“this happened on December 30, 2003. That may seem a while ago but it won’t when it happens to you . . .”
In this dramatic adaptation of her award-winning, bestselling memoir (which Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times called “an indelible portrait of loss and grief . . . a haunting portrait of a four-decade-long marriage), Joan Didion transforms the story of the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and their only daughter into a stunning and powerful one-woman play.
The first theatrical production of The Year of Magical Thinking opened at the Booth Theatre on March 29, 2007, starring Vanessa Redgrave and directed by David Hare.
Excerpt from The Year of Magical Thinking: A Play
This happened on december 30, 2003. That may seem a while ago but it won't when it happens to you.
And it will happen to you. The details will be different, but it will happen to you.
That's what I'm here to tell you.
We had come home. "Home" meaning an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Early evening, maybe eight o'clock. We discussed whether to go out or eat in. I said we could stay in, I would build a fire.
The fire was the point.
In California we heated our houses by building fires. In Malibu we built fires even on summer evenings, because the fog came in. Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night.
I built the fire. I drew the circle.
I have no memory of what I meant to have for dinner.
Memory stops. The frame freezes. You'll find that's something that happens.
I warned you. I'm telling you what you need to know.
You see me on this stage, you sit next to me on a plane, you run into me at dinner, you know what happened to me.
You don't want to think it could happen to you.
That's why I'm here.
John was in his office. I got him a drink. He sat down by the fire to read. He was reading a bound galley of David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? I set the table in the living room, where we could see the fire.
I must have noticed that later. The name of the book. I eventually read it myself, but found no clues.
Wait. I was telling you what happened.
He wanted a second drink. I got it. He asked if I had used single-malt scotch for the second drink. I said I had used whatever I used for the first drink. "Good," he said. "I don't know why but I don't think you should mix them."
I was at the table, making a salad. He was sitting across from me, talking. Either he was talking about why World War One was the event from which the entire rest of the twentieth century flowed or he was talking about the scotch, I have no idea which.
Then he wasn't. Wasn't talking.
I looked up. I said, "Don't do that." I thought he was making a joke.
Slumping over. Pretending to be dead. You've seen people make that kind of tiresome joke. Maybe you've done it yourself. Meaning "this was a hard day, we got through it, we're having dinner, we've got a fire."
In fact neither of us had yet said out loud how hard that day had been.
My next thought was that he had started to eat and choked. I tried to move him so I could do the Heimlich.
He fell onto the table, then to the floor. There was a dark liquid pooling beneath his face.
Within what I now know to have been exactly five minutes, two ambulances came. The crews worked on the living room floor for what I now know to have been exactly forty-five minutes.
I now know these facts because I obtained the documents. I obtained the Emergency Department Nursing Documentation Sheet. I obtained the Nursing Flow Chart. I obtained the Physician's Record. I obtained the log kept by the doormen in our building."Paramedics arrived at 9:20 PM for Mr. Dunne," the log read."Mr. Dunne was taken to the hospital at 10:05 PM."
The distance from our apartment to the ambulance entrance of New York Cornell is six crosstown blocks. I do not remember traffic. I do not remember sirens. When I got out of the ambulance the gurney was already being pushed inside. Everyone was in scrubs. I noticed one man who was not in scrubs. "Is this the wife," he said to the driver. Then he looked at me. "I'm your social worker."
And I guess that was when I knew.
That's something else to remember. If they give you a social worker, you're in trouble.
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.
Those were the first words I wrote after it happened.
And after that--
I'm a writer--
But after that I didn't write anything for a long while.