For weeks now I’ve been thinking about our Marilyn, practically the founder of that group of people for whom no last name is necessary. Today she will have been dead for 50 years. As everyone seems to know by now, she was just 36 when they found her sprawled across her bed, the phone under her hand..
For weeks I have also been thinking about writer Caroline Knapp, who as of this summer has been dead for ten years. She was just 42 when she succumbed to a very aggressive form of lung cancer: diagnosed in April, gone in June.
But I remember so vividly the day they found Marilyn’s body. I remember so clearly looking down at my own changing body and thinking, “How did all THIS get here?” It was a bewildering new world all right; having guys fake-sighing and then laughing when I passed in the corridors. I suddenly had a boyfriend too, young as I was. He was blond with perfect ears and just 5 foot 2, my same height at the time. I liked that we were small like that. It made the whole boyfriend girlfriend thing so much less scary. It made us seem to me like children still, which of course we were.
This boy and I were together the day the news broke about Marilyn’s death and it chilled me to my core, I think because even at that young age I saw in her something familiar, naïve way of pleasing others that I sensed was becoming my way. It’s how young women were taught to be back then, ever pliant and agreeable.
I was heading down that path, all right; and were it not for an ability to shine in school I can’t think how I might have ended. Giving people my shirt as well as my cloak, to use the metaphor. Memorizing the birthdays of people I had only just met so I could send them a card in four or six or eleven months and to prove what? To purchase what?
I gave away far too much time and attention to others, and kept far too little for myself.
Marilyn did that too, and used alcohol to keep herself blind to the fact.
In her brave book, Caroline Knapp writes with great insight about addiction’s riptide pull. In it we learn what she finally learned about self-worth, and about alcohol’s insidious way of acting like your closest friend – right up until it reveals itself as your deadliest foe. She talks about her father, high-achieving and remote, every night drinking his martinis-with-an-olive.
And because, as she puts it, “alcohol travels through families like water over a landscape,” she drank as well, starting at age 14.
Just by her description of a glass of chilled white wine filled to the brim and beading with moisture you can see how she loved it, in much the same way Marilyn loved her champagne, alternating its use with the pills she took at night to help her sleep and the ones she took in the morning to help her function again.
Well I don’t know just where I’m going here except to note that while Marilyn lost her battle, Caroline won hers, thanks to the 12 Steps. She got sober and she wrote a wonderful book which I would recommend to anyone. It certainly helped me with my decades old habit of over functioning.
Drinking: A Love Story, it is called.
Now let’s watch this video of Marilyn and salute the oh-so-natural and the oh-so-perishable beauty that was hers.