Then and Now

In her life of flesh, how many men saw past the sex toy to the woman who wanted to be loved? Arthur Miller? I would like to think so. Probably not. After the Fall is not evidence of it, and Miller's biography shows a man insecure in his "possession" and unable to see the human in the glamour of the goddess. Milton Greene? They were friends, and his camera treated her with respect and affection. The men she sought out? Certainly not. The Rat Pack, the Mafia thugs, the movie moguls, the "stars"? The Kennedy boys? I expect she was just an ultimate trophy for Jack. She was, after all, the apotheosis of the trophy fuck (not the same thing as a trophy wife; marrying them is a defeat).  Eighteen years younger than she was, had I understood my own adolescent urges and desires, they would have been little more than sexual, no more noble than JFK's. WE could not keep our hands off her.

What burned her into my memory forever was the apparent circumstance of her death. Conspiracy theories are fun, and she may well have been murdered, but I doubt it. The Kennedys didn't have to be guilty of murder to want to suppress any evidence that she had been passed back and forth between them like a greased glove. The Mafia might have killed her in a professional hit, but if so, "Why?" an unanswerable question, and as many knowledgeable writers have pointed out, a barbituate suppository just ain't their style. The "proof" that she was also thinking about living carries no weight, because suicides do, and because if she killed herself, it's very likely that it was meant, unconsciously, to be an "attempt."

Suicide. For a teenager, suicide is a romantic fantasy. Real death reduces it to ugly final truths, bad smells and morgue photos and, worst of all, no more self forever. She was a symbol of living who chose to die. Not romantic but frightening, something we have to explain. We understood exactly what our mothers said when they talked generously about her "having everything to live for." If who we thought she was wasn't happy, how could we ever hope to be?

And I came to understand, with her as a memento mori, the cost of transforming your self into something you cannot esteem. The pneumatic little girl persona she lived in public wore on her; it fed slow poison to the unhappy woman who lived inside her head. Maybe she was not bright, though there were those who said she was not slow just painfully uneducated. You don't have to be bright to be good; there's no connection at all, actually. As a case in point, take Jayne Mansfield, with her great IQ. She made the same personal choice that Monroe did; she choose the degradation of the sexual stereotype as a way to success. And in her case, from a position of strength. She was bright as well as attractive; she could have been successful without selling her soul. A girl like Monroe would have spent her life as a pretty housewife or a clerk. She wanted more; and she wanted it too much.

Today, I've "known" Monroe dead longer than I knew her alive, and she seems like an lost lover rather than an icon of desire. Once I wanted the intimacy of her body for no personal reason. And now, that's not it at all. Now, I would like to give her what she tried to buy with her sex. She wanted the intimacy of conversation between equals, the intercourse of minds as well as bodies. Oh, I don't doubt that if she offered it, I would want her body as well. I will desire her as I lay dying. And I'm sure there was a moment with any man she cared about when she would say or think, "That's enough philosophy; let's make love." But we always wanted to cut to the chase. Now, I would like a chance to speak with her, to try to tell her how sorry we are that we hurt her. She loved us, singly and collectively, and she wanted to be loved, and we couldn't do it.