THE WOMEN STOOD in a corner. They sipped their drinks and maybe smoked cigarettes and maybe there was a piano nearby. I can't remember. This happened some time ago and all I can recall for sure is how they stood alone at a party, talking for once about Chappaquiddick, saying in a vehement way how unfair the whole thing was. I stopped to listen. After all, they had been there that night with Kennedy.
The two of them talked. Others hung back and pointed them out as if they were celebrities of sorts. People would nod in their direction and whisper their names and always the names would ring a bell.
You could see the smile of recognition and then the nod of the head and then some more whispering as if the persons under discussion had some vague scandal about them - something like insanity in the family or a wandering spouse or maybe past membership in the Communist Party.
It has always been this way for them. Now, of course, it is a bit worse. The 10th anniversary of the Chappaquiddick accident is being celebrated at supermarket checkouts stands across the country-article after article in the tabloids and the weeklies.
Always they show pictures of the women-the pictures taken 10 years ago. They look silly in their minis, their hair sprayed stiff, and they are always shown going in or out of some courthouse-terrified, awkard, guilty-looking, eyes always averting the stares of the camera.
It is hard now looking at those pictures to see the two women as they talked that night. They look better with age. They look smarter, more sophisticated. I know them both. One of them had never mentioned Chappaquiddick to me. She was involved in politics, working for some politicians, and I had to interview her. Before we met, I was not to raise the subject of Chappaquiddick-not even to mention it.
People were always saying they wanted to interview her about politics when all they really wanted was to ask about Chappaquiddick. She was like a dumb blond being told she was valued for her wit. So we never discussed it. We'd meet here and there over the years and we never mentioned it. But always when someone would ask who it was I had just been talking to, I would say she was one of the girls at Chappaquiddick.
But on this particular evening, they were both talking about it. They talked right in front of me, which surprised me, but I said nothing. In my head I took out my little reporter's pad and made mental notes, pressing down hard and squinting my eyes so I could retain the image. They were angry. They were talking about how unfair the whole thing had been and when they finished they sort of shot me a look and I felt ashamed.
It's hard for me now to remember exactly what I once thought of the women who had been on the island with Kennedy and his friends. I suppose I thought the worst. I suppose I though they were bad girls-bad girls being something that existed back in '69. Know I didn't think the men were bad - just the girls. Back in 1969, this made sense. At least it made sense to men, and men by and large wrote the Chappaquiodick story.
This is what the two women talked about that night. There is a stigma attached to them that has never, with the exception of Kennedy himself, been applied to the men - a terrible double standard. It is always their picture that gets printed in the magazines and they are always the subject of those where-are-they-now stories.
They are used to introduce the element of sex - as if the men would not do as well. It is a way of saying that this is what Chappaquiddick was all about because the women could not have been on the island for any other purpose. The fact that they had earned their right to be there, that they were as much political veterans as the men, is somehow overlooked. If the five remaining women, for instance, three are lawyers, one is a lobbyist and one is what US Magazine called a "toughmined literary agent" - as if there is another kind.
What all this does, of course, is obscure the fact that Chappaquiddick is more than a sex scandal, if it was ever that at all. It turns a tragedy into something of a soap opera and distracts us from the real issue, which is not what Edward Moore Kennedy was doing in that car, but what he did afterwards - the delays in reporting the accident, the contradictory statements.
The women know nothing. All they know is that 10 years after the event they are as haunted by the incident as Kennedy. His crime was leaving the scene of an accident. He paid his fine and resumed his life and people seem willing to forgive him.
It is not the same for the women. At the party that night, they were in agreement. Their crime was being women. They are still serving their sentence.