Dissecting the Details

Sunday, March 24, 2013 / 10:25 AM

After Joan Didion's husband died, she knew she wanted an autopsy. Not just wanted one--she actively wanted one:

"If whoever it was at New York Hospital who asked me to authorize an autopsy experienced such anxiety I could have spared him or her. I actively wanted an autopsy. I actively wanted an autopsy even though I had seen some, in the course of doing research. I knew exactly what occurs, the chest opens like a chicken in a butcher's case, the face peeled down, the scale in which the organs are weighed. I had seen homicide detectives avert their eyes from an autopsy in progress. I still wanted one. I needed to know how and why and when it had happened." 

-The Year of Magical Thinking

Perhaps this is simply the trait of being a writer, or perhaps it's because Joan was an anxious person by nature. I think it's the combination of being an anxious writer. Life is about the details--about picking them apart and figuring out the who, what, where facts of every second. That job interview, that argument with a parent, that first kiss, that first heartbreak, that moment when you said you wanted to talk about love in a letter two years ago.

I feel like I'm always dissecting every aspect of my life. In every sequence of events, I feel compelled to separate the parts into petri dishes labeled with an appropriate title. What was said? What was meant--or, rather, what did mean? All this, in hopes that I will discover what I missed, and can say, "A-ha! There's the moment."

There it is. The moment. The moment after replaying every second in your head and every instance of woulda, coulda, shoulda, you realize what it is that really happened because you've finally stepped back far enough to see the whole line, not just a dot:

There is a part of me that believes I have done the wrong thing all these years by never walking away when my instincts demanded it, but I know if it were not for the pain, I would never have the strength and the courage to be where I am today. I would not have the conviction to stand confidently for my beliefs. I would not have the patience to open my heart to anyone--friendship or beyond.

And yet, right now, the hidden box full of letters from over the years still exist as a reminder of my failures thus far. I wish I could trace the lines back far enough to pinpoint that moment I missed, because I will never know. (You will never tell me.) I don't know if it would help or if it would change anything; I doubt that it would. Did knowing how her husband died make life suddenly better for Joan? Does knowing the reasons anyone disappears or anything falls apart help us gain closure and move on with our lives? Does anything?

You Might Also Like