MY FIVE-MILE WALK to the bowling alley was filled with angry thoughts of my mother and worried thoughts for my grandmother, who had been sucking on her inhaler as I left. If and when I left home for good I would miss her so. Funny how I can remember exactly what I was wearing that day: aqua blue stretch pants with stirrups around the feet and a white, hooded sweater. My hair was pulled up in a twist. Deep in thought, I stared blankly at the empty bowling lanes amidst the mid-morning cleaning. I decided that no matter what happened, I was not going home again until my mother would at least hear me out. Pondering my current predicament in terms of food, shelter, and transportation, I was grateful that it was a Friday: I didn’t have to return to my afternoon babysitting job until Monday.
My troubled thoughts were interrupted as two young men sat down, one on either side of me. For a moment I was startled, until I realized one of them was my old high school friend, Tommy. Well over six feet tall, he was one of our best football players. Tommy and I talked a few minutes about some plans of his that did not turn out as expected. Formalities out of the way, I turned to the other young man and said, “Hi, what’s your name?”
“So, Joe, do you know my friend, Tommy?” “No,” said Joe with a straight face.
Like an unthinking little fool, I introduced them to each other. They played along with my sincere ignorance until I finally caught on that Joe was lightly punching Tommy in the arm—the way we girls do with boys when they say something that bugs us.
Tommy finally introduced me to his friend, Joey, and mentioned that Joey was living with him and his family.
I asked Joe, “Where are you from?”
“I’m from many places; I went to school back east and in Los Angeles, but I’m currently staying with my friend, Tommy. I am looking for a job and my own place to live.” Hanging his head slightly, he said, “So I’m kind of bumming around right now.”
“Wow, it sounds like a bad day for all of us. I just had a huge fight with my mother and left home. I’m not going back, either. My mom wants me to help support her. I know that I should, but I just want to live my own life when I graduate in June.”
Tommy said, “Ronnie, that’s only about three months away. Couldn’t you wait until then to leave?”
Feeling overwhelming exhaustion now, I took a deep breath to delay having to respond while I tried to put my thoughts into words. “I don’t know, Tommy, my mom said that because of my attitude, I’d be on restriction until I turned eighteen. She’s never told me what to do before, and I have never been on restriction. I’ve dated anyone I wanted to date, set the hour to come home, went where I wanted with who I wanted—and now she’s going to dictate to me what to do? I don’t know if I can take that. It would be torture for me to be stuck in that house all the time.”
I began to notice how handsome this young man named Joe was. Dressed in nice slacks and a casual blue shirt with the sleeves ever-so- carefully rolled up, I could tell that his clothes did not come from our local JC Penney, nor did his loafers. He seemed so sophisticated. Then I looked into his eyes. He met my eyes, and he held them all the while he was talking to me. I had not experienced this feeling of being so seen with any of the other boys that I had dated. I could tell by the way he ate his hot dog, and even the way he unwrapped his straw, that he had good manners. I didn’t exactly know what the importance of that was; I just knew that he was different in some kind of a good way. He was mysteriously strong and confident, but not in an arrogant or assuming way.
Particularly struck by the manner in which he spoke, which seemed so worldly (although I didn’t understand the meaning of some of his words, or what worldly might be exactly.) Over the next few hours, he mesmerized me as he engaged me in interesting conversations. Having never been around anyone like him before, I was dazzled by his classiness and intelligence.
When he walked to the counter to buy us hot dogs and Cokes, I thought that he walked with the grace of a panther. As we talked, I found out he was a bodybuilder, an ex-Marine, and had attended Yale.
But it was the way in which he strung words together that delighted me. I was close to illiterate, and had already been diagnosed as border- line retarded, but nevertheless I recognized something beautiful that I had either never heard or simply never noticed before. Words, words, words strung together like effortless poetry. I listened with fascinated attention to every word. In my mind’s eye, I imagined a clothesline where, ever-so-carefully, I hung each word slowly, one after the other, to savor later. He said that he liked the “ambiance of the bowling alley.” I envisioned the word “ambiance,” and while I couldn’t actually spell it, I could remember how the resonance of it echoed in my mind.
He seemed to know everything about everything. I thought him to be brilliant and funny and he made me laugh. I think I fell in love with him before we left the bowling alley four hours later.
The three of us drove around for a few hours, talking, listening to the radio, and imagining the future as only teenagers can do. Then we went to a drive-in restaurant where pretty girls with short skirts and roller skates hung the food tray on the side of the door. Tommy wanted to go to a party that was happening nearby, so Joe and I went with him, but we mostly stayed outside walking and talking. By now, I was calling him “Joey.” I couldn’t recall his last name.
Later that night, we were standing outside of the car when he kissed me the first time. His kisses were as tender as I imagined babies’ eye- lashes would be if they were brushing against my lips. I felt I would melt right into the ground each time that he reached for me and put his arms around me. He treated me very tenderly, as if I would break. His tenderness added to my feeling of a relaxed surrender. He, unlike other boys that I sometimes had to fight off, never crossed the line. I never had to block his hands or resist him in any way. He made me feel like a lady, as if he respected me. By this time, after some twelve hours together, he knew that I was a virgin.
Around midnight, Tommy returned to the car and the two of them drove me to the friend’s house where I would be staying now that I had “run away.” I said good-bye, and began to miss Joey right away. Over the next week, we spent hours upon hours on the phone. If he mentioned his last name during this time it meant nothing to me even though my grandmother had idolized the great ballplayer Joe DiMaggio. He later told me that my initial lack of response to his famous name, and the fact that I had to ask him to repeat it several times during the week, delighted and amused him.
Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe at www.Amazon.com
Picture of Joey taken in my living room in 1963.