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.
In subsequent days—years—I would come to understand how devastated Joey was by Marilyn’s death. He was released early from the Marines due to psychological problems he never would discuss, which explained why he was adrift. He was lonely and depressed. Marilyn’s death seemed to have exacerbated something deeply troubling in him, as if she had been the last tie to the family he barely knew.
Desperately wanting to move out without hurting my family and terrified of a marriage commitment, I felt frantic and utterly lost. One night I went out with a girlfriend and got drunk (a new behavior for me at that time). In my stupor, I boarded a bus for Los Angeles. I passed out on the bus and was eventually taken off by the police at the Los Angeles bus depot. Because I was a minor, I was taken to Juvenile Hall. Scared, humiliated, hung-over, and obedient, I complied with everything I was directed to do by all concerned authorities.
They called my older brother, Ronnie—fresh out of the Marines and now working at Disneyland in nearby Anaheim. He picked me up at the detention center and brought my disheveled self to his apartment. He called our mother for advice on what to do next.
The next day, my mother sent Joey to fetch me. On the drive home from Los Angeles to San Diego, Joey pushed for marriage. “Let’s get married, Dawn, I love you and want to spend my life with you. We could kill two birds with one stone that way.”
“What do you mean?” I said, suffering from my first horrific hang-over.
“Well, I need a place to live and settle down, and you want to move away from your family. Let’s just get married and get an apartment.”
“Joey,” I protested lamely, “I am only seventeen, and besides, I have to finish high school.”
“We could get married now and stay with your family until you finish school in June. Then we could move to Los Angeles. There are lots of jobs in Los Angeles. Besides, you know that your mother and grandmother want us to get married, right? I am crazy about your family, Dawn, and we love each other. Why not get married?”
“I don’t know, Joey, it all just seems so fast.”
“Well, I see it as the solution to each of our problems.”
Feeling weak, repentant, and without options, I consented to marriage.
When we returned to my house, I went directly to my room to sleep while Joey, my mother, and my grandmother happily planned our upcoming wedding. The scenario with my mother, grandmother, and Joey arranging our wedding is reminiscent of how Marilyn came to her first marriage to Jim Dougherty when she was sixteen. As widely reported, her marriage was contrived and agreed upon by Marilyn’s foster mother, elderly aunt, and the Dougherty’s.
Marilyn and I were both compliant with these plans. We saw marriage as a way to escape our current problems, and must have had the misguided assumption that marriage equaled freedom. Gloria Steinem quotes Marilyn as saying, “Being married to Jim brought me escape at the time. It was that or being sent off to another foster care home . . .” There were few other options for women in our situation at that time, and we believed that we were simply following convention. All of the adults in both of our lives wanted us safely tucked away in the arms of marriage.
Back in the sixties, the institution of marriage was a legitimate way of keeping a girl safe. Or so it seemed.