Terwijl Joan Didion schreef over het jaar na de dood van haar echtgenoot, lag haar dochter Quintana op sterven. Daarover schrijft ze – een eindeloze gebedsmolen van rouw – in het boek Blue Nights, dat in 2011 verscheen. Het is, hopelijk tot nu toe, de laatstverschenen titel van Didion. Net als The year of magical thinking (hier een fragment) is het niet een ‘goed’ of een ‘slecht’ boek, maar een boek dat er moest zijn en daarom is gekomen. De schrijfstijl van Didion is zo helder dat alle fragmenten, hoe gruwelijk (en soms niet-gruwelijk) de belevenissen die ze beschrijft ook zijn, als vanzelf op hun plek terecht komen en ‘werken’. Dit is het tweede boek van Didion dat ik in korte tijd lees. Morgen valt We tell ourselves stories in order to live in de brievenbus. Een bundeling van zeven titels. Dan komt er schot in de zaak.
“When Quintana was a little girl, we moved to Malibu, to a house overlooking the Pacific.” So began the toast John delivered in the Cathedral house at St. John the Divine on the afternoon she wove the stephanotis into her braid and cut the peach-colored cake from Payard. There were aspects of living in that house overlooking the Pacific that he failed to mention—he failed to mention for example the way the wind would blow down through the canyons and whine under the eaves and lift the roof and coat the white walls with ash from the fireplace, he failed to mention for example the king snakes that dropped from the rafters of the garage into the open Corvette I parked below, he failed to mention for example that king snakes were locally considered a valuable asset because the presence of a king snake in your Corvette was understood to mean (I was never convinced that it did) that you didn’t have a rattlesnake in your Corvette—but the following is what he did mention. I can quote what he mentioned exactly because after he mentioned it he wrote it down. He wanted her to have it in his words, his exact memory, in his exact words, of her childhood:
The house didn’t have any heat—it had old baseboard heaters, but we were always afraid they’d burn the place up—and so we heated it from this huge walk-in fireplace in the living room. In the morning I’d get up and bring in wood for the day—we used about a cord of wood a week—and then I’d get Q up and make her breakfast and get her ready for school. Joan was trying to finish a book that year, and she would work until two or three in the morning, then have a drink and read some poetry before she came to bed. She always made Q’s lunch the night before, and put it in this little blue lunchbox. You should have seen those lunches: they weren’t your basic peanut butter and jelly school-box lunch. Thin little sandwiches with their crusts cut off, cut into four triangular pieces, kept fresh in Saran Wrap. Or else there would be homemade fried chicken, with little salt and pepper shakers. And for dessert, stemmed strawberries, with sour cream and brown sugar.
So I’d take Q to school, and she’d walk down this steep hill. All the kids wore uniforms—Quintana wore a plaid jumper and a white sweater, and her hair—she was a towhead in that Malibu sun—her hair was in a ponytail. I would watch her disappear down that hill, the Pacific a great big blue background, and I thought it was as beautiful as anything I’d ever seen. So I said to Joan, “You got to see this, babe.” The next morning Joan came with us, and when she saw Q disappear down that hill she began to cry.
Today Quintana is walking back up that hill. She’s not the towhead with the plaid jumper and the blue lunchbox and the ponytail. She’s the Princess Bride—and at the top of that hill stands her Prince. Will you join me please in toasting Gerry and Quintana.