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 tells The Associated Press in an interview, almost literally rolling up her sleeves in anticipation of the release of her memoir, “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds,” on Tuesday. “I’m actually not nervous!” Abedin, 46, says she’s relieved to be finally telling her own story, after years of reading everyone else’s version. “So 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 the three relationships that have framed her life.
First up: her family, with a special focus on her adored late father, who died before she started college and whose advice about 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 does she in the interview.
“You know, he broke my heart,” she says. “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.”
Despite many reports to the contrary, the couple is not yet divorced, though lawyers are in the final stages, Abedin says — 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,” a development excruciatingly recounted in the searing documentary “Weiner.” (Abedin, who appears in shock throughout, has never watched the film.)
And then, scandal erupted a third time when a lurid photo surfaced of Weiner lying next to the couple’s toddler 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?
Abedin is now explaining. A lot had to do with the day-to-day realities of being a parent, and making sure her son had two of them — especially after she’d lost her own father early on.
People can 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 lunches and scheduled playdates. And their son needed him.
It’s also instructive to learn that Weiner was the first man in Abedin’s life. “He was my first love,” she says. “The first man I had ever been with. And once I had become a mother, it really did become about my child. I didn’t have a choice about not having my father in my life, and I wasn’t going to do that to my kid.”
Of course, that same question — why stay? — was lobbed at Hillary Clinton, during the impeachment scandal involving her husband and Monica Lewinsky. Abedin thinks the world missed the obvious explanation, because it was too simple: “She did it because she believed it was the right thing to do for herself and her family — and for her country.”
Asked if she looks back at the scandal differently through a #MeToo lens, Abedin notes her allegiance was always to Hillary. As for Bill: “There was no excusing his behavior. But he would be the first to say that.”
Speaking of #MeToo, one episode in the book has gotten much attention, but takes up only a few paragraphs. Abedin recounts that a U.S. senator, whom she doesn’t name, invited her to his apartment for coffee and kissed her forcefully, then apologized when she rebuffed him, saying he’d misread her. Abedin never describes it as an assault, and doesn’t name the senator.
Throughout, Abedin’s unstinting allegiance to Hillary Clinton is paramount. She recalls thinking, early on: “I would walk to the ends of the earth if you asked!!” Asked if the two ever had a dispute in all those years, she replies: “You’ve stumped me.”
Except certain fashion choices. Like an overly puffy black coat Clinton seemed to favor, and Abedin so disliked she actually tried to hide it, without success: 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 day started, actually tiptoed into the pitch-black presidential bedroom and shook her boss awake, startling the sleeping president as well, and creating a ruckus.
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. Bracing for a hateful remark, she was delighted to realize the woman thought she was Amal Clooney.
Indeed, so accustomed had Abedin become to bracing for bad news, she initially called her book “Bracing.” But no amount of bracing could have prepared her for the moment, late in the 2016 campaign, when her two worlds collided to disastrous effect. 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. Finally, though, she came to believe the burden should rest on Comey, not her. She says Clinton herself never blamed her. (She also didn’t ask her to leave anything out of the book, Abedin says.)
The shame Abedin experienced through Weiner’s behavior is the most absorbing part of the book, and the hardest to read. She was subjected to a child services investigation, with the threat of her son being removed. Social invitations were withdrawn. A neighbor complained when the couple used their building’s swimming pool for their son’s birthday.
And yet in her book’s acknowledgements, Abedin includes a thank-you. To Weiner.
Asked why, she explains she came to believe through joint therapy that her husband, who went to prison in 2017 for sexting with a 15-year-old girl, suffered from an illness, that his behavior was “not controllable, but 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.”