Late yesterday I started reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. The book sent me on an emotional journey I wasn't expecting. I knew from various reviews that the book was going to be a hard read and I expected some tears. I didn't expect a whole panorama of emotions. The book covers not only the relationship between husband and wife, but parents and child, grief, love, not wanting to let go, trying to fix what was already broken but maybe, just maybe, if you research something enough, try to understand it, you can change the outcome. I think that thought, that the outcome could be changed, hit me the hardest. How many times does something we didn't anticipate happen, and we go through events that lead up to that something and wonder if we could indeed have changed events by doing one thing differently? We think that we can control events that effect those that we love but we can't. We can't prevent the act of living and we can't prevent dying.
She writes about death occuring on "an ordinary day". It was an ordinary day when my grandfather died. I was in 11th grade. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. I had been laying on my bed, working on my term paper, the relationship between Elizabeth Barret and Robert Browning. The phone rang, I didn't answer it, I was 15. Any other day I'd have ran to the phone, but this morning I didn't answer it. My grandmother had called, no one answered, she ran out on her carport screaming, my grandfather had a heart attack. If I had answered the phone, if my dad had gotten across the road sooner, would my grandfather still be alive? How many times has this thought replayed itself in my mind? How many times since March 30, 1980 have I gone over this? Time and time again. There was finally a day when I let it go, when I knew that his dying wasn't my fault, his heart just couldn't do the job any more, but for so long replaying it in my head kept my grandfather close to me. It was my very last connection to his life. That last thread that kept that moment in time attached to my heart.
This passage about marriage brought so much home to me:
We were equally incapable of imagining the reality of life without the other....Marriage is memory, marriage is time. "She didn't know the songs," I recall being told that a friend of mine had said after an attempt to repeat the experience. Marriage is not only time: it is also parodoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John's eyes. I didn't age.
I read this over and over. I kept turning back to that page. I understood those words, her feelings. Sometimes it's hard to believe we've been married 20 yrs. There are moments when I do believe I'm still in my 20s. It's hard to wrap my brain around the fact that I am 40ish. Aren't we still kids? We still tell the same lame jokes to each other and still laugh like it was the first time we said it. We "get" each other. We "know" the songs. How could 20 years have just flown by unnoticed except for some gray in the hair, lines on the face, but aren't those just laugh lines, 20 yrs of stupid jokes?
I can't begin to write about the part of the book where she writes about her daughter. I know the fear of someone not being able to tell you if your kid is going to live or die. My child was only a few days old, but I already knew his songs. Trying to understand what is happening, trying to control it, trying to tell the drs what to do. Wanting to scream, but having to stay calm. My child is 15 now. Every time I look at him, I think back to those days when his life was an unknown. Every breath was a battle, every moment a gift.
The Year of Magical Thinking read it. Be prepared to cry, be prepared to may be be a little disturbed, the emotions that come up to the surface may not be the ones you expect.