We Can Be Heroes
Monica stood in the bathroom and examined her Band-Aid, seeing the shallow slice it had absorbed moments earlier. Paper cuts on top of paper cuts, she thought to herself, sighing as she tugged the Band-Aid off, exposing the wrinkled, damp skin beneath. She started the faucet, running her finger under cool water as her mind drifted off toward thoughts of her day ending, when she’d get to go home, kick off her uncomfortable shoes, ditch her bra, and watch some television. But those feelings were quickly rinsed away by guilt another moment later. What I’m doing is patriotic. You work in the White House, Monica. The White House! Each of her paper cuts were sacrifices, however small they were. It was her duty to love this job.
As Monica delicately squeezed some Neosporin onto the tip of her finger, she heard a toilet flush in one of the stalls behind her. She glanced up to the mirror in front of her, spotting her newest friend, Linda Tripp, as she emerged into the larger room. The two women exchanged a smile as Linda made her way to the sink to wash her hands.
“Another paper cut?” Linda asked, smiling as she lathered her hands with soap.
“Not a new one. The Band-Aid got a paper cut, so I figured I should change it.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Linda replied as she started to rinse. “Washington was built by women like us, mortared with the blood of our little paper cuts.” She headed off for a paper towel as Monica started to wrap her finger with a fresh Band-Aid. “I’m late for a meeting, but call me tonight, okay?”
“Sounds good,” Monica answered as the two women shared another smile. “Talk to you then.”
Linda was the first friend Monica had made in Washington DC. She worked at the Pentagon, but she was at the White House almost daily, and started out in Monica’s job. She was many years older than Monica, but seemed wise beyond those years, and she loved her country with a level of passion Monica had hoped she could one day emulate. Linda Tripp had the passion of George Washington, the heart of Betsy Ross, the eloquence of Thomas Jefferson, and a nose that resembled the beak of an Eagle, making her the most all-American person Monica had met in the nation’s Capital. And each night, the two women would talk on the phone, sometimes for hours, while Monica absorbed every bit of Linda’s wisdom she could. It wasn’t easy to make friends in this city, or so her parents had told her repeatedly, and she felt lucky to have beaten those odds as quickly as she had.
Monica fixed her hair, then headed back to Leon’s office, her shoes clacking on the polished floor as she entered the hallway. She’d only walked maybe three or four steps before she heard a loud, cackling burst of laughter from behind her.
“Sweetie, you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe.” Monica stopped and looked down. The woman behind her was telling the truth. And her voice was incredibly familiar. It almost sounded like…
“Oh my God! Missus… I mean, Madame First Lady!” Monica had forgotten how the conversation even started. She was standing in front of one of her feminine heroes. This was Hillary Clinton! “It’s a pleasure… I mean, it’s an honor, to…”
“Oh, relax,” Hillary instructed, smiling as she gently grasped Monica’s arm. “What’s your name, dearie?”
“Me? I’m… I mean, my name…”
“Look out Hilldog, we’ve got ourselves a live one here!” Monica turned her eyes to see who was talking. This couldn’t be happening, could it? Was that really Madeleine Albright?
“Oh my God… Madeleine… Madame Madeleine… I mean, Madame Ambassador…”
“Have you girls ever seen someone this nervous before?” Monica could barely tell what was happening. She turned to see who this third woman was.
“Ruth… Ruth… Ruth…”
“… Bader Ginsburg. Yes, that’s my name.” The Supreme Court Justice let out a howling laugh. “And she’s Madeleine Albright, and she’s Hillary Clinton. Don’t pass out.”
“She’s gonna pass out!” Madeleine Albright chuckled.
“Now now, ladies, let’s not make the poor girl faint.” Hillary stepped forward, putting her other hand on Monica’s opposite shoulder. Hillary Clinton was now touching Monica with both hands. Was this a dream? “Monica Lew… how do you pronounce that?”
“It’s nice to meet you, Monica Lewinsky. I’m First Lady Hillary Clinton. That’s UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright.” Albright nodded, her face still contorted into a laugh-shaped smile. “And this elegant beauty is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
“My street name is Master-Bader,” Ginsburg shouted loudly enough to be inappropriate. Monica noticed the famed jurist had twisted her fingers together into a sort of “West Coast” gang symbol, like the ones the rappers in music videos would show. The slow, up-and-down gyration of her hand made Monica gruesomely uncomfortable.
“Are you new here, Monica?” Hillary asked, her polite, comforting tone reassuring Monica that she could breathe a little more and open up with these three iconic women.
“Yes, I… I just started here a week ago,” Monica answered, her mouth and brain finally remembering how to work together toward the shared goal of forming sentences. “I work for White House Chief of Staff Leon Pan…”
“Oh shit girl, you work for Panetta? He’s a dog,” Ruth interrupted. “You best watch that pretty ass of yours around him.”
“What? Leon? He’s a family friend, I’ve known him for…”
“Oh, I’m just messing with you girl.” Ruth turned to Madeleine, and the two started whispering and giggling with each other, both of them occasionally turning to look at Monica, their giggles growing louder when they did.
“Ignore these two, Monica. They like to make jokes and play around childishly,” Hillary explained. “It’s all just a way to let loose in this town, you know? A way to have a bit of fun. We ladies need to stick together. We need to have a code.” Hillary turned to look at her giggly friends. “Should we tell her about it?”
“You think she’s ready, Hilldog?” Madeleine asked, the smile evacuating her jaw.
“This bitch can’t handle it,” Ruth sneered.
It was time for her to step up. “I can too handle it!” Monica snapped back, hoping to show these women that she could run with the big dogs.
Hillary Clinton smiled, stepping in closely until her face was only a few inches away from Monica’s. Her eyes darted around cautiously before she began to speak. “I like you, Monica. You’re a nice young girl, and Washington needs more nice young girls. What I’m about to tell you is a secret. It’s the best-kept secret in all of Washington DC. Can I trust you with this, Monica? Can you keep a secret?”
Monica nodded slowly. “Yes, Madame First Lady.”
“Are you sure, Monica? Are you positive you can keep and protect this secret?”
Monica looked into Hillary’s eyes. She looked back at Ruth and Madeleine. The joking and laughter had utterly ceased, and all three women looked serious, professional, and proud, the way Monica had always envisioned these woman would look if she ever got to meet them. This was the real Hillary Clinton. The real Madeleine Albright and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “You have my word, Madame First Lady. I’ll take whatever you tell me to the grave.”
“Good.” Hillary took Monica by the hand. “Follow me.” With this, she quickly led her into the bathroom where Monica had fixed her Band-Aid just a minute or two earlier. Madeleine shuffled in behind them, ducking down to check for feet under the bathroom stalls, while Ruth locked the bathroom door, crossing her arms and striking a menacing guardsman’s pose next to the paper towel dispenser. A few seconds later, Madeleine winked at Hillary, signaling the all-clear.
“Are you sure you want to tell her, Hillary? I mean, are you absolutely sure she’s ready?” Ruth asked.
Hillary nodded to Ruth, then turned to look at Monica. “What about you? Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Okay, then.” Hillary looked back to her friends, then fixed her gaze on Monica once more. What I’m about to tell you is a Washington Secret dating back hundreds of years. Do you know who Dolley Madison was, Monica?”
“The First Lady?”
“Yes, she was a First Lady. The wife of America’s fourth President, James Madison. Dolley was a really strong woman. She was fiercely patriotic. Dolley Madison was America’s first feminist. But you won’t hear about that on your White House tours. It’s probably the best-kept secret in all of Washington DC. Do you smoke, Monica?”
“Oh, heavens no,” Monica replied, watching as Ruth pulled a pack of menthol cigarettes from the sleeve of her hefty black robe. She lit a cigarette for herself before tossing the pack to Hillary, who also lit a cigarette for herself.
“So, back in the year 1811, Dolley Madison did something special for the women of Washington DC. She started something that we continue straight through to this day. It’s a club, you might say. A very special club. A very secret club.” Hillary took a long drag from her cigarette before exhausting the smoke through her nose. “It’s a top-secret place, down beneath the White House Situation Room. We call it ‘The Koala Bar,’ and the most powerful women in American history have all met in that secret room, drinking strawberry daiquiris and cosmopolitans and other fancy cocktails, and discussing the most critical women’s issues of their times.”
“Why did they name it ‘The Koala Bar?'” Monica asked.
“It’s based on an old legend. Back in 1809, James Madison met a delegation from England, and they gave him a koala bear from an expedition in Australia. James gave that koala to Dolley Madison as a gift. Dolley loved that bear, and trained him to do tricks to entertain her friends and the White House’s guests. One of those tricks, or so the legend goes, was to mix drinks, so Dolley’s pet bear would tend bar for her and her lady friends, and they’d all laugh and watch while this cute little koala bear entertained them. They started calling it ‘The Koala Bar.’ The idea was that if the men heard them talking about it, the women could just say they were talking about Dolley Madison’s koala bear. They kept the secret alive for centuries under that guise. We still use it today. And now, so will you.”
Hillary walked into a stall, dropping her half-smoked cigarette into the toilet below before walking back out to continue her speech. “The Koala Bar is a very important place, Monica. Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Sandra Day O’Connor… America’s most powerful women have all called The Koala Bar home. And now, it’s your turn. We go there, we drink, we get foot rubs from handsome shirtless men, and we discuss politics and broker deals. There really is no place else in all of Washington DC, no place else in the world, quite like it. And when I look at you, Monica, I see a powerful young woman, destined for great things. We need women of your caliber. Young women who can shake things up and help us envision a brighter future. Will you do that for us, Monica? Will you help us make America’s future brighter?”
“Yes, of course! It would be an honor, Madame First Lady!”
“Good.” Hillary moved in close once again, her lips coming to rest just centimeters from Monica’s ear. What followed were a strict set of important instructions, as well as the group’s secret password.
“Good. Go now, Monica.”
“But Leon is expecting me…”
“Leon can wait. The Koala Bar can’t. This is a once-in-a-lifetime offer, Monica. You have to take it right now, or not at all.” With this, Hillary made for the door, which Ruth unlocked, and together, the three most famous and empowering women in Washington DC flanked each other back into the West Wing hallway.
This was important. She had to make a good first-impression, and she had to show just how passionate she could be. Monica cleared her head for a moment, then quickly made her way downstairs, following Hillary Clinton’s instructions to the letter, her heart filled with a level of confidence she never knew herself to be capable of possessing.
A few minutes later, she was standing just outside the White House Situation room. Dressed Marines and uniformed Secret Service agents eyed her up and down as she walked up to the desk just outside the famed command center. The guard grimaced at her, probably detecting how nervous she was. This was her chance. This was the moment Monica Lewinsky became a Washington DC insider. But only if she got this next part right. She had to recite the password perfectly and not miss a syllable.
Monica balled her right hand into a fist. The Secret Service guard was asking her questions, but she wasn’t hearing them. She had to get this right. It had to be perfect. She replayed Hillary Clinton’s instructions in her mind one more time for clarity, and then shot her right fist up into the air above her head, sucking in all the air she’d need to shout the top secret password. This is it… here it goes… remember to yell it loud and yell it fast!
“KOALA AT BAR!” Monica screamed.
Suddenly, it felt like every gun in America was pointed at her face. Secret Service agents barked orders at her, but she couldn’t process what they were saying. Two Marines tackled her to the floor, but they weren’t rubbing her feet. They tricked me, Monica thought to herself in that instance. They think I’m a terrorist! This was… this was a joke. A practical…
The butt of a rifle drove the remainder of that sentence, and her whole line of thought, out of her head the way a hammer drives a nail. She could hear three women laughing their cackling laughs as the world went black.