The “Marginal Woman” is in one sense a sequel to “The Occasional Man” but yet can stand alone. Some who read my first memoir wondered how two people who met in their their late 40’s, could so suddenly become such amiable travelers, seemingly have 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 has been much, much more.
My best friend Sandy, to whom this memoir is dedicated, and my wise editor Patti, both questioned my choice for the title. I was adamant about its accuracy. As a child, I had felt my family was made up of two triangles-my mom, dad and older brother Bud by 7 years, and my mom, dad and myself. 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 about six years old, Bud’s obstinate behaviors were most apt to occur during holidays 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 girl 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 their “best friend”, but now I was left without a chair when the music stopped. I remained marginalized from the world of best girl friends until college. This contributed to my really looking forward to one day “going to college” where I could remake myself. But being an avid reader and addictive Saturday matinee movie fan, I had created an internal life of fun and intrigue when alone.
At college I wasted no time observing a popular gal about my size; watching what she wore, how she interacted with others, making delightful small talk. She didn’t know ho much she influenced me, but before long I felt part of a group of popular girls and was delighted when the old crowd back home were amazed at my “transformation”.
It was many years later, married and the mother of a daughter in high school, that I met Sandy, who taught me the importance of having close women friends. Once she remarked in her saucy joyful voice “you know, Shirley, when I find myself headed for a testy situation, like a bug in a laundry tub headed for a drain, I just scurry back up to the edge of the tub, avoiding getting in someone else’s hot water”. We both laughed as it occurred to me this made good sense. Avoid situations too hot to handle. Marginalize myself.
Now Sandy and Patti, decades later, were questioning my choice of this word for my book’s title. Sandy felt I was missing not being part of a large family. I had only daughter Linda until she recently married into a large Irish Catholic family, now giving me a family similar to Sandy’s. But I could see how such a family could also become “that drain” if one didn’t scurry fast. Yet I had to admit, the dictionary definition for marginal had a negative tone I didn’t like. Being “marginalized”, on the edge of things. I had just finished watching a TV show called “Dancing on the Edge”. It depicted a choice, not a defect, knowing when to remain on the edge. I liked being “marginal”. It gave me more choices from which to choose. Sandy was quite sure that finding myself in the mythical “happy family” made it no longer necessary for me to feel “marginal”. Although Patti and Sandy could agree on this, I was still not sure. What title would you prefer?