My nervousness disappeared immediately as a beautiful woman opened the door with a hug for Mike and a most welcoming smile and an extended hand. I knew immediately that this was Carol. She was blond, slender, and abundantly gracious. Her fair skin and piercing blue eyes were stunning. As Mike headed toward the bedroom to visit with Poppa, Carol said, “Come, let me fix you a drink and introduce you to my husband, Bobby. Mike very seldom brings a friend for us to meet, so you must already be special to him.”
PERHAPS IT WAS because of the embarrassment brought on by my long-ago decayed teeth that I was obsessive about the care of my children’s teeth. When the twins were two and my daughter four, I brought them for their first dental checkup. Dr. Mike was recommended by my next door neighbor, and was considered one of the best dentists in the area.
Mike was forty-three when we met, divorced once, and had a ten- year-old daughter. I was twenty-eight, and divorced twice. Several fillings later, Mike walked me to the door and said, “Would you like to go to dinner, or are you involved?” I explained that I was involved, but thanked him for his offer. He said, “You have an open invitation.”
One year later, after my breakup with Bo, I called him to see if the invitation was still open. We agreed upon a time for our first date, but it was our third date that changed my life forever.
Promptly at 6:00 p.m., Mike rang the doorbell for our date. I knew by now that he would open the door of his older but sensible car for me, which I appreciated. I was not used to such gentlemanly behavior, and it really made me feel like a lady. The radio was playing soft music as we drove toward the interstate. I thought back to our second date, when we’d had a flat tire during a horrific thunderstorm. Fear knotted my stomach as I waited for the customary onslaught of anger and cursing, as was the case in all three of my past significant relationships. Instead, Mike calmly navigated the car to the side of the road, looked at me, and said, “We are so lucky to not have been on the interstate when this happened.” He got out during a break in the rain and changed the tire. To my delight, his calm attitude under fire has remained consistent. He has always been easy on my mind.
I had met my grandparents one time, briefly, when I was nineteen. Bill and I had driven up to New England to see his parents, and I persuaded him to make a side trip to “the grandparents’.” While my grandmother was cold and aloof, my grandfather was warm and kind. The first words out of his mouth to me were, “You have eyes just like your father’s.” I would hang onto to those words for years to come because that matched exactly what my mother had said years prior. I would close my eyes and think about what the rest of my real father’s face looked like. Did it look like mine? Did he have my hair color? Was his nose like mine?
“DON’T EVER CALL me again!” my paternal grandmother warned harshly as she hung up the phone. This abrupt conversation, actually just an answer to my greeting of “Hello,” left me bewildered. She and I had been having long-distance phone conversations for at least fifteen years. Sure, the conversations were brief, stiff, and unwelcome on her part, but many years ago, we had made a deal: if she would talk with me occasionally by phone, then I would not pursue the search for my father. I had kept my end of the bargain, so what in the world was the matter with her? I immediately called her back.
I met Bo in a sleazy bar four weeks after separating from Bill. Bo was charming and funny and had beautiful blue eyes and boyish good looks. He would become both my inspiration and my abuser.
Bo entered my life filled with hopeful possibilities for me. He suggested that I obtain a real estate license, which would place me in a job situation with flexible hours. I pointed out that I couldn’t do that since I didn’t even know my times tables. He offered to teach me. True to his word, we practiced reciting the times tables every night while I attended real estate school by day. Unfortunately, this knowledge did little to help me with the closing statement part of the real estate exam, but I was good at the law portion, so I concentrated my efforts there.
Though hired by a prestigious real estate office, I had no time to feel proud of myself: it was 1972, and the bottom had dropped out of real estate in southern Florida. So while I was learning the field, running down leads and pounding signs in overgrown front lawns, I simultaneously studied for my life and health insurance license.
I was driven by every form of imaginable fear. What if I ran out of money and I was unable to support myself or my children? What if I had no credit? What if I lost my children due to lack of money or some emotional or physical illness? The day would come when all of those fears would come to pass.
ONE AFTERNOON, WHEN I was buying a pair of shoes, I flirted with a cute shoe salesman. Slight of build, with blond hair and deep dimples, he seemed funny and engaging. After he insisted that I try on nearly every pair of shoes in the store, I finally left with a pair of shoes I could afford and a date that very evening. We both loved to jitterbug and there was a great band that night at a local nightclub. He was to pick me up, and dancing we would go.
My date rang the doorbell promptly at eight. He was a perfect gentleman in opening the car door for me and being attentive throughout the evening. We had such fun as we danced the night away. Both a little drunk, we left one club and decided that we would drop into a similar dance club nearby. First, he wanted to stop by his apartment to pick up his sport jacket. Fortified with alcohol, and without a care in the world, I followed him up to his apartment when he insisted I see the new and unusual fish he had just purchased. I wasn’t into fish, but what the hell? I giggled a little sloppily as I stepped into his apartment.
Once inside, the fear I felt was instant and surprising—almost sobering—when I heard the locks click shut on his door. I heard three loud clicks, which immediately registered in my brain as odd since we were supposed to leave after fish-gazing and jacket-fetching.
Before I knew what was happening, I was body slammed against the wall. My head snapped back against the wall, then bounced forward into his face, which made him angry.
“You filthy slut!”
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.
During this time, I tried to confide in Dorothy, my mother-in-law, about our troubles. In my naiveté, I thought that she and I had developed a close relationship
“Dorothy, I’ve heard about something called counseling where people can go when they’re having troubles with their relationship or their families. I thought that would be a really good thing to help Joey and me.”
To my disappointment and surprise, she replied, “With a name like DiMaggio, you cannot even think about such a thing. If any of this got out, it would be the end of all of us. Plus, his father would be furious.” I kept asking myself why. I didn’t know a thing about psychology, but I did wonder, after the bath incident, if she was afraid something would surface about her relationship with her son.
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.”