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The Ultimatum (excerpts from “With A Name Like DiMaggio)

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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?”

As fall of 1963 approached, Joey and I moved from the Hollywood apartment we had been living in for about four months to Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley. We had a larger apartment now, and our lack of furniture was more apparent. The bedroom had a box spring and mattress sitting directly on the floor, and we used stacked milk crates as dressers for our clothes. In the living room, we had two plastic pool chairs and an old television set sitting atop a wooden box. A card table was our dining room table. Our financial scarcity didn’t bother me in the slightest, but our lack of intimacy did.

***

There was one event that captures, as well as summarizes, Joey’s relationship with his parents, and it was quite mysterious to me. While I was at work, a falling steel joist hit Joey, causing an injury to his leg that required a massive amount of stitches. I was surprised that during his initial, weeklong hospital stay his father never came to visit him.

Once back home, Joey called his mother to help him bathe. It happened to be the same day I was temporarily laid off from my job, and returned home early in the afternoon.  As I entered our tiny efficiency apartment, I heard laughter and water splashing in the bathroom. A sense of panic came over me as I quietly backed out of the door. Oh my God, I thought, his mother is in there bathing him. I kept asking myself, “If I had a father, would I allow him to help me bathe?” I wondered why Joey hadn’t asked me to help him. What did this connection with his mother mean? What was I missing about their relationship? Why did I feel so weird? And why did my stomach hurt?

Everything seemed upside down and senseless. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the neighborhood, afraid to return home.

***

Our situation further deteriorated as I began to notice Joey regurgitating and re-chewing his food while holding his penis. During these times, he would refer to me as “Mommy.” He would say in a child’s voice, “Mommy, would you bring me a glass of water, please?” Without directly speaking to the problem, which I couldn’t comprehend in the first place, I would skirt the issue by referring to any unpleasant situation as “our problem.”

At some point I began pleading with him, “Joey, we need help. I don’t know what’s wrong with us, but something is, and we need help with our problem. Please come with me to counseling.  I’ve seen this counseling stuff advertised, and it’s supposed to help couples. I don’t want to leave you, Baby, but I can’t stand what’s happening to us. Please, please come with me for help.”

Once more, rather mindlessly, he answered, “We’ll see.”

After he ignored my pleas multiple times, I uncharacteristically gave him an ultimatum:  “I’ll wait one month for your decision. I can’t go on like this, Joey. I will leave our marriage if you won’t come with me to get help.”

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Dress Me Like his Beloved Marilyn
“With a Name Like DiMaggio”