So the memory of June’s husband molesting her daughter and the nightmare of Uncle Bill were with me as I watched June oozing herself into our living room. I always felt as if her dull, brown, preying eyes were secretly watching me. Like the victim of a black widow spider, I was sure if she looked at me she could ensnare me in a web of poison. It didn’t help that the inevitable conversation made my stomach feel as though it were absorbing sticky venom from the air.
Archives for October 2013
AT SIXTEEN I felt sorry for my mother and grandmother’s bleak lives, but I desperately wanted to leave the house. I felt mired in a spiderweb of yuck. This was made worse by their close friendship with the most disgusting person I had ever met. My stomach turned every time I saw her, which was often.
June White had crusty, light brown hair that spilled its dandruff everywhere. Her face and arms were covered in open sores and she stunk. She always smelled like twenty-year-old sheets might if they were stuffed into an old pillowcase, yellowed by age, and forgotten amidst spiderwebs in a filthy garage. June had regressed into a physical depository of ills since we had met her eight years before.
What I didn’t realize was that Marilyn’s blatant immodesty repulsed me because of something else that we shared. Before either of us were nine, we had been traumatized by adult men who made us objects of their thoughtless lust.
While she seemed to be shameless about exposing her body in public—even to the point of nudity—I became so terrified to be seen in the nude that by the time I was in high school, I couldn’t bring myself to undress and shower in front of other girls in my Physical Education classes.
WITH NINETEEN YEARS separating us, I was only a toddler, just learning to say my name, when Norma Jeane was getting used to signing autographs with the new name Twentieth Century Fox Studios had made up for her: MARILYN MONROE. Before I suffered the embarrassment of needing my first training bra, Marilyn was making it obvious that the more a girl had “up top” and was willing to show it off, the more she would be remembered and sought after.
Grandma went on, “Both were broken and scarred real bad from their different experiences. Neither of them understood ’bout the lost letters, but in the end it didn’t matter anyway, because Roland had hardened his heart to the love that he once felt for your mother. Who can say if it was the years gone by, or his time in the war, but he was surely a changed man. Said he felt betrayed that she’d married another man and had his child. He thought her to be damaged merchandise. You know, Dawnie, men had some strange ideas in those days. If touched by another man, the woman was considered damaged goods. You have to be a virgin or you are spoiled—so you remember that, Honey. They courted for a while, but when she told him that she was pregnant with his child, you know—he mistrusted her. He said the child could not be his. He offered to help with an abortion, but said there would never be no marriage.” Grandma looked at me with such tenderness in her eyes as she asked, “Are you sure that you want me to continue?” “Yup” I said.
NINETEEN YEARS MY senior, Marilyn Monroe’s images did not consciously influence my life, yet for as long as I can remember her voluptuous silhouette coexisted with my formative years. Images of her sexual receptivity proliferated in television and magazines. When I was seventeen, her shadow traversed my budding sexuality and haunted my first sexual experiences with my young husband. I married her stepson, Joey, within six months of her death.
All around me, freedom abounded during the early sixties. Girls (not me) were wearing bikinis for the first time. Sexual freedom became more common and open. Opinions about Vietnam were heated. Betty Friedan was a leading figure in this second wave of the U.S. women’s movement (the first wave of feminism being women’s right to vote). In her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, Friedan talks about the prevailing unhappiness of a large portion of women during the fifties and sixties. Men seem to believe at that time that women should be fulfilled solely by the role of homemaker. If women were not happy, they were considered neurotic or mentally unstable.