The Starr Report: The Leading Lady - Lewinsky left alone in limbo

HER IMAGE may be everywhere but today the whereabouts of the real Monica Lewinsky was a mystery.

Having vanished from public view, she can ponder the promise of millions of dollars from the book deal she has signed.

But her story is a complicated one. Fleeting moments of happiness were far outweighed by the wrenching emotions of frustration and bitterness felt by a woman who received far less than she was willing to give.

So what did she get, this former White House intern, with roving eyes, a taste for sexy underwear and older men? Basically she landed a prize beyond any young woman's fantasies: the attentions of the most powerful man alive.

But for Ms Lewinsky, it became far more than sex. She saw it as romance. "I never expected to fall in love with the President," she told Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor. "I was surprised that I did." Sadly, for her, she let herself believe that those feelings of tenderness, expressed in the many gifts she gave the President, would one day be fully reciprocated.

Ms Lewinsky's early encounters with the President barely went beyond the physical stage. But later, the relationship seemed to acquire a certain depth. A meeting in February 1996 yielded their first extended conversation about one another, and afterwards they started talking on the telephone regularly.

In all, they had about 50 such conversations. "We would tell jokes," Ms Lewinsky later testified. "We would talk about our childhoods, talk about current events. I was always giving him my stupid ideas about what I thought should be done in the administration."

It was Independence Day last year, when Ms Lewinsky's hopes soared. The day before she had written him a "peevish letter", complaining of his treatment. Back in the private office, adjacent to the Oval Office, she cried. He smoothed her hair and kissed her neck. Then he muttered: "I don't know, I might be alone in three years." Evidently taking this to mean he would divorce the First Lady, she replied: "I think we'd be a good team." And he continued: "What are we going to do when I'm 75 and I have to pee 25 times a day?" Her hopes proved to be delusions.

Even the sexual relationship, recounted in graphic detail by Mr Starr, has the unedifying air of adolescent fumblings in the back row of the cinema. The penultimate sexual encounter was the messiest of all, in a literal way that would later force Bill Clinton into making his limited admissions before the Starr grand jury.

The couple never undressed together, or least not entirely, so they could recover their composure quickly if anyone should stumble upon them. But with so many repeated episodes of intimacy - 10 acts of sex are recounted by Mr Starr, as well as 10 to 15 episodes of telephone sex - Ms Lewinsky's other grievance is not hard to understand. She wanted, just once, to have full intercourse with the man she thought she loved. She begged him during a phone conversation. He refused and they quarrelled.

When the affair - if not exactly a love affair - began, on 15 November 1995, She thought she had landed class. Oval Office class. But slowly, Monica began to fear she was a cheap toy and she would one day be thrown away. Eventually, she was. But rather than a toy, she turned out to be a grenade, and the force of the blast now threatens to blow the President away.

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