Blursday – The 1988 Democratic National Convention

Abigail Phelps and John F. Kennedy Jr. have a plan. It involves John backing away from the Kennedy legacy. It involves convincing his family he doesn’t want to be in politics. It involves distancing themselves from John’s Uncle Ted, who will stop at nothing to get Abby out of the way and John in the White House. It involves John and Abby finally being together. It most definitely does not involve John speaking at the Democratic National Convention and helping the world to believe what they already wanted to believe: that John is the future of the party.

John messed up the plan.


In July of that year, Ted Kennedy asked John to introduce him at the Democratic National Convention. John first turned him down, but then Mrs. Onassis stepped in and told John, “This has nothing to do with politics. This is your family.” He assured me it would be a brief introduction which he didn’t even think would be televised. Of course I supported him and told him to do what he needed to do.

His last words to me before we hung up the phone the night before he spoke at the Convention were, “Don’t worry, Abby. I may be so bad at public speaking that the family decides I need to go into a new family business. What should it be? I could be a plumber maybe? Will you still marry me if I unclog drains for a living? Profiles in Plumbing anyone? Or would that be Plumbing in Courage?”

I laughed. “Remember rule number one, John. You must be able to find gainful employment. As long as you can do that, of course I’ll still marry you! But almost every job, even plumbing, requires some speaking, so don’t screw up too badly out there tomorrow night!”

We laughed, and he promised to call me after the Convention.

The next evening, I turned on the television, based on what he had said not really anticipating his part being televised, but I thought I would see, just in case.

Half an hour later, he was introduced, and the crowd went wild. He got a two-minute standing ovation before he ever opened his mouth, and once he did start speaking he went on to praise Uncle Teddy. I was in shock. “America is better because of the leadership of Edward Kennedy,” he said. But are our lives better, John? How could he stand at the podium of the biggest political rally in the world and praise the man who had torn us apart?

He was an amazingly good public speaker. What’s more, he looked damn near presidential. My heart had been stepped on.

Moments after he left the stage on my television screen, my phone rang. It was him, and he was completely fired up.

“Oh, Abby, it went so well. I can’t believe how well it went. It was actually really fun.” I wish I could have been happy for him.

“Yeah. You were great.”

“Oh, you saw it? Great! Did you see the reaction I got? I really didn’t expect it to be that much fun.” He was so caught up in the moment, and he had completely lost track of the big picture.

“I’m glad you had fun. Of course, that probably did set us back a bit in our five-year plan.” I was bitter, and I was so angry. I just didn’t understand what he was thinking.

“What? Oh!” He laughed. “No, don’t worry about that. This didn’t mean anything to anyone.”

I lost my cool. “Are you kidding me? You haven’t been hearing what they are saying. I’m looking right now at Tom Brokaw talking with political experts about how polished you were, and how much the crowd loved you, and how much enthusiasm you generated, and how you are the future of the Democratic Party!”

John was silent on the other end of the phone.

I, meanwhile, was still fuming. “Say something!”

“Maybe there is a way we can have it all, Abby. It might take a little longer than we thought, but maybe I can be in politics too.”

“I need to know right now if you are choosing politics over me, John. Right this minute, I need to know.”

“What? No, of course not! I love you. You’re all that matters to me. You know that!”

I breathed a sigh of relief. Okay. It would be okay.

He continued, “I just don’t think it’s really fair for you to tell me I can’t go into politics if that’s what I’m meant to do. The life of a public servant requires sacrifices, Abby. You and I are no different.”

“How dare you talk to me about sacrifices?” I seethed. I didn’t know if Ted was brainwashing him or if he was just riding high on the wave of the world loving him, but I wasn’t talking to the John I knew and loved. “I have done nothing but sacrifice to be with you. And now I’m not being fair? Go to hell, John.” I hung up the phone.

The phone rang again immediately, but I wasn’t about to pick up. His voice was suddenly on my answering machine. “Abby, pick up. Abby?” He waited. “I’m sorry I said that. I didn’t mean it that way. But I am feeling really drawn to running for office, and I would like to talk to you about it. Please pick up the phone, Abby.” He waited again. “Fine. Real mature, Phelps.” And he hung up the phone.

Moments later he was on my screen again, being interviewed by Connie Chung. She talked to him about how rare it was for him to speak publicly like that, and asked him why he had agreed to do it. “Because Teddy asked. That’s enough.”

I talked to my TV screen: “So if Teddy just nicely asks you to dump me, will that be enough, John?”

And then she asked him if he was interested in entering politics. I silently pleaded with him. Please, John. Please. Five-year plan. Now’s your chance. It was the biggest platform he was ever going to get.

But then I heard the words come from his mouth. “…I’ll see what happens…”

We were done. I felt betrayed and hurt and confused, and so very angry. I turned off the television and started kicking things and throwing pillows. I had never been so livid in my entire life.

When the doorbell rang, I huffed over to the door and threw it open without looking to see who it was first. It was Chris.

He looked in and saw the mess I was leaving in my wake. “I just wanted to check on you.”

Angry tears filled my eyes. “You saw?”

“I saw.” He looked like he wanted to comfort me, but anger was not my usual reaction and I don’t think he knew how. “Abigail, I am so sorry. But I’m sure he just got caught up in the moment, and…” Defending John was certainly not his usual reaction, and it was not something which came easily to him. And I really didn’t want to hear it.

“Just shut up, Chris.”

I pulled him roughly to me and kissed him. His lips instinctively met mine in their urgent plea for just a moment before he pulled away and held me at arms’ length.

“Don’t,” he whispered, looking down at the floor. “You will regret this.”

I knew he was right, and I didn’t care. I wanted to forget about John and I wanted to get out all of the frustration and the pain that came with waiting and being patient for something which was never going to be. “I’ll regret it? Won’t you regret it?”

“Are you kidding me?” A decade’s worth of wanting each other bubbled to the surface as his eyes met mine. “I could never regret being with you.”

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