LOOKING OUT OF the small airplane window, I felt a shiver run through my whole body as the plane climbed out over the San Diego Bay. I would miss my beloved beaches, but not the bad recollections that I assumed were forever associated with California. At age nineteen, I believed that distance erased, or at the very least diminished, bad memories.
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During this time, I tried to confide in Dorothy, my mother-in-law, about our troubles. In my naiveté, I thought that she and I had developed a close relationship
“Dorothy, I’ve heard about something called counseling where people can go when they’re having troubles with their relationship or their families. I thought that would be a really good thing to help Joey and me.”
To my disappointment and surprise, she replied, “With a name like DiMaggio, you cannot even think about such a thing. If any of this got out, it would be the end of all of us. Plus, his father would be furious.” I kept asking myself why. I didn’t know a thing about psychology, but I did wonder, after the bath incident, if she was afraid something would surface about her relationship with her son.
Shortly after my eighteenth birthday, my mother made the three-hour drive from San Diego to Hollywood to visit with me. The moment she sat down, I blurted out our bedroom difficulties. To my disbelief, she stood up and walked out of my apartment without a word. Weeping, I felt utterly alone and desperate in my bewilderment. It didn’t help that my mother thought me unattractive. At least at that time she usually had some kind of advice—whether it was appropriate or not—and now she wouldn’t even talk to me. I wondered if she blamed me for the sexual problems that I had just confided to her. Maybe she thought our sexual problems were because I was not pretty enough. I was so lost. “Why,” I asked God, “do I seem to disappoint everyone in my life?”
Shortly after that first meeting, Joey’s urgency toward managing my manner of dress seemed to increase. While window shopping, he would remark, “Look at that blouse, you would look great in that. That’s how Marilyn would have dressed.”
I’d reply, “Oh my God, Honey, I could never wear something like that. Look at how low cut it is. My boobs would hang out.”
His observation was, “That’s the point, Sweetie, that’s what men like to see. You have to do something about your clothing; you dress like some dowdy schoolteacher. You always look so gray and unsexy.”
WINDOW SHOPPING ON Hollywood Boulevard became our weekend entertainment ritual. Money was scarce, as it often is for newlyweds. Joey worked sometimes as a day laborer, and I worked as a bank file clerk. He had little contact with his father, but would not have taken money from him even if it had been offered. Joey was a prideful young man in those early days, and would have starved before he asked for help from his famous father.
I had just turned eighteen in the summer of 1963 when I first met the great Joe DiMaggio Sr. The intrigue and behavior surrounding that first meeting resembled a scene straight out of a gangster movie. After picking up Joey at our apartment, the driver and some friends drove my new father-in-law over to meet me in front of my bank building at twelve noon sharp.
Feeling nervous in anticipation, and wanting to make a good impression on Joey’s father, I could hardly concentrate on filing ledger sheets at the bank that morning. I was dressed in my fancy, Goodwill pink-and-white-checkered seersucker suit and wearing my only pair of heels. I had even purchased a new pair of stockings especially for the occasion.
At exactly twelve noon I stepped outside of the bank and into the bright sunshine, where Joey, his father, and three other very tall men— all dressed in ties, dark suits, and sunglasses—were waiting for me. We politely shook hands, and the six of us walked to a nearby restaurant. It was dark inside the restaurant, and Joe Sr. sat as far away from me as the seats allowed, as if he had planned it that way. No one spoke to me throughout the entire meal, although a couple of the men would send a nod or smile my way throughout lunch to at least acknowledge my presence. But Joe Sr. barely even spoke with his son, who for the most part remained silent, speaking only a word or two with the other gentlemen seated at the table.
I didn’t meet my mother-in-law, Dorothy Arnold, until Joey and I re-united after our first separation. For reasons that remained a mystery to me, he wanted nothing to do with his mother. As widely reported Joey went some fifteen years without seeing her. There was something really odd about their relationship. The only consistent relationship that he seemed willing to maintain was with his stepmother, Marilyn. So many things about his life were unknown to me, or would have been incomprehensible even if I had known then. Being immature and idealistic, I begged him to reconcile with his mother. Looking at me with amusement and resignation he said, “Deliver me from people who mean well.” In retrospect, I should have left well enough alone.
I adored Dorothy. Shortly after we met, she began to call me “Baby Ducks.” I loved the nickname, but then, I would have loved any name she chose. She mesmerized me. She was beautiful, eccentric, and—I’m sad to say—alcoholic. When she drank, which was most of the time, she could be loud and obnoxious. Other times she could charm your socks off with her showgirl-style seduction. She had been a showgirl and called herself an actress. According to her, she couldn’t get any roles because the great Joe DiMaggio blackballed her in the movie industry.
CLASS CAN BE defined as rank, tribe, costume, grooming, culture, acculturation, education, manners, and taste. Class also includes attitudes and assumptions. It is an implicit and explicit source of identity.
Joey was as different from me as dark to light. He was upper class, eloquent, and always tastefully dressed. He was educated at the best schools available, including a short stint at Yale, while I was gratuitously passed with benefit of remedial classes by my high school. He was brilliant and articulate, while I stammered incomplete sentences and mispronounced basic words.
IT WAS MAY 18, 1963 when Joey and I married, a few months after our first meeting. We were accompanied by my mother, blessings in tow, and our mutual friend, Tommy.
Joey wanted the wedding in a location where there would be no news coverage, so he decided on Winterhaven, California, a small agricultural town not far from Yuma, Arizona. None of the local media were notified, nor were most of our friends.
For reasons that were unclear to me, Joey had not even told his parents he was getting married. Now, as I reflect on Joey’s life up until we met, I realize it must have been difficult to have spent his young life in a fish bowl. Eventually, I would come to see that practically every move he made was in the news. “Joe DiMaggio Jr., son of the great baseball player, Joe DiMaggio, visits his father,” or “Young DiMaggio joins the Marines,” or, “is beside his father at Marilyn’s funeral.” My Joey was an intensely private person. He did everything he could to minimize attention to himself, and he avoided any negative attention that could reflect objectionably toward his father.
In the spring of 1963, some six months after Marilyn’s death, Joey and I went to a movie simply called Marilyn. Having only dated for a couple of months, I still had a lot to learn about him. As soon as the movie started, there was a noticeable change in him. I could feel his entire body get smaller and smaller as he curled in on himself. I couldn’t understand what was happening. Dry, tortured sobs emoted from his small, imploded frame. We were always affectionate with each other, so I reached out to soothe him, but he only pulled further into himself. It became obvious to me that he wanted to be alone with her. He seemed to float out of his body trying to merge with her image on the screen. It was eerie, and I felt totally alone. He was in a different world—a world he was creating for himself. I didn’t know what to make of his behavior, much less what to do about it.