When neighbors and acquaintances learned about my son JJ’s condition, they would sometimes say “But, he’ll be OK, won’t he?” That’s what they wanted to believe, because the alternative was clearly, inconveniently, painful. And my answer was always, “No, no, he will not be OK. He will never be OK.”
And when he died, I remember thinking that I would never be OK, either. Not that I ever was — OK — but I never would be. That was 14 years ago, in 2003. The same year that John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion’s husband, died, and also the year in which Joan’s daughter Quintana got ill, went to Los Angeles to recover, hit her head disembarking her flight and went into the coma from which she never recovered.
Watching the Didion documentary The Center Will Not Hold (Netflix), with descriptions of The Year of Magical Thinking (book and play) and conversation with Vanessa Redgrave, whose daughter Natasha died of another head injury, I wander into consideration of loss, and the possibility of losing another child, and thinking no, I will never be OK. I will be functional, I will be capable, I will be productive, and occasionally happy. But I will never be “OK.”
And I’m OK with that.
P.S. More than a small part of my interest in both Didion’s writings on California and those of Eve Babitz is that they write about a time in which I was “coming of age” in the same milieu: suburbs of Los Angeles. Specifically, Didion and Dunne lived in the Portuguese Bend community of Palos Verdes at the same time I was in middle school on the other side of the peninsula; lived in Hollywood as I was in high school (Rolling Hills HS, now Peninsula HS), then Malibu while I left high school and went off to UCSD. It took more than 40 years for me to discover and start reading both authors.