Excerpt of Chapter 1
I put on one of my new sweaters and skipped downstairs to supper. Mom was reading another magazine while she waited to be served. I posed dramatically in the doorway and cleared my throat. "What?" asked Mom, without looking up.
"Do you like my new shirt?" I asked, twirling around and plopping down in my chair. "I went shopping with some girls from school today."
"Mmm," she grunted noncommittally. "Marilyn, you need to give me back your credit card. It's Stan's turn to pay for your stuff."
"Sure," I said as Alena brought the supper in. "What are your plans for tonight, Mom?"
"I'm staying in, taking care of paperwork, putting things in order." She took a bite of low-fat quiche and turned a page in her magazine.
"I have homework to do tonight," I kept talking. "I couldn't do it this afternoon because of the shopping. I bought a great pair of pajamas. Can I show you before bed tonight?"
"Mmm," she said again. Then she looked up. "You bought pajamas and a sweater in June in California? Are you stupid? They'll be out of style by the time the weather cools."
"First of all, they're light and comfortable," I pointed out. "Second, do you have any idea how cold Dad keeps his condo? He can't sleep unless he's in a freezer. And nights can be chilly at the camp in the mountains."
"Whatever. Your body," she shrugged, returning to her reading.
After supper, I went to my room and finished my hand-in assignments for the next day. A little after nine, I put on my new pajamas and pulled my credit card out of my wallet. I padded down the hall and knocked on Mom's bedroom door. "I'm bringing my credit card," I said, glad to have an official reason for my visit.
"Just put it on my dresser," Mom called. She was massaging her feet in a vibrating footbath, listening to some jazz and sipping a glass of red wine. I went in and sat on the floor in front of her.
"How are my pajamas?" I asked, stretching out.
"Pretty nice, actually," she said, passing a critical eye over the pattern and cut. "It's too bad you don't wear makeup or do something stylish with your hair," she went on, eyeing my long, dark blonde braid. "You could almost be pretty," she claimed.
I let the backhanded compliment pass over me. "How come you took an acting job last minute like this?" I asked her.
"This is a part I wanted to play, but they cast Michelle instead. Everything was almost set up for shooting, and then she broke her arm last week. Robert is playing the male lead and he has a commitment right after this film, so they couldn't wait. When they called to beg me to take over the role, it was lucky I had an opening at the moment." Mom's eyes were shining with excitement.
"Poor Michelle," I said. "What happened?"
"Who cares?" Mom swished her wine in the glass.
I was quiet for a moment, ashamed of my mother's insensitivity. I changed the subject. "Can I come say good-bye at the airport Saturday?" I asked hopefully.
"Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?" I asked sulkily, hugging my knees to my chest.
"Not ... embarrassed," she said slowly. "Look, Marilyn, directors are more likely to cast me for interesting projects if they think my attention will be entirely focused on my work. I want them to see me alone and available in my public appearances. Besides, keeping my private life separate protects you. You can go anywhere you want and no one will hassle you or grab you because of me."
"A stalker could find me easily enough. People know I exist, Mom. The story of my birth was in the magazines. I've seen your scrapbooks." Mom kept albums full of story clippings about her career. Rather, she asked her staff to cut them out and compile them. It was rather ironic, I reflected ruefully, since she did not have any photo albums of me or the rest of her family.
Mom shook her head. "People in this industry have a selective memory, Marilyn. It is often very short, as well. A young actress can win an Oscar one year, but if she only makes bombs after that or disappears to have kids, her name is not going to come to mind when producers are looking for a star for their movies."
"It seems like you never have any problems getting work, Mom. What difference does it make what kind of publicity you get?" I wondered.
"You're kidding me, right? Have I taught you nothing important?" Mom sighed dramatically. "We need to stay on the public's good side or they don't buy the tickets. Look what happened to Meg! She was America's cutest actress, but a few negative reports about her personal life, and her career takes a nose dive."
"That doesn't seem fair," I commented. "Shouldn't people's careers be judged on how well they act?"
Mom snorted. "Think of it. People will go to a movie, especially on an opening weekend, because they like the actors. If they don't, they might be persuaded to check out the movie if the reviews are really good, but there's no guarantee. So when a movie is being made, the folks in charge will choose someone with a good public image as much as talent."
"So... rather than let the public judge you as a good mother or a bad one, it's better if they don't think of you as a mother in the first place?"
"Now you're getting it," Mom said condescendingly. "Don't give them a reason to talk about you in a negative way."
"Yeah, but Mom, you've been divorced so many times."
Mom looked down at me, somewhat annoyed. Then she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. "That's true," she said, "but I don't turn any of my relationships into media circuses. The press was invited to my weddings so that they didn't have helicopters circling or stressful disruptions. I never took my husbands with me on interviews to spout out 'Everlasting love!' I didn't have affairs during my marriages, and if my husband cheated on me, I didn't hurl public insults. There were no bitter custody or property battles. My career and my image are full-time jobs, and I'm not going to damage them for a fleeting romantic passion."
"But do you think...?" I began.
"Look, Marilyn, I'm busy," Mom interrupted, picking up a book from an end table beside her. "Why don't you go watch T.V. or something?" Without saying goodnight or any other word, she opened the book and gave it her full attention.
I stood up and left, closing the door behind me. In my room, I left the television off, as usual, and instead decided to go to sleep early. After tomorrow, I had a long night ahead of me. If I had had any doubts about my plans before, that conversation with Mom swept them away. She would pay attention to me one of these days. I would make sure of it.