Like Norma Jeane not Marilyn Monroe

In my memoir, Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe, I write about the many ways in which I relate to Norma Jeane.

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, one of my earliest attachments was to trees. I want to talk about my love of trees now because it’s something that I shared with Norma Jeane. Perhaps it’s because I feel shy about things I reveal in my book that I am choosing to start with more cautious, less invasive comparisons. The other stuff, the embarrassing stuff, can wait until later, when I am feeling less reticent. Always one to ease slowly into unfamiliar situations, I try to tread lightly.

I have heard it said that if a child does not have a human to bond with, they will bond with an animal. If they don’t have an animal nearby to lick their tears, then nature will do. Bonding to someone or something is a fundamental need. Remember the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks? Hanks bonded with a volleyball, for heaven’s sake.

Perhaps it is only the lonely or the neglected who learn to put their needs for attachment on animals, trees, or soccer balls. How would Hanks have survived those four years of solitude without Wilson? My imaginary friend J. Marie certainly kept me company far beyond the length of time I consider “normal” for children.

As a child, the presence of trees calmed me beyond measure. I attached myself to different parts of the tree: the scent; the bark; the strength of its strong arms. Trees were multi-layered in their usefulness, in their . . . well, humanity, even though they weren’t human. I loved smelling them and feeling their soft bark, but most of all I loved that I could sleep within the folds of their large arms and feel safe and hidden from the world.

Apparently, Marilyn Monroe also shared my love of trees. But I’m quite sure it was the little girl Norma Jeane who first fell in love with them. The sheer strength of their tall trunks, like a father reaching for the sky; the way their gently swaying leaves mesmerized; how their large mother arms beckoned to hold a little girl lost.

Early in my memoir, I tell a story about being held lovingly by arms of a tree I often visited: “I’d climb up into the strong, smooth, round arms of my favorite old eucalyptus tree. Often Ronnie found me there sound asleep, and was puzzled by my ability to balance on my favorite branch. No one could explain why I never fell. . . . That eucalyptus was my friend in other ways, too. I could make a blanket from the flat, long pieces of bark, or little playthings that would entertain me for hours. That was something you couldn’t do with lipstick kisses left by parents who sent you off to school. I was always careful to only pull off the bark that was hanging loose and about to come off on its own. I didn’t want to hurt my tree by pulling any part that was firmly stuck to its body. I was sure the trees in those woods had feelings, just like mine, and I knew that I wouldn’t want someone pulling any skin off of me that wasn’t ready to fall off.”

Norman Rosten writes about Marilyn’s love of trees in Marilyn: An Untold Story. He tells of his shock in discovering that not only did Marilyn feel sorrow over losing some giant old elm trees on the property that she shared with her husband, Arthur Miller, but that she had humanized them as well.

Due to a construction accident, Marilyn’s beloved trees—in spite of her and Arthur’s efforts to save them—died, and Rosten found her weeping beside them one day. “It’s as though they were punishing us for not appreciating them,” she told him. Rosten was astonished by the way Marilyn assigned human motives and feelings to a plant, something without intelligence or a thinking mind. “But we loved them, I’d never get tired of looking at them,” she said, “Even in winter, without leaves, they looked beautiful!” Marilyn was depressed by the loss of the trees that gave her so much comfort. When I learned about this, I wasn’t surprised; I remember thinking, “Well, of course, another thing we have in common—just like the little ragamuffins we were as young girls!” Rosten may have been shocked by Marilyn’s love of trees, but then, he didn’t know the secrets whispered to whistling trees by forlorn little girls who were lost in secrets and tears.


      My tree will know it all
the tree of my childhood with the

 endless branches
and the many whispers

My tree remembers
the girl with the wind in her hair
the girl with the crazy laughter
the girl with the fear of living
the girl I used to be

In my tree
everything I want to be
will be

In my tree
I can see the world

but no one can see me

My tree remembers me
the girl I used to be

— Pia Andersson.



Pia Andersson.

This work is in the public domain: this file from the Wikimedia Commons

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the trailer for the film The Misfits.





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