D.C. Unmasked & Undressed, the memoir of Lillian McEwen, a former judge and ex-girlfriend of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, hits the shelves March 5. But, as the author told the AFRO, this book is definitely not for the G-rated crowd. While the tale chronicles the often painful journey of the writer from the despair of a dysfunctional, abusive home to the travails and triumphs of a Capitol Hill and judicial career, it is a trail marked with sex – lots of it. And Thomas figures prominently – literally and figuratively – in this tale. McEwen gushes over Thomas’ prowess and “fantasy ,” describing his body as “coffee-bean … velvet-covered cement.”

He was a “national treasure,” she said, one she shared with other women in ménages à trois and in a voyeuristic pleasure palace. And she described her then-lover as being “easily aroused,” with a “strong interest in pornography.”

In a one-on-one interview with the AFRO, McEwen shared her thoughts about Thomas, about love and lust, mental illness, suicide and about evil and the will to survive it.

AFRO: So I’m guessing that this book is going to make retirement more exciting.
LM: Most definitely

AFRO: At the end of your book you seem to suggest why you wrote it, but what were your reasons? And why now?
LM: It’s a book that I had always planned to write and had always been pressured to write. I never understood why it was that my friends and family kept saying, ‘You’ve got to write a book, Lillian.’ And really it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realized that my life was kinda unusual. I wasn’t really thinking of it that way while I was living it. The impetus for my retirement was really the same as the impetus for writing the book as a catalyst. And that is, one of my best friends in life had died and it made working at the position I had very difficult. And then my mother was dying at the same time. My brother died within a few weeks of my mother’s death and it just seemed like it was time to assess my life and figure out for myself what was important. It was also time to relieve a lot of stress that I had been feeling for many years from the pressure of reporters, the pressure of a public description of what our relationship had been between me and Clarence. And I just thought it was time for me to tell my own story in my own words…. The book is an assessment of my own life.

AFRO: Throughout your book you talk about some of the mechanisms you used to cope. Had you ever before this book, looked at your life, assessed it and dealt with some of the underlying issues?
LM: The only reason that I was able to survive and flourish and become as successful as I was, was because I, throughout my entire life, had been engaged in a constant search of how to live my life, how to view myself in relation to other people and how to become the kind of a person that I had some kind of respect for. So it was really a long-term process of finding these means by which to figure out how to live my life.

AFRO: If Clarence Thomas had not been a Supreme Court Justice would he have figured so prominently in this book?
LM: Yes. The reason is because he was without a doubt the most important relationship that I had other than the relationship with my daughter’s father. I was married to the same man for about 13 years, and the relationship with Clarence lasted about six years, so he was an important part of my life.

AFRO: Was it love or just lust?
LM: It’s a little difficult for me to tell the difference between the two in the way that I lived my life. Mostly what happened was that if I was in an intense sexual relationship with someone for a significant length of time – and by that I mean more than three months or so – I began to love that person; I began to be emotionally attached to that person. And it wasn’t anything that I could really help. In Clarence’s situation, I had known him and become really good friends with him for many months before we had a romantic relationship.

AFRO: Have you had a call or do you expect a call from Justice Thomas – or his wife, Virginia – about this book?
LM: Well, seeing as how she called Anita Hill … after so many years for something that she probably shouldn’t have expected, there’s no telling what’s going to happen with Ginni Thomas in reference to a call to me about this book. But certainly I expect no such communication or call from Clarence. He’s not going to be happy.

AFRO: Had you been in contact with him throughout the years since your relationship ended?
LM: The last time I saw him was last year. I had gone to a talk that he had given about his memoir called, My Grandfather’s Son. And it was an assessment of his life. I went to the talk to see whether he was talking about his life differently from the way he had written about his life. The memoir he had written, to me, was not exactly honest. So I was curious, and I went to the speech. He talked for a few minutes, took one or two questions and then left the podium. It was at Howard University Law School – which is another reason why I went; that’s my alma mater and I usually attend things that happen there of any significance. I had bought the book so I went up to him after his speech and shoved the book in his face, told him to autograph it. He was so happy to see me. So he gave me a kiss on the cheek and told me he was happy to see me and asked about my daughter. So, up until this point in time we have had a friendly relationship.

AFRO: You did something that was perhaps, improbable to some people which was to make Clarence Thomas into a sexual creature – and you were pretty descriptive. So, why take the chance in terms of giving all those details and airing your time and life together?
LM: Well, what chance do you think it is? The chance that I would be ridiculed or hated or that I would be despised or judged to be a slut? Is that the chance that we’re talking about here?

AFRO: It’s quite possible…
LM: You have to remember that I am not the only person who was active with Clarence during this period of time. So anybody in a field of maybe dozens could have easily said the same things about me –or worse – that are in the book that I’ve said about myself. And then I would be in the position of having to defend what was said about me. I have not named any names in the book, but that doesn’t mean somebody else wouldn’t. Somebody else could have written a memoir exactly like mine and put my name in it. And then I would be having this interview with you in very different circumstances. So, what happened was when Anita Hill testified against Clarence’s confirmation in the Senate, that door got opened as far as his sexual life and personal relationships with women. Even though he and the Republicans tried to shut it, there were women who were lined up to testify about what it was he had said to them or what kind of working relationship they had had with him and that sort of thing. So the door was already opened pretty wide before it became time for me to write the story of my life.

AFRO: You seem to suggest throughout your book and in your statements a little while ago that the Clarence Thomas we (the public) sees is a façade. So who is the real Clarence Thomas – as you knew him?
LM: Clarence, like most of us, is wearing a mask that is firmly affixed because of his age. The real Clarence, at this point, I don’t really know what he is, because there is a point in time where the person themselves – you don’t even know what’s important to you, you don’t know what your values are, you don’t know what your heart really tells you, you don’t know what your real personality structure is after you’ve been hiding yourself and transforming yourself over so many years. But the Clarence that I knew and appreciated and that I hoped would remain the true Clarence certainly is not sitting on the bench. He’s a person with a wonderful sense of humor who listens to people, is compassionate, cares about his family and is loyal. The person who’s on the bench is the person, however, who started a transformation when I knew him.

AFRO: Let’s talk about you and your mom. You seemed to have a love-hate relationship with her. Did you ever understand why she treated you and your siblings the way that she did?
LM: I have always been fascinated by the concept of evil as removed from mental illness, and as removed from lack of self-awareness. And I have to say that after many years of talking to her, questioning her, interviewing her and trying to understand her was, a large part of what was going with her was plain evil.

AFRO: That’s a hard thing for a child, even an adult, to accept…
LM: I had to face that reality when I was very young. One of the scenes in the book is something that haunted me for many years and also motivated me for many years and that was when I sat down and realized my mother did not love me. That’s a horrible, terrible, awful thing for a tiny child to have to live with and accept and work around, and that’s the burden I had. But I also succeeded in adjusting to that fact. And it was not like I had to work real hard at it – my mother never pretended otherwise. It wasn’t as if she was pretending something; she made it real clear.

AFRO: You’re laughing about it but not many people would be able to…
LM: I have to laugh about it because it’s just so bizarre. And I think we have a temptation to always disregard the presence of evil in the people around us, and we really want to believe people can change and that there is a rational reason why people do things. And, you know what, sometimes there just isn’t , and you just have to accept that reality and figure out from that point on, OK, now what do I do? That’s exactly what I did.

AFRO: Did you ever fear you’d come to be like her in any way?
LM: That’s an interesting question because my sister accuses me of being like my mother and it infuriates me when she does that. Because, my mother, like a lot of sociopaths, always knew what she was supposed to act like; she always knew what she was supposed to say; and she always knew what a normal, loving person would resemble. So there were some points in time in the relationship between her and us when she would to that. That was the mask that she had….she would put on the mask of a caring mother when the occasion called for it. So that mask that my mother had confused some people in the neighborhood … the neighborhood was crazy about her. She lived in one of the most terrible neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., plagued by juvenile gangs and rapes and murders and drug dealings, thefts, burglaries, you name it, my mother was never the victim of a crime – in her entire life.

AFRO: That’s amazing. I found it interesting, though, that given how badly you said she used to beat your brother and sister that none of the neighbors ever stepped in … called the police … came to the door … and yet you said that they loved her…
LM: They loved her; they didn’t love us.

AFRO: I can’t comprehend that … Anyway, throughout your book you talked about this issue of mental illness in your family and even your extended community around you in the form of Adam (a little boy she fostered). Were you ever afraid that you would somehow inherit this illness?
LM: The answer is no, and the reason I say ‘no’ firmly is because I saw my brother and sister driven insane. And I knew how they were before that transformation occurred. I also understand why they were driven crazy and that was what I fought against while I was a child. I fought against acting the way acted in their relationship with my neighborhood, with the community, with the school, with my mother and with my father and with the people around us. What I did was I resolved to learn, really, from the mistakes that my brother and sister made. They were not really mistakes, in that, in a normal, rational, loving community-family situation that they would suffer. They were mistakes, in that, they acted normally in an abnormal situation. For example, they tried to please my mother … and tried to assert their independence and their maturity and their knowledge in the face of my mother and my father. Those were the things they got punished for. So, what I was I resolved not to do those things … I would not call attention to myself and, as I called it in the book, I melted into the walls, and I became a watcher. That’s how I preserved myself, but that was never a situation where I thought that I would become mentally ill. It was a situation where I thought that if I did not protect myself then I would be destroyed. I thought of it in terms of destruction on several levels: First of all, physical destruction because my mother could have easily, one of those days, killed my sister or brother – very easily. I thought of it in terms of psychic destruction … that she would destroy the kind of person that I wanted to be and that I knew I could be. And I wasn’t going to allow that to happen…. I was always aware of this danger of slipping into or being really compelled into a state of insanity that I am hypersensitive to it in others – I see it, I try to fix it … and on some level I run away from it.

AFRO: And yet you said – in fact your book begins with it – that at some point you sought to destroy yourself in the form of suicide. What led you that place?
LM: To me suicide is a rational choice. If you look at the life that you’re living, and you’re looking down the road and you don’t see anything different from what’s happening to you right now, and you don’t see a chance, you don’t see a choice, you don’t see changes that could occur in the future … why would you not kill yourself? If you’re in agony, if you’re tortured every day, if your mental state is one of utter despair, why not? To me, the temptation of suicide is something that has to be resisted actively in those who think of it. By the time I was in my teens I had attempted suicide twice because of the situation I was in. I had to actually use books, the characters that I had found in writing in order to get myself out of that particular view of my world. I had to imagine for myself a future that would be very different from the present I was living in. And that is what saved me.

AFRO: Going back to this issue of mental illness and just even emotional distress, did you see your situation, your family’s situation, mirrored in the community around you?
LM: I saw it not then in the community around me because at that point I was really protecting myself from my own neighbors, from my own streets in Washington, D.C. So I saw myself as being in danger from the people around me, up until the time when I graduated from college and law school. And it wasn’t even when I was a prosecutor. It was really not until I became a defense attorney that I realized that my story was not unusual, because the vast majority of the people that I represented who were accused of criminal offenses came from households that were very similar to mine. They were different on some level because usually the trauma and the abuse, the hatred, the evil that surrounded them resulted from alcoholism or drug abuse or from domestic abuse that went three generations back or from some horrific criminal offense that had been perpetrated throughout the family and hidden … So there was always, for these people whom I identified with, there was always something you could put your finger on and say, ‘OK, there it is; that’s why this person is crazy. So there all these stories that were similar to mine but then not exactly like mine, because my experience had nothing to do with that thing you could put your finger on, unless you can put your finger on evil. But to answer your question, I would say the childhood I had was not that different from the childhood that is suffered by a huge number of children in the Black community.

AFRO: You were very open about your life. Is this something that you discussed with your daughter, with your family and friends and associates before you wrote the book and what kind of responses have you heard back from those people?
LM: None of my friends really have read the book. And there’ve only been like two members of my family that have read the book so far and I’m not so sure they read it in its entirety. Only my daughter – I gave her the manuscript and told her that she’s the only person that could tell me to change something in the book, and that I would be totally willing to change anything she wanted me to in the book if it bothered her or she thought it was too personal. She said, no, she wasn’t going to change anything. But what she did say was that there was too much sex in it.

AFRO: Of course she would, she’s your daughter.
LM: I was like, “What do you mean?” because it didn’t occur to me that there was anything in there that was unusual. And she just shook her head and gave up on me at that point.

AFRO: How old is she now?
LM: She’s in her 30s….

AFRO: But you know, even in your 30s, mom is still mom …
LM: Yeah, you don’t want to know ; it’s TMI…. So my friends don’t know all of me. So, there’s a little tiny part that my friends know about my life, my lifestyle, my experiences and that sort of thing. And my family knows even less…

AFRO: Well, now they’re going to know all…
LM: So, I’m trying to tell people read the book before it hits the shelves and they’re not doing it.

AFRO: Are you prepared for the onslaught?
LM: I don’t think it’s going to be possible for me to be prepared…

AFRO: In the book you painted your dad as someone who was abusive, but mostly complacent … passive …. How did that affect your relationship with men?
LM: I don’t know. I mean, I wasn’t looking for my father in men. I liked to be ordered around; I liked to be told what to do by a man in romantic matters. I don’t like to be the one who initiates anything – ever.

AFRO: And yet you seem to be very confident.
LM: Yeah, but that has nothing to do with sexual, romantic matters. That kind of a landscape is completely and utterly different for me. I prefer to order other people around in other parts of my life.

AFRO: Not everybody would admit to that.
LM: I’m not a team player; if I can’t be president I don’t want to be anything ….I don’t like to ask permission of anyone … So I end up being most attached and most turned on my men who are not like my father at all. I have no idea what he was like in the bedroom, but in personality structure, not a whole lot like him.

AFRO: Looking back on your life … any regrets?
LM: No. And the reason that I don’t have regrets is that I started out at a very young age that I was going to learn from the mistakes that others had made. I looked, I watched, I controlled myself, I melted into the walls, and I made a study of how it was people went about in the world. And I didn’t have to do the trial and error that most people have to do; I didn’t have to make big mistakes and then recover from them; I didn’t have to go through that trauma of acting on a whim and then being terribly sorry that my whim carried me to this place …. So, I haven’t made any mistakes in my life so I don’t have any regrets.

AFRO: What impact do you expect this book to have?
LM: What I’d like this book to create is a new way of looking at one’s childhood … a realization that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood … an appreciation for the happy childhood that you had – if you had one. Thank your mother and father for your happy for what they did for you, because you could have had a mother or father in your household who wouldn’t have parented you. There’s a difference between having a mother and father and having parenting. So that’s No. 1. No. 2, for people who are depressed, I would really – if I could just save the life of one person and make one person understand and know that they can create a different life for themselves, and that life can be created from people that they’ve not met yet. Strangers can become friends, and friends can become your new family.

AFRO: So, don’t give up on the possibilities…
LM: Don’t give up; it’s never too late. And then the final thing is that you can have fun in your life. You can have the best that people have to offer to you without being drugged, without being drunk and without being distracted by foolish, stupid things that mean absolutely nothing.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO