Recently my boyfriend and I broke up. When the recriminations and the laments were done, my parting request was that he return my copy of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. He’d borrowed it months earlier, promising to return it swiftly but instead inching through each essay with painful protraction. In the weeks that we’d been falling apart, I had hinted how much I wanted it back, but he kept insisting that he only had one chapter to go; ‘Goodbye to All That’, the final, my favourite, and as lonely as I felt I couldn’t refuse him that. But when he left I demanded the book like a madwoman, as if him keeping it any longer was an intimacy I couldn’t bear.
That morning I sat on my front stoop under grey skies, sobbing and chain-smoking and reading ‘Goodbye to All That’ over and over. In the throws of that narcissistic grief which wells in a broken heart, Didion’s wistful account of losing it in her late 20s was the only thing that seemed to make sense. But as much as I was seeking comfort in that familiar narrative — what Didion calls “the stories we tell ourselves in order to live” — I also needed the battered book that contained it; its creased pages, its peeling cover, its manically underlined sentences. It felt just as important to retrieve the object itself, as much as the beloved words inside, as some sentimental icon of what I would no longer allow that … continue reading