Many people ask me: Why is your second memoir titled The Marginal Woman? Besides the obvious answer: “Don’t all woman feel marginal at some time in their lives?” the heart of this goes back to my childhood.
As a child, I had felt my family was made up of two triangles — my mom, dad, and older brother was one triangle; and my mom, dad and myself was the other.
Why were we so different? When my brother was 22 months old, he had a grand mal seizure that left him paralyzed on his left side. Since a polio epidemic was going on at that time, doctors assumed he had polio. He had many seizures during his early school years that gradually became petit mal seizures, barely noticeable. But his paralysis left him with an inability to think in the abstract, a crippled limp and awkward left hand, and obstinate behaviors.
By the time I was born seven years later, the three of them had well-established interactive behaviors. I stayed out of their way when Bud was “being difficult,” and he remained pretty much a loner. Bud’s obstinate behaviors were most apt to occur during holiday and special occasions. Dad would bawl him out for disappointing Mom, who was working hard to give us a great holiday. So I would be the happy, happy Doris Day kind of girl to make up for his grumpy moods.
Only one girl lived in my block of many boys. Margaret was her name and we were best friends until her family moved to Estes Park the summer before we were to start fifth grade. By then, all the girls in my grade school were paired up with their “best friend” — but now I was left without a chair when the music stopped. I remained marginalized from the world of best girlfriends until college.
This contributed to my really looking forward to one day going to college, where I could remake myself.
But, as Flannery O’Connor once said, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is… When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.” So, that is that launching place for The Marginal Woman. In one sense The Marginal Woman is a sequel to my first memoir, The Occasional Man, but yet can stand alone.
Some who read my first memoir wondered how two people who met in their late 40s could so suddenly become such amiable travelers, seemingly having few disagreements. Others who knew me wondered how on earth I could refer to myself as “marginal.” Perhaps, they speculated, you’d had enough marriages and that is why you so gravitated to becoming a part of a man’s life who was in an open marriage. All I knew when I first met him was that he was going to be the love of my life. And so he was — for 31 years, until he died. Perhaps in an attempt to find my own answers and perhaps because I wasn’t ready to let him go, I decided to write this sequel.
What I have learned in the process has been much, much more.
I have to admit the dictionary definition for “marginal” has a negative tone I don’t like: being “marginalized,” on the edge of things. There was a TV show called Dancing on the Edge: It depicted a choice, not a defect; knowing when to remain on the edge. In my years as the fourth wheel in my own family, to being a groundbreaking educator, to being married and divorced 3 (!) times, to being a single mother in the 70s, to being married to an African American man, to being in a long relationship with a married man — through it all I actually liked being “marginal.” It gave me more life experiences from which to choose.
What does “being marginal” mean to you?