A Child Seeks A Confidante In 'Hillery'
Back in the early '90s, Sound Effect contributor Arwen Nicks was just 10 years old. But as it turns out, she might have been far too grown up for her own good. While a lot of 10-year-olds might be writing letters to movie stars or musicians or athletes that they admire, 10-year-old Arwen was writing letters to Hillary Clinton.
We moved from Los Angeles to Phoenix when I was 8. My parents divorced after my mother danced in and out of rehabs and asylums for a few years. And when my father won custody, he moved us closer to his family in Arizona.
I decided I was the reincarnation of John Lennon -- I wore fringe vests and flashed the peace sign as my salutation and nobody argued with my coping mechanism.
Four hours into my first day of fourth grade, I was sent to the principal’s office for listening -- I had done the jumping jacks that I was told to do in PE, despite my broken foot. I was a good kid.
My dad took me on all his first dates and would always ask me what I thought: Did she laugh at the right times? Was she nice to the server? Did she talk enough? Did she talk too much?
I’d have some ice cream and he’d smoke some Winstons and I always got to decide if there would be a second date. I was the kind of child adults loved -- and I had no friends.
I felt shunned at school. I didn’t play tennis or go to church, and when the word got out that my family was Buddhist, my teacher asked me if I needed to leave the room during the Pledge of Allegiance. Then a girl named Golfo spread a rumor that we sacrificed goats at my house.
At recess, I’d sit in the field. Sometimes I’d be invited to listen to a girl named Chandra retell what happened on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" that week.
And I’d pretend like I wasn’t allowed to watch it so that I could be enthralled like the other kids. But I had seen it. And I wasn’t enthralled.
I had no idea how to talk to children.
I remember a lesson about the elections and the presidents and getting assigned to write a letter to President Clinton. I decided not to write to Bill.
I wrote to Hillary.
It was 1993 and America was obsessed with Hillary Clinton -- but nobody seemed to like her.
I was only 9, but I liked her. Her hair seemed clean and she seemed smart and she also had a cat named Socks and I had never had a cat. I did have a dog that I named Susan Socks.
So I wrote her a letter asking questions about her cat and a month or so later got a picture of Socks in the mail. There was a paw print signature stamped on it and I thought it was very impressive.
I decided to write to Hillary again. This time I asked her if she had seen the movie "Benny and Joon" and if she had liked it. I told her that she probably should watch it because it seemed very important. I handed the letter to Mrs. Shoebacher and I waited for my response.
A few months went by; Chandra invited me over for a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" slumber party and I went and I didn’t cry and spoke to at least two children and all of the adults.
A girl named EgdaParedez started at my school and asked to sit next to me. She was my first real friend --ever.
I asked her if she liked Hillary Clinton and she said, “Sure.”
I wrote to Hillary and told her about Egda and invited her to a sleepover.
Fourth grade ended without any more letters from Hillary. It was summer. My dad wasn’t working, so I got to spend all day with him.
I wrote Hillary again and this time I included a drawing.
The letter reads -
June 10th, 1993
Dear Miss Clinton,
I would love it if you would come to Phoenix Aug 1 - 5th because my birthday is on the 2nd and it would be the best day of my life. You are the most powerful woman in the world and I want to be just like you able to be help-full to the world and make a powerful statment. Help kids, help schools and go publike.
i'll be ten.
and your in vited to my birthday party.
your great fan and supporter
Pretty cute right?
The drawing is the best part: Hillary is in the center but I’ve spelled her name wrong - it says, "Go Hillery" -- H-I-L-L-E-R-Y.
She’s standing, wearing pearls and there is a banner above her that says, “I am woman hear me roar. I am stronger than Al Gore.”
Behind her you see Bill Clinton who I seem to have drawn in the kitchen, which I labeled, "kitchen" and he is either loading or unloading a dishwasher.
Hillery has a talk bubble that reads, “Bill, leave me alone I am ruling the U.S.” he responds, from the kitchen, “Yes, dear.”
I handed the letter to my dad to send to the White House.
I’d seen the news and I knew the first lady was busy, but this was the letter that was going to be the one that got her to sleep over.
I felt it. It was all about compromise. And I had given her months to get her schedule in order. But she never wrote back.
For Clinton’s second run for president I was the single Rock-the-Voter at my middle school.
I learned about oral sex from CNN.
I watched the world watch Hillary.
Then the world stopped watching her.
And I stopped watching her.
I delivered a lot of pizzas.
I started drinking.
I dropped out of five colleges.
I moved to Seattle.
I dropped out of two more colleges.
One night at a restaurant I got to meet Bill Clinton and was so starstruck the only words I could get out were “Thank you for democracy.” He smiled at me.
I was wearing a blue dress.
I started working in public radio.
My dad got sick and I flew home to see him and he gave me “this adorable thing” he found the other day.
It was my letter to Hillary.
I was livid.
“I can’t believe you didn’t send this!” I could hear that teenage tone in my voice, the tone that seems to be reserved for my father, despite the fact that he may be the only person that has ever really loved me.
“Honey,” he said, “it was too cute.”
I ended up with an invitation to go, with my father, to Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday gala in Los Angeles. It was 2011.
I bought something black, used my grandmother’s old Anne Klein clutch. Didn’t wear earrings because I couldn’t figure out how to make them look classy with my “I just figured out I am gay” asymmetric haircut.
I had the letter in my purse.
Our table was in the back because it was a kind favor from a gracious cousin for us to be there at all. We ate and drank and the band played. People gave speeches.
My father was gleeful. He can’t believe he is in a room with these people.
He says, “Look it’s Jane Fonda!” He said it so loud.
“I know, Dad.”
I felt like the adult, but only in the way that he seemed to be having a lot more fun.
I was waiting for the night to get to the point where the Clintons would walk from table to table and thank people. I open my purse and check the letter. I’ve put it in an envelope but didn’t seal it shut because I wanted to watch her open it. I was sure she’d love it.
My father grabbed my hand to walk us toward Bill Clinton. He sauntered up to, then walked between two Secret Service agents, and shook Bill Clinton’s hand using both of his.
I stayed behind the wall of suits that protects the President and smiled at my dad smiling.
Then I saw Hillary.
I was 30, and then 10, and then barely two feet away from her. The paper of the letter was so thin in my hands and it felt special. I looked at her and was not sure she would love it.
My father made his way over to me and I asked him if we could go. He didn’t ask if I was ok. Didn’t question me at all. He just put his arm around me and we headed for the door. In the car, I asked my dad if I could smoke and he rolled down the window. He quit when he had heart surgery.
Grabbing for my cigarettes he could see the letter in my purse.
“You didn’t give it to her?”
“No,” I said. “It’s just too cute.”