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.
I must have been in a haze the morning of our wedding, because I can’t remember any of our drive from San Diego to Winterhaven. The trip was about one hundred and sixty-five miles of rocks and desert— boring enough to expect that conversations would have taken place, but nothing broke me out of my trance. I recall hugging my grandmother good-bye, and the next thing I was aware of was the Justice of the Peace saying, “I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Suddenly, as if coming out of a coma, I awoke and glanced around the small chapel, recognizing Mother, Tommy, and this young man who was, apparently, my new husband. My first thought was, This is just plain crazy; how come everyone is acting so happy? Oh my God, what have I done?
We went through the expected pleasantries after the brief ceremony and took a few quick snapshots. I changed out of my borrowed, beautiful white dress and into my new blue culottes and multicolored blouse that tied at the waist. My mother had painstakingly juggled her carefully assembled envelopes of bills to dig up the money for me to have this lovely new outfit, along with a lacy nightgown. She wanted my wedding day and weekend honeymoon to be as special as she could make it.
Intoxicated by the wedding ambience, I too became excited and hopeful as our small group shared a quick lunch—and then Joey and I were off to begin our new life together. It seemed like only a snap of a finger, and just like that, I was a wife. As Joey pulled away from the curb, I leaned out of the window to wave good-bye to everyone. Smiling, I turned to face Joey, only to be met with a startling stone wall of silence. I blinked my eyes in puzzlement that he, by all appearances, didn’t look happy. Wasn’t he the one who wanted this marriage, and weren’t we in love?
No words, no sounds, only deafening silence. Over the next four hours, as we drove to Los Angeles, it seemed as though a fierce tension was building within him. I was frozen in my seat, bewildered and frantically trying to understand what I had done to create this situation; that feeling would become a pattern that would manifest itself repeatedly during our tumultuous, on-again, off-again, two-year relationship. Years later, I would discover that Joey’s father displayed this identical stone-walling behavior with Marilyn, withdrawing into silence for hours, or even days, at a time.
I came close to having a panic attack as I desperately tried to engage him in conversation. His silence prevailed. I wondered if he was mad at me, but I was too afraid to ask. I began to obsess about every aspect of that day: every word that I had said, everything I had done, and everything that I had worn. I replayed everything. I looked down to assess the blue pedal pushers, the blue-patterned shirt tied modestly at the waist. I wondered if I was too exposed. I didn’t know yet that he expected a sexpot and desired exposure.
Noticing his hands were turning white as they gripped the steering wheel, I said, “Joey, wasn’t that minister’s shirt funny-looking?”
Silence! Overwhelming anxiety precluded my being quiet. “I couldn’t believe my mom coughed so much during the wedding, did you notice?” On and on went my babbling, to be met by dead silence; not a single movement or sound came from him. His body, rigid as a stone, sat behind the steering wheel, staring straight ahead.
After a time I asked with forced cheerfulness, “Are you hungry, Honey?” Still, nothing. My fretfulness drove me to babble about a funny joke Tommy made at lunch, and any topic or action during the wedding I could recall. Finally, I fell into a rigid silence as well.
I wanted to reach out and touch his face or hold his hand, anything, but I was confused, lost, and immature. I was scared. I was wildly in love with my prince, even though I would have preferred to defer the marriage to some day in the future when I felt more ready for this giant step. But I would have done anything to see him smile. He remained frozen in his silence.
We stopped before dark at a Jack in the Box, my favorite place to eat. We didn’t go inside, but ordered our food at the drive-through window. Back on the road, we ate our tacos and drank our Cokes in silence.
God in heaven, I wondered, what is he thinking about?
Just past dark, we checked into a motel room. I was dumbfounded when Joey went straight to bed. Tears were cascading down my cheeks as I peered down at the traffic from the tiny balcony overlooking the famous Sunset Boulevard. Adorned in the delicacy of my sheer, lacy nightgown, I replayed the day’s events repeatedly, trying to understand what I had done to make my prince withdraw into his cold silence the moment the wedding was over. Since childhood I had visualized this night so many times. It was to be the most exciting night of my life. But now?
I had already given myself to him two weeks earlier in a cheap hotel in Los Angeles. Joey really wanted to have sex; I decided that even if he abandoned me afterwards, I would give in. I knew that many guys just left a girl after getting the sex they wanted, but I tried to consider that at least my first experience would be shared out of love. I was so scared and uptight, the experience was not enjoyable for either of us. What I recall about that night was the strained atmosphere before the sexual act and the mutual disappointment after. Nonetheless, Joey remained kind and loving to me in the days following, fostering my hope for our future.
My head was spinning with so many conflicting thoughts. I remembered all the years when life was literally in the dumps, and this was supposed to be the start of my new, wonderful, magical life. On this night, my wedding night, I had hoped to be twice redeemed. First, I would be redeemed from my trashy background, since I had remained a virgin until Joey. At least I had saved myself for my one true love—which is what all men want, right? A virgin! I had always heard that “the first time” was where men placed the highest value.
Joey hadn’t said much about our first time in love’s embrace, but I thought he would be proud of me since we were now married. He knew he had been the first man I had slept with. My second redemption would come from God’s forgiveness for having had sex before marriage. Hadn’t I rectified my mistake by marrying the man to whom I had given myself? God would forgive me. I was sure of it!
So his silence on that night made me feel like I was sitting in a courtroom waiting for a jury to decide my guilt or innocence. I was on my feet, pacing and waiting breathlessly with anticipation for my new husband’s explanation of his attitude—and, more importantly, my ultimate state of reprieve. I sat shocked, mortified, confused, and ashamed as my bridegroom slept soundly.
The evening continued to pass slowly while party sounds from Sunset Boulevard drifted up toward my balcony. Feeling more alone and frightened than I could ever remember having been before, my stomach began to ache the way it always did whenever I tried to contain the thoughts and shame of my past—especially the feelings that threatened to pull the curtain off of my newly groomed façade of confidence.
Adding to my confusion was the soft caress of my nightgown against my skin, which brought feelings of longing, along with some kind of embarrassment. The tears trickling down felt like fire pricking at my hot cheeks. I was grateful for the pint of celebratory vodka I had stored in my suitcase, never dreaming I would be drinking it alone as I pondered my wedding night disaster. Sitting with my head in my hands, heartbroken at the state of affairs surrounding what should have been the happiest night of my life, I spent the night downing the vodka— straight—and gazing at a dark room.
Heartbroken, I believed that my carefully protected dowry was insufficient to please my husband, and not good enough to grant me the pardon that I had longed for. I could relate to an innocent prisoner who is granted a pardon. Having never committed the crime in the first place, what I really wanted was to be exonerated. I frantically wanted something from Joey. Acknowledging my virginity would have felt as if a priest were giving me absolution, a cleansing, a reprieve, a proof of sorts that I was a good person. I desperately needed to prove that I was unspoiled merchandise, worthy to walk with my head held up, if not high, at least at eye level with the world at large.
The next morning, I took his lead and acted as if nothing unusual had happened. I asked no questions since I was afraid of the possible answers. What if he said that he regretted marrying me? What would I do then? So off to breakfast we went, holding hands just like any other newlywed couple. Later in the day, we moved into our tiny apartment and the start of our new life.