“The French called this time of day “l’heure bleue.” To the English it was “the gloaming,” the glimmer, the glisten, the glamour — carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows.”
“Did I believe the blue nights could last forever?”
During my commute, I’m listening to the audio version of Joan Didion’s Blue Nights.
Dear lord, what was I thinking? Yes, it’s beautifully written and Joan Didion is the quintessential dry-eyed sob sister, or as John Banville wrote in his review in the New York Times, a connoisseur of catastrophe. But holy gut punches. Between her daughter’s death and Joan’s aging, I may find the compulsion to drive the car over an embankment on Georgia Highway 61 too much to resist.
|Highway 61 – See how easy it could be?|
At first, the memoir irritated me with its name dropping and product placement. I almost gave up on it.
Related, but not entirely, it turns out…One of the reasons I don’t read chick-lit is because I cannot stand all the references to designers. It’s my own version of reverse snobbery because I don’t know one designer for another. I mean, to even name a designer, except for the really ubiquitous ones, I ‘d have to Google something like “Who are the hot fashion designers in 2012.”
Which I fruitlessly did. So I gave up.
The point is what may impress some who enjoy hearing the details of what it’s like to eat off the very special and expensive plates of some high society matron sounds like so much blah, brag, blah to me. Yes, it’s cool that Joan and her husband John Gregory Dunne lived in the rarefied air they did, but if I’m trying to relate to the story of discovery and loss, etc. you’re losing me, Joan. We’re not connecting.
In fact, the Chanel suits, the two batiste Christening gowns (gifts both!) for the baby Quintana Roo, the bassinet from Saks, Quintana’s introduction to caviar at age five, and the trips to movie sets are obstacles for me. I can’t hear what you’re trying to say because you keep placing all these status barriers between your story and me, the reader.
I slid the audio book under the car seat (DO NOT PUT IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT) and went back to chewing the inside of my cheek while listening to the radio and gripping the steering wheel a little too tightly.
I eventually reconsidered and extracted the audio book from beneath the seat. But note, I was doing this selfishly. The truth is, I couldn’t listen to one more political story, my favorite music station was playing too much Sting and the old time radio classics station was airing westerns which I just couldn’t appreciate as I creeped along in traffic that a horse-drawn wagon could lap. Plus I had a serious need to pee.
I’m glad I retrieved the book from car interior oblivion because whether it was my mood or a shift in the story arc, I was able to eventually find connection, to let myself be pulled into the words unraveling the very human endeavors of growing old and losing loved ones.
The dying part was particularly hard because I cannot, will not imagine that one of my children could die before I do.
Ah. The truth making itself known whether I want to acknowledge it or not.
Perhaps I was looking for an excuse to not listen to Blue Nights. Maybe I didn’t want to be exposed to such heartbreak. I was afraid of experiencing secondhand Joan’s pain, no matter how beautifully written.
My own weakness laid bare in a 1995 Toyota Celica. Not pretty.
“When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.”
Of all the things I fear – the death of my children is the thing I fear most. That’s not a badge of honor, a sign of my devotion, a measure of my depth of love for those three human beings who are part me, part MathMan and mostly inconvenient and expensive. Rather, it’s because I’m a big pussy who does not ever want to have confirmed just how weak she is when it comes to her children.
What other kinds of things do I shield my fragile bits, the raw nerves from? My disdain for status statements is easy to discern if I give it a moment’s thought. I hate status issues because they force me to admit my failures. According to the Laws of Capitalism, I am a spectacular failure. This is something I’m keenly aware of, again in relation to my children and what I haven’t been able to do for them.
My inability to achieve financial security and success is a noose with which I hang myself often. For all the things I could offer my children, financial security seems to be the most valued by our society. If you can’t provide it, you are punished in oh so many ways. Which means your children are punished, as well. That knowledge tends to negate many of the good things that don’t come with a price tag.
It’s cold comfort, but what I’m finding in Joan’s story is that even when you are in the position to give your children everything and more, you still will not be able to protect them from everything. Real security cannot be purchased, cannot be banished by privilege, connections or a healthy bank account. The best healthcare money can buy remains useless in the face of certain death.
Yesterday evening, MathMan and I drove home after having dinner out. A rare moment of quiet, contentment, no conversation needed. The light over the hills and across the open fields was blue. Blue night. Blue nights.
I noticed it, broke the comfortable silence to remark on it, realized I’d always noticed it.