NEW YORK — To a fascinated outside world, Huma Abedin was always the elegant woman standing at the back of the room, not speaking.
An ever-loyal aide to her boss of 25 years, Hillary Clinton, for whom she would “walk to the ends of the earth.” (Spoiler alert: she still would.) And an ever-suffering wife to Anthony Weiner, who brought her endless public shame in cascades of scandal. (Spoiler alert: it was as bad as we thought.) Always there, and always silent.
“I’m ready for this,” she told The Associated Press in an interview last week, almost literally rolling up her sleeves in anticipation of the release of her new memoir, “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds,” out Tuesday. “I’m actually not nervous!” Abedin, 46, says she is finally telling her own story after years of reading other versions, and it’s a relief: “I’m feeling really good.”
In a jam-packed volume of just under 500 pages, Abedin, born in Michigan to Muslim academics from India and Pakistan and raised largely in Saudi Arabia, dissects and illustrates three relationships that have framed her life.
First: her family, especially her adored late father, who died before she started college and whose advice on being true to herself, scrawled in a handwritten note, begins the book.
Second is Clinton, whom Abedin has served her entire professional life, through the first lady years to the Senate, from the State Department to that turbulent presidential campaign in 2016, and still today. And third, the section to which all readers will quickly turn: her husband. In the book, she does not hold back. Nor did she in the interview.
“You know, he broke my heart,” she said. “He ripped it out and stomped on it, over and over again. And I lived in so much shame for so long, so confused, so alone, not really knowing the way out, just trying to do what was best for my child.”
The couple is not yet divorced, though lawyers are in the final stages, Abedin said – a full 10 years after Weiner’s sexting scandal first upended her life. Abedin had married the New York congressman, a rising political star, a year earlier and was in the early, blissful stages of pregnancy when, she writes, her world came crashing down with an obscene photo that Weiner intended for a woman but mistakenly sent on his Twitter feed.
He resigned from Congress, but launched a mayoral bid two years later – a forgiving Abedin at his side – and seemed headed toward victory when the scandal surfaced anew, with more revelations of sexting under the can’t-make-this-up moniker of “Carlos Danger.”
And then scandal erupted a third time, when a lurid photo surfaced of Weiner lying next to the couple’s son. Abedin announced a separation. But the couple continued to live in the same home, on different floors. Why, asked the tabloids, and others more politely, did she stay?
People will make their own judgments, she told the AP. “But when you’re IN it, you’re not thinking in terms of the grand plan. You’re just trying to get through the day.” Weiner, she says, was a hands-on dad who did pickups and made playdates. And their son needed him.
Of course, that same question - why did she stay? - was lobbed at Hillary Clinton during the impeachment scandal involving her husband and Monica Lewinsky. Abedin thinks the world missed the obvious explanation: “She did it because she believed it was the right thing to do for herself and her family - and for her country.”
Throughout, Abedin’s rock-solid allegiance to Hillary Clinton is paramount. “You’ve stumped me,” she says when asked if the two ever had a real dispute.
Unless you include certain fashion choices. Like a puffy, unflattering black coat Clinton seemed to favor, and Abedin so disliked, she even tried to hide it from her. But Clinton fished it out and wore it to the inauguration of George W. Bush.
There are other humorous moments in the book - like the time the first lady overslept, and an over-eager Abedin, tasked with getting her started on her day, actually walked into the pitch-black presidential bedroom and shook her boss awake, startling the sleeping president as well.
There’s also the time Abedin, amid a bad public moment with Weiner, was approached by a woman in a store, pointing to a newspaper photo. She braced as always for a hateful remark, and was delighted to realize the woman simply thought she was Amal Clooney.
Abedin got so used to bracing for bad news, she initially thought of calling her book “Bracing.” But nothing could have prepared her for the moment, late in the 2016 campaign, when FBI director James Comey (briefly) reopened the investigation into Clinton’s emails because of Abedin emails found on Weiner’s laptop through his sexting investigation.
“‘If she loses this election, it will be because of you and me,’” a livid Abedin told Weiner.
When Clinton did lose, it was “a great trauma that took me a very long time to process,” she says now. “I did feel responsible.” Finally, though, she came to believe the burden should rest on Comey. She says Clinton herself never blamed her.
The shame Abedin experienced through Weiner’s behavior makes for the most honest, visceral writing in the book. She was subjected to a child services investigation. Social invitations were withdrawn. A neighbor complained when the couple used their building’s swimming pool for their son’s birthday.
And yet in the book’s acknowledgements, Abedin includes a thank-you. To Weiner.
Asked why, she explains that she came to believe through joint therapy that her husband suffered from an illness, that his behavior was compulsive.
And, she says, he gave her a son - “my reason for living now.”
Finally, and most surprisingly: It’s about love. “I know what it’s like to be loved,” she says. “I’ve had it. It was short, it was very fleeting, but it’s a pretty extraordinary experience … And he is the only man who ever gave that to me.”
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