Bill Clinton was hard to miss in the autumn of 1970. He arrived at Yale Law School looking more like a Viking than a Rhodes Scholar returning from two years at Oxford. He was tall and handsome somewhere beneath that reddish brown beard and curly mane of hair. He also had a vitality that seemed to shoot out of his pores. When I first saw him in the law school's student lounge, he was holding forth before a rapt audience of fellow students. As I walked by, I heard him say: "...and not only that, we grow the biggest watermelons in the world!" I asked a friend, "Who is that?"
"Oh, that's Bill Clinton," he said. "He's from Arkansas, and that's all he ever talks about."
We would run into each other around campus, but we never actually met until one night at the Yale law library the following spring. I was studying in the library, and Bill was standing out in the hall talking to another student, Jeff Gleckel, who was trying to persuade Bill to write for the Yale Law Journal. I noticed that he kept looking over at me. He had been doing a lot of that. So I stood up from the desk, walked over to him and said, "If you're going to keep looking at me, and I'm going to keep looking back, we might as well be introduced. I'm Hillary Rodham." That was it. The way Bill tells the story, he couldn't remember his own name.
We didn't talk to each other again until the last day of classes in the spring of 1971. We happened to walk out of Professor Thomas Emerson's Political and Civil Rights course at the same time. Bill asked me where I was going. I was on the way to the registrar's office to sign up for the next semester's classes. He told me he was heading there too. As we walked, he complimented my long flower-patterned skirt. When I told him that my mother had made it, he asked about my family and where I had grown up. We waited in line until we got to the registrar. She looked up and said, "Bill, what are you doing here? You've already registered." I laughed when he confessed that he just wanted to spend time with me, and we went for a long walk that turned into our first date.
We both had wanted to see a Mark Rothko exhibit at the Yale Art Gallery but, because of a labor dispute, some of the university's buildings, including the museum, were closed. As Bill and I walked by, he decided he could get us in if we offered to pick up the litter that had accumulated in the gallery's courtyard. Watching him talk our way in was the first time I saw his persuasiveness in action. We had the entire museum to ourselves. We wandered through the galleries talking about Rothko and twentieth-century art. I admit to being surprised at his interest in and knowledge of subjects that seemed, at first, unusual for a Viking from Arkansas. We ended up in the museum's courtyard, where I sat in the large lap of Henry Moore's sculpture Draped Seated Woman while we talked until dark. I invited Bill to the party my roommate, Kwan Kwan Tan, and I were throwing in our dorm room that night to celebrate the end of classes. Kwan Kwan, an ethnic Chinese who had come from Burma to Yale to pursue graduate legal studies, was a delightful living companion and a graceful performer of Burmese dance. She and her husband, Bill Wang, another student, remain friends.
Bill came to our party but hardly said a word. Since I didn't know him that well, I thought he must be shy, perhaps not very socially adept or just uncomfortable. I didn't have much hope for us as a couple. Besides, I had a boyfriend at the time, and we had weekend plans out of town. When I came back to Yale late Sunday, Bill called and heard me coughing and hacking from the bad cold I had picked up.
"You sound terrible," he said. About thirty minutes later, he knocked on my door, bearing chicken soup and orange juice. He came in, and he started talking. He could converse about anything -- from African politics to country and western music. I asked him why he had been so quiet at my party.
Copyright © 2003 by Hillary Rodham Clinton. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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