Author: Joan Didion
Length: 227 pages
‘I want to go to Malibu. I would have especially loved to be there in 1976… but alas, I am not a time traveler,” I think as I look at the black and white photograph of Joan Didion with her family on the jacket of The Year of Magical Thinking.
I’m holding a first edition, twelfth printing from December 2005. It’s a hardback and does not yet feature the gold emblem in the upper right hand corner you see there. I’m assuming where it announces that Didion won the National Book Award for her memoir about grief.
Didion describes ordinary moments when lives change with such detail and such sadness. All I can think is that I find people who go out of this world in ordinary moments sort of blessed.
I know too many who have departed at the height of some drama or another… a gun to the head, horrible bodily functions that caused them to drown in their spit, people who spent their last moments screaming in horrible pain of the body or the mind.
These other people who depart happy… well, let’s just say I hope I go out that way.
Reading this book brings back the nausea of my own grief. Every description she offers sounds familiar in some way. No, I haven’t lost a husband, or a child, but I’ve lost. And I anticipate their loss every day.
Grief comes to you in a number of ways. One of which is the way you find yourself trying to fill in the hole that missing person left behind. And doing it badly. Leaving not a filled in hole, but nauseatingly burning questions you can never get answered. Song lyrics you can’t un-hear.
When someone dies you are to be there for the family. You are in no way to interfere with their grief. You provide. You silently help. You be there. You do not intrude. I was taught this. I was taught not to draw the attention away from the people in real pain – just as Didion describes.
But reading this, I weep.
What about the people who have no rights? No claim? The person sitting there who viewed the deceased like family but clearly meant less than the real family?
What do you do when one of the best people you have ever known is dead and you have no claim?
You stay silent. Or have inappropriate anger toward the deceased.
You find yourself trying to make new friends to fill their place, only to realize the relationship was entirely unique and can never be replaced. Because they were unique.
Didion speaks of the Vortex – of memories – in a way I know so well. Her vortex are stories of her daughter – her husband – snippets from their lives.
Mine is my own private cage. That world of private thoughts that I don’t have. Mine come in deja vus and too much whiskey. Mine come in always hearing the right thing at the wrong time and the wrong thing at the right time. Mine come in conversations that remind me of silences, and silences that echo long gone conversations.
My Vortex is the panic attack that starts in my pinkie and the moment in which I forget something I used to remember… or suddenly remember something I forgot.
The Year of Magical Thinking is a bit of a Vortex too… best kept under wraps in a comfy chair, with my journal nearby for the uncontrollable vomit of thought and tears that will arise as I turn the page to the next chapter.