On Thursday, she sacked her au pair — why is not clear, although one version has Sylvia discovering her in bed with a man. Sylvia became so distraught that she actually struck the woman. Without other help at hand, Sylvia phoned a friend, the writer Jillian Becker, and asked if she and the children could come over.
In Giving Up, Becker describes how the desperate visitor arrived around 2 p.m. on Thursday and announced, “I feel terrible.” Sylvia asked if she could lie down. Jillian led her to an upstairs bedroom while Frieda and Nicholas played with Jillian’s youngest daughter. At 4 o’clock, Sylvia came downstairs and said she would “rather not go home.”
After dinner, Jillian watched her friend down several sleeping pills and waited until Sylvia slept. By 3:30 a.m., Sylvia had awakened and was weeping. For two hours she cataloged her woes — her father’s death, Ted’s betrayal, her mother’s judgment. Sylvia finally took an antidepressant and dozed off.
According to Ted’s diary, he met Sylvia at the Fitzroy flat Friday night after receiving what he called a “farewell love letter” from her. In just two sentences, she announced that she was leaving the country and would never see him again. But what she really intended to do baffled him. When he demanded an explanation, she coldly took her note away from him, set fire to it in an ashtray, and ordered him to leave.
On Sunday, Sylvia announced to the Beckers that she wanted to return home. Jillian’s husband, Gerry, drove her, and on the way Sylvia began to cry. He importuned her to return to his home, but she refused. He left her around 7 p.m., after she had fed the children and put them to bed. Then her doctor called to make sure she was all right.
Near midnight, Sylvia rang Trevor Thomas’s bell and asked him for stamps. She wanted to get some letters in the post before morning. As he gave her the stamps, she asked him when he left for work in the morning. Why did she want to know? Just wondering, she replied.
Not long after closing his door, Thomas noticed the hall light was still on. When he opened the door, Sylvia had not moved. He told her he would call her doctor. She did not want him, she answered. She was just having “the most wonderful dream.”
It is likely that Sylvia was on an antidepressant. However, the euphoric sense of wholeness that is common in drug-induced states would wear off perhaps around 5 a.m., when Thomas could hear Sylvia still pacing above as he fell asleep. That wonderful but evanescent moment of transcendence, akin to what she experienced when writing poems, seeped out of her.
It was now February 11, and Sylvia Plath prepared to die. She left food and drink for her children in their room and opened a window. In the hallway, she attached a note with her doctor’s name and number to the baby carriage. She sealed the kitchen as best she could with tape, towels, and cloths. Then she turned on the gas and thrust her head as far as she could into the oven.
Adapted from American Isis by Carl Rollyson; copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC