Me and Jack? Are you kidding? We were like brothers. Not actual brothers – that would make me a Kennedy, and frankly, I can do without that curse stuff. No, we were closer than that. We were like conjoined twins. We shared a brain and physically you couldn’t tell (or tear) us apart. We’d wear one big sweater with ‘H’ for Harvard stamped on the front. When Jack smoked a smuggled Cuban cigar, it’d be my lungs that suffered.
Nixon used to say me and Jack were “thick as thieves”. “Like you and Howard Hunt?” I’d say, but Nixon never laughed. Nixon never laughed at anything, except Kissinger. He blamed me for 1960. Thought I’d helped Jack buy the election. The guy was so bitter about it. “Dick, I’m so poor I can’t buy my own food,” I told him, “let alone an election.” But you know Dick, he never trusted anyone.
Bobby was jealous of me and Jack. He didn’t like how we were inseparable. Jack and I teased him, and called him Booby, which we thought was the funniest thing we ever heard. Booby didn’t agree and tried to have me put away for being a red. It never washed. Not even when Booby’s pal Joe McCarthy lent me a pair of J. Edgar’s scarlet panties and I wore them all summer long. Poor Booby. He was much shorter than Jack and so much brighter.
Teddy never minded me so much. He thought Jack needed a confidante. He said, “John-John’s real shy. Can you introduce him to some of those women of yours? Pop says it’ll be good for his confidence.”
So I did what I could, you know. Jack would ask me for tips, and I’d tell him how to improve his image, how to attract people, find himself a girl. I was responsible for the hairstyle. Before we met, his mother Rose cut his hair round a pudding bowl. It was embarrassing. I said, “Jack, you want to be President, right? A global icon? Just follow my example.” He was so sweet, so desperate to be loved.
Now, as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Jack’s assassination, I miss him more than ever. I catch myself remembering things long forgotten. Like the time we first met, and played a game of touch football on the lawn at Hyannis Port. Jack was such a crock he could hardly stand up. I showed him how to throw a perfect spiral and lent him a white T-shirt and a pair of Ray-Bans. I took a picture of him looking athletic before he collapsed into the wheelchair and the nurses took him away. He was the picture of health. Booby and I stood in the makeshift end-zone and talked mafia.
Joe Snr. (“Mr. K”) begged me to go into politics. I was like another son to him, and he’d torment me repeatedly, pointing out my every failure. He told me it wasn’t who you were that mattered, but who people thought you were. It was good advice, only with me it hardly mattered, and Mr. K admitted as much. “Some people just have it all,” he said. “You should be President, not one of these no-good kids of mine.” But I lacked political ambition. I never wanted to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war and then save it. What’d be the point?
When Jack became President, we partied like there was no second term. I was so proud of what I’d done for him. He held my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Without you, I’d be nothing.” I loved that mono-tonal voice, and I’d mercilessly rip the piss out of it. I introduced Jack to Marilyn, Grace, and Judith Exner. “But I’m a married man,” he said. “Inga Binga?” I laughed. “No! Jackie!” “Booby and I will take care of that.” We did, just like we did Marilyn.
When I wrote my trilogy of novels – PT-109, Why England Slept, and Profiles in Courage – I never expected they’d prove so popular. It helped, I guess, that I put Jack’s name on the cover. Joe Snr. had insisted on it. “You’re the talent,” he said. “But Jack’s the son of a rich bootlegger-ambassador, and publishing being what it is… ” I understood, and enjoyed making up the stories. “As long as I get fed,” I told Joseph, who smiled and patted me on the back. “You’ll go far, kid.”
The Thousand Days were the best I’d ever known. We were like kids in a candy shop, running around the Oval Office, giddy with excitement. McNamara, LBJ, they hated me. They’d call me “The Plumber”, because I should’ve worked with toilets, or so they thought. What did I care? I had the ear of the President. I’ve still got it, in fact, locked in a safe.
On the subject of Jack’s death, I have little to say. Frankly, I am sickened by the industry of conspiracy theories. I’ve read the Warren Commission report and all those books by Anthony Summers, I’ve watched the films by Abraham Zapruder and Oliver Stone, and I still maintain that Gary Oldman acted alone from the window of that book depository.
But some people can’t help smelling a rat. They look at me and ask how Jack and I could’ve been so close even though, technically, Jack passed on to the great bordello in the sky many years before I was born. “That’s just detail,” I say. “Jack never cared for detail. You’re missing the bigger picture.”
People always miss the bigger picture. The fact is I gave Jack everything he had. Except the venereal disease, that I know nothing about. People just can’t accept how, in the end, there are some things thicker than blood. Just look at Dubya.
In the final analysis, it’s just as Jack always used to say: “You can’t choose your family, but at least you can choose your imaginary friends.”
© Dominic Hilton, 2013
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2003, to mark the fortieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination. I have updated it here accordingly (by changing ‘or’ to ‘if’).