Before there was a Michelle, there was Genevieve and Alex and other young women who had intimate relationships with the man who would become president. They are the focus of the latest Internet titillation, following the release by Vanity Fair of an excerpt from the forthcoming biography Barack Obama: The Story.
Obama’s story, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss explains in an interview with the magazine, takes “him, me and the reader literally around the globe — to his even unlikelier rise. ... The essence of this book is a search for home and identity.”
The Vanity Fair excerpt includes journal entries written by Genevieve Cook, a well-bred and somewhat bohemian young woman who grew up in a leafy Connecticut suburb. The man she encountered was not yet the cool, supremely confident and seemingly unflappable Barack Obama who enchanted millions of people around world in 2008.
Although he possessed the cocky but guarded demeanor that often frustrates congressional lawmakers today, he was then more a young man struggling to define himself. The two met in late 1983 and as their relationship proceeded Cook, who is white, recorded intimate details of their relationship and her perceptions of him and his internal conflicts:
Saturday, Feb. 19
Despite Barack’s having talked of drawing a circle around the tender in him—protecting the ability to feel innocence and springborn—I think he also fights against showing it to others, to me. I really like him more and more—he may worry about posturing and void inside but he is a brimming and integrated character.
Months later, Cook worried that Obama was too withholding. “When she told him that she loved him, his response was not ‘I love you, too’ but ‘thank you’—as though he appreciated that someone loved him,” Maraniss writes. Cook continued to express her growing doubts in journal entries.
Friday, March 9, 1984
It’s not a question of my wanting to probe ancient pools of emotional trauma…but more a sense of you [Barack] biding your time and drawing others’ cards out of their hands for more careful inspection—without giving too much of your own away—played with a good poker face…I feel that you carefully filter everything in your mind and heart—legitimate, admirable, really—a strength, a necessity in terms of some kind of integrity. But there’s something also there of smoothed veneer, of guardedness—but I’m still left with this feeling of—a bit of a wall—the veil.
Thursday, March 22
Barack—still intrigues me, but so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach. Guarded, controlled.
When the couple eventually broke up after a brief attempt to live together, Cook noted that she’d hoped that over time Obama would surrender and fall in love with him and mused about the kind of woman he’d ultimately end up with.
Thursday, May 23, 1985
I guess I hoped time would change things and he’d let go and “fall in love” with me. Now, at this point, I’m left wondering if Barack’s reserve, etc. is not just the time in his life, but after all, emotional scarring that will make it difficult for him to get involved even after he’s sorted his life through with age and experience. Hard to say, as obviously I was not the person that brought infatuation. (That lithe, bubbly, strong Black lady is waiting somewhere!)
Her name was Michelle.
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(Photo: UPI Photo/Obama Press Office/Landov)