A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Not surprisingly, six months after Ledger's death, the grief-stricken Williams turned to Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking." "I just don't see the upside to this," she says. "You console yourself by saying it's all a deepening process. But it's weird. After the first year, the pain is less intense; it's less immediate. But the magical thinking goes away, too. And that's a whole new reckoning. But every time I really miss him and wonder where he's gone, I just look at her."

Whether or not Williams wants to talk about it, it's clear that she loved Ledger and that her grieving has been twofold: There was death, but before that there was the loss of her partner and the dream of an intact family, a loss that Williams, it's pretty clear, did not want. "'Brokeback Mountain' was an unrepeatable moment in time, a very charmed time in my life. I was in love; I was in a movie I was proud to be a part of, and with a beautiful brand-new baby. Everything was good in that moment." After the split, she did everything to get away, including taking on a film in Sweden. "I just didn't want to be at home. Geography is a great solution for heartbreak."

Particularly if the paparazzi are recording your and your child's every move. Williams's need for privacy and emotional space only grew, of course, after Ledger's death. "Because he died—it's so hard to say it, now that it's a fact—it's because of this tragedy that there's more paparazzi. That is hard to be graceful and understanding about." Brooklyn was and remains difficult on a mundane level, too. At her local coffee shop, a little girl asked Williams, "What's her name?" "Matilda." The girl said to Matilda, entirely innocently, "What's it like being famous? Are you so sad that your daddy died like Michael Jackson?" "That girl was six," Williams says without rancor. Afterward, mother and child had a discussion about third-party attention. "It's because people really loved your daddy that they want to take your picture, to know you're all right" is what she tells Matilda. "My reaction to it is going to be her reaction to it," Williams says. "It's an OK model for her to see that her mom has boundaries. It's OK for me to be upset and to raise my voice. But it's an ongoing struggle. It's hard to be the man and the woman in that [paparazzi] situation. Heath always used to do that for us." When I ask Estabrook how his friend has changed over the past eighteen months, he replies, "There's been a necessary but unfortunate hardening. But she's snapped into a philosophy: She will do whatever it takes to give Matilda as normal a life as possible."

This is the perspective that being upstate offers. At home, Williams wears faded cutoffs, a checked shirt from Steven Alan, and a stripy men's cardigan from A.P.C. Whether she's in the sticks or in the boroughs, her style is consistently low-key, classic, and faintly nostalgic. She likes clothes that construct narratives. "My favorite things that I see her wear are when I think she's creating childhood memories for Matilda," says Daphne Javitch, a costumer who became Williams's great friend when they bonded over the same navy peacoat by Boy. "So much of her style has to do with the fact that she's a soulful, practical, beautiful kind of person. Can she garden in it? Can she get a bagel in it? Because she's such a lovely, smart person, she looks adorable."

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