When I met him he was still mired in the grief of her recent death, while I found myself adoring him, bereft of family and father myself. Like misfits, we were lost, grasping, and broken. Absent were the makings for any type of healthy relationship but I loved him as only a seventeen year old heart can love, with every part, holding nothing back for myself. Do I regret my time with him? Not for a moment.
Marilyn Monroe came into his life when he was only ten years old. At that tender age he was already separated most of the time from his parents while attending boarding school. He once told me that he felt like a bother to his parents. He said he was, “only taken out of the closet for photo opportunities” at his parents’ convenience, not because he was loved, missed or wanted. He said that he felt different with Marilyn. With Marilyn he felt special, wanted, not just “put up with.”
Joey didn’t speak often of Marilyn, especially if I asked him a direct question about her. Mostly he just ignored my question with long brooding silences. I leaned to never speak of her unless he brought up her name or memories connected with her. I thought it odd that he was even more guarded telling me about Marilyn than speaking about his parents, although I felt the reasons must have been different.
With his parents, especially his father, there was a sense of foreboding when he talked about them, and I could see that he was anxious. His voice became hushed and his body caved in on itself like he was hiding, as if he had been indoctrinated into silence through fear. Many years later I would understand that if he dared to speak of his father publicly, this betrayal would have cost him their entire relationship, however meager, resulting in permanent rejection. This reluctance to speak publicly infiltrated into his/our private life to an extreme. When I was raped, he refused to call the police, explaining to me what the publicity would mean. Too distraught to comfort me, both feeling somehow betrayed by the other, I, along with him, escaped into silence.
In 1963, images of Joe DiMaggio, the great American hero, were everywhere. One time, while shopping in our local grocery store, Joey was looking through a football magazine. I watched him try to ignore the images of his father plastered everywhere. Reading a headline, lauding the great baseball player for all he had given to the Boys Club of America, sent Joey into a rage. He became so irate he threw the magazine across the magazine rack and pulled me out of the store leaving the grocery cart, food and all, in the middle of the aisle. It took hours for him to calm down, but he was unable to tell me what was wrong. Years later, I thought how hurtful it must have been to see all that his father gave to other boys but never to him, his only son.
Other times, people would read the name DiMaggio on our checks or on his driver license and ask if he were related to the great Joltin’ Joe, the Joe DiMaggio? My husband always flatly denied any connection to his father. I think he feared he would be questioned by some adoring fan about his legendary father should he acknowledge his true identity. So he lied. He always lied about belonging to his father. Always!
Prior to our meeting, Joey had not spoken to his mother for more than two years. Such was his relationship with his biological parents. But with Marilyn he was different. When speaking of her, his eyes became soft, almost misty. I could see his love for her.
From their first meeting, she made herself available to him by paying attention to him. According to Joey, she always made time for him. She was interested in HIM. Perhaps she identified with the “orphan” feeling in herself. Once a child has been thrown away, there remains a certain feeling, a kind of isolation that another cast-off would sense. Whatever the reason, Marilyn and Joey had a lasting bond. As widely reported, he was one of the last people to speak with her on the night she died. I don’t think he ever he ever fully recovered from her loss.
Unlike the silence for his father which seemed layered in fear, I believe it was his bond, his love for Marilyn that sheathed his silence. When you hold something very precious close to your heart, you want to protect that treasure from any harm, real or imagined. Joey loved his step-mother and the grief surrounding her death was apparent in him for as long as I knew him. She may have been his idealized woman and sexual fantasy (always trying to get me to dress in sexy clothes like she wore) but she was also an attentive step-mother and his friend. He simply adored her.