone to read. Before you knew of the roles John and I played in each other's lives, I felt alone, unable to explain to anyone what was wrong. This year I've received countless e-mails and cards from you all, and I just appreciate that so much.
The second edition re-launch of my memoirs has included a re-branding of sorts. More than just a new title, although book one, which was previously titled Abigail Phelps has been renamed I've Loved These Days, which I much prefer. (My publishers wanted to name it Abigail Phelps the first time around to draw people in with my name, but I was just horrified to break up the Billy Joel theme which exists in I've Loved These Days, Scenes From Highland Falls, and Two Thousand Years. Though I am still holding out hope for "Abigail Phelps" by Billy Joel. Wouldn't be the first time he wrote me a song, would it?) The biggest change from the first edition to the second - besides the anecdotes and memories I added - is the focus back onto John and me. My life story really is the story of John and me, and I hope you'll spend some time reading about what my publishers are calling "the greatest love story the world has never known." I don't know about that. That seems a bit inflated to me. To me we were just John and Abby. But it is a pretty good story, and I think you'll enjoy it.
Thanks for stopping by. Thank you for thinking of me, and thank you for remembering John.
I'VE LOVED THESE DAYS
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while you are there!
BOOK THREE IN THE ABIGAIL PHELPS SERIES
I got on the interstate and drove to Providence, Rhode Island. I had driven that route so many times. I walked around the Brown campus for a few minutes and, maybe attempting to do myself in once and for all, I returned, for the very first time, to the tree where I fell in love with John. I walked around it, hoping for closure and healing, but it didn’t come. And the pain got much worse when I sat under the shade of the leaves, remembering everything about that day, and I glanced up toward the sky to look at the sun through the branches.
On one giant branch, reaching out with authority and power from the tree, I noticed something which knocked the air out of me, and yet filled me with such joy. You would have to be sitting in that exact spot in order to see it, but carved into that giant branch was “JFK + AKP.” Simple as that. He hadn’t done it that day - that much I knew - but he had done it. At some point, he had gone back to that tree and immortalized our love story. I stood and reached to touch it, but it was easily two feet out of reach, so I just stared at yet another symbol of John’s love for me.
And then I knew where my trek that day was taking me. He had led me as far as Brown, led me to the tree, and shown me his secret message. I had never really believed in the dead communicating with us, and I’m still not sure that I do, but that day I felt completely confident that John was guiding me on the path to saying goodbye.
I got back in the car and drove onto I-195 into Massachusetts. In a little under two hours I was riding on the Woods Hole - Vineyard Haven Ferry, crossing Vineyard Sound, and then I was at Martha’s Vineyard. I drove to various locations along the beach until I found what I was looking for. All along the coastline were hundreds and hundreds of bouquets of flowers, and crosses, and photos of John, Carolyn, and Lauren. There were hand-written notes and drawings. Hundreds, thousands of people had poured out their love for people they had never met, but felt like they knew intimately - especially John.
I was saying goodbye to the first man I loved. I stared out at the ocean, remembering sailboats and kayaks and summer days which John and I spent together. But I also couldn’t help but think of the Piper Saratoga spiraling into the very waters which were gently rushing to the shore, and running away just as tenderly as I cried.
I was heartbroken, but suddenly I was strangely at peace. I stared at the waters until the sun went down. It was starting to get cool, and when I had cried all I could, I stood and brushed the sand off of my pants and my hands and took one last look at the expressions of love from so many.
A woman with a golden retriever was jogging past, and she stopped to look at the notes and flowers. “Sad, isn’t it?” she said to me, not having a clue who I was.
“Yes,” was all I could say in response.
“Did you know him?” she asked.
I was surprised by that. “Yes, actually, I did.” I thought for a moment and then asked her, “Did you?”
She smiled sadly. “I was born on November 25, 1970 - his tenth birthday. Seven years to the day after President Kennedy’s funeral. Every year on my birthday, they showed pictures of him saluting his dad’s casket,” she said as her voice broke from the emotion. “So I always felt like I knew him pretty well.” She smiled at me and wished me a good night and jogged down the beach.
I turned with one last glance at the Atlantic and then went back to the car, saying goodbye to the man who had once been the boy all the world considered their own. Of course I know who you are, John, I thought with a smile as I drove into the New England night.