She was a famous movie star, yet she craved a sort of redemption, longing for recognition and admiration from those who had ignored her in her childhood. I hope that wherever Marilyn now rests, she knows that her redemption lives on in the adulation of millions who are still mesmerized by her brief life in this world. Shimmering like a candle in the wind; a candle that made life shine brighter for so many. I believe that the fundamental essence of Marilyn, of all of us, is neither created nor destroyed, but exists in timelessness, forever tethered to the mystery of God. I believe that the essence of the many selves that Marilyn, Joey, and I lived remains woven together like a tapestry. Despite Marilyn’s demons, her contribution to the tapestry of life is legendary. Joey, at fifty-seven, also surrendered to an isolated life and premature death, facilitated by booze and pills. Yet his legacy lives on in the daughters that he adopted and who became such a source of joy to Joey’s father, Joe Sr. Joey exposed me to a whole new world of possibilities, for which I will be forever grateful. I can only hope that the threads of my life will extend far and wide and add to the beauty of this unfolding tapestry. We cannot help but leave indelible footprints on the hearts of those who have loved us. I pray that my own lingering footprints will rest lightly. My longed-for redemption never came in any of the ways that I had imagined it would. Not one of those relationships with others that I thought might redeem me ever fulfilled that craving in the depth of my soul. Yet, somehow—through the patching and weaving together of all these lives—it has been done. I look into a mirror, into my own eyes, and see that redemption has come. I live and thrive encircled in the certainty that I am completely and unconditionally redeemed. Curiously,this redeemed state of soul has not erased all my frailties and weaknesses. I am still as imperfect a human being as it is possible to be, but with one extraordinary change: I now see, that after all my desperate pursuits of a“pardon” from life, it has been in coming home to myself and rejoicing in the diversity of me that I am redeemed. Finally, I know that the many-sided prism that I have come to recognize in my self is the totality of the me I was intended to be. Today, I see that through all the years and all there relationships and all the parts I’ve played and roles I’ve filled, I am still the “ragamuffin”who loves simple, filling, cheapfoods like mashed potatoes with mounds of butter and a glass of cold milk. But I am a rich ragamuffin—rich in the horrors and the blessings that have been the mold from which I have been formed. Even now, as I finish this story of my quest for acceptance and redemption, Mary sits just a few feet away, holding out her arms in a gesture that invites me to surrender my self in to her love, just as Grandma used to do during her nightly prayer ritual. The light is caught in the prisms of the glass beads of my grandma’s rosary where it hangs, draped around Mary’s neck. I love them—the rosary, the statue, and Grandmother’s memory. And I love red lipstick and cleavage, even though cancer left me with only one breast to push up and show off. Broken ragdoll, patched and finally loved by me, I am—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!—truly redeemed at last.
LOOKING OUT OF the small airplane window, I felt a shiver run through my whole body as the plane climbed out over the San Diego Bay. I would miss my beloved beaches, but not the bad recollections that I assumed were forever associated with California. At age nineteen, I believed that distance erased, or at the very least diminished, bad memories.
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?”
Shortly after that first meeting, Joey’s urgency toward managing my manner of dress seemed to increase. While window shopping, he would remark, “Look at that blouse, you would look great in that. That’s how Marilyn would have dressed.”
I’d reply, “Oh my God, Honey, I could never wear something like that. Look at how low cut it is. My boobs would hang out.”
His observation was, “That’s the point, Sweetie, that’s what men like to see. You have to do something about your clothing; you dress like some dowdy schoolteacher. You always look so gray and unsexy.”
WINDOW SHOPPING ON Hollywood Boulevard became our weekend entertainment ritual. Money was scarce, as it often is for newlyweds. Joey worked sometimes as a day laborer, and I worked as a bank file clerk. He had little contact with his father, but would not have taken money from him even if it had been offered. Joey was a prideful young man in those early days, and would have starved before he asked for help from his famous father.
I had just turned eighteen in the summer of 1963 when I first met the great Joe DiMaggio Sr. The intrigue and behavior surrounding that first meeting resembled a scene straight out of a gangster movie. After picking up Joey at our apartment, the driver and some friends drove my new father-in-law over to meet me in front of my bank building at twelve noon sharp.
Feeling nervous in anticipation, and wanting to make a good impression on Joey’s father, I could hardly concentrate on filing ledger sheets at the bank that morning. I was dressed in my fancy, Goodwill pink-and-white-checkered seersucker suit and wearing my only pair of heels. I had even purchased a new pair of stockings especially for the occasion.
At exactly twelve noon I stepped outside of the bank and into the bright sunshine, where Joey, his father, and three other very tall men— all dressed in ties, dark suits, and sunglasses—were waiting for me. We politely shook hands, and the six of us walked to a nearby restaurant. It was dark inside the restaurant, and Joe Sr. sat as far away from me as the seats allowed, as if he had planned it that way. No one spoke to me throughout the entire meal, although a couple of the men would send a nod or smile my way throughout lunch to at least acknowledge my presence. But Joe Sr. barely even spoke with his son, who for the most part remained silent, speaking only a word or two with the other gentlemen seated at the table.
CLASS CAN BE defined as rank, tribe, costume, grooming, culture, acculturation, education, manners, and taste. Class also includes attitudes and assumptions. It is an implicit and explicit source of identity.
Joey was as different from me as dark to light. He was upper class, eloquent, and always tastefully dressed. He was educated at the best schools available, including a short stint at Yale, while I was gratuitously passed with benefit of remedial classes by my high school. He was brilliant and articulate, while I stammered incomplete sentences and mispronounced basic words.
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.
INCREDIBLY, I WAS unaware of the fame surrounding my new boyfriend’s father, the famous baseball player Joe DiMaggio. A 1969 poll conducted to coincide with the centennial of professional baseball voted him the sport’s greatest living player. Songs by famous artists were written about him. One example was a song called “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” which was written by Alan Courtney and Ben Homer in 1941, and performed by the Les Brown Orchestra. The song was reportedly inspired by his fifty-six-game hitting streak, which led to him being given the nickname “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.” His name was also used in the song “Mrs. Robinson,” which was used in the movie The Graduate.
Nor did I know of Joey’s relationship with his legendary step-mother, Marilyn Monroe, until I returned home after five days “on the lam,” so to speak.
I had called my mother from the bowling alley that fateful afternoon and told her I was not coming home, but not to worry: I was safe and would be staying with friends. I knew a lot of kids from school, and it was easy to find various friends to spend the remainder of the week with. Mother was angry, but evidently not worried, because she didn’t call the police the entire time I was away. That week, Joey and I became sweethearts. During those first twelve hours that Joey and I spent together, we shared many of our deepest thoughts and feelings with the ease of lifelong friends.
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.