An author wrote about the loss of her fiancé and father of her son. When Denzel Washington stepped in to film that story, the memories flooded back.
When people learn that a major movie studio, an acclaimed director and A-list actors have made a film about my life story, they inevitably ask what I wore on the red carpet, who portrayed me and whether I now get recognized in airports.
I understand that I am living what must seem like a glamorous life, and much of the time, I truly am.
I recently had a photo shoot with Denzel Washington. And who wouldn’t want a squad of stylists, makeup artists and hairdressers, or to be chauffeured around Hollywood? But it is not all champagne and Chanel.
For context, there is actually nothing “Hollywood” about me. I do not look like a starlet and never had any interest in being one. I am not trying to slip Denzel a screenplay to consider for his next movie. And I don’t give a damn about fame.
So how did my life come to be on national display in “A Journal for Jordan”?
I wrote a memoir about the love I shared with the most honorable man I have ever known. His name was Charles Monroe King, and he was devoted to me in a way no other man has ever been. He called me his queen and treated me like one.
What made our love movie-worthy, though, was that my gentle warrior was also First Sgt. King, a highly decorated Army leader who in 2005 began to write what became a 200-page journal to our unborn son, Jordan, while deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He told our son how to choose a wife, explained the power of prayer and wrote lovingly about how proud he was to be his father. Charles was killed in combat on Oct. 14, 2006, with only one month left on his tour of duty.
I was a journalist at The New York Times then and wanted Americans to understand what it was like to open the front door to find military officials standing there to inform you that your soldier had just made the ultimate sacrifice. The article led to my book, “A Journal for Jordan,” and ultimately to a movie of the same title directed by Denzel and starring Michael B. Jordan as Charles and Chanté Adams as me.
So, yes, I have answers to the obvious questions about my life being turned into a movie. Ask me about the behind-the-scenes part and it’s harder to find the words to describe it. I am trying to take it all in and appreciate it. But as the movie rolls out nationwide, I am not sleeping well and am overwrought at times.
I am a producer on our film but also a single mother with a rewarding but demanding job as publisher of Simon & Schuster’s flagship imprint. Juggling all the competing demands on my time, along with film promotion, can be challenging.
While I am often so exhausted that my exercise bike has become an expensive clothing rack, some nights I fight sleep to keep the nightmares away. After Denzel sat with me for a private screening of our film, I dreamed I was fighting in the war alongside Charles and watched helplessly as he was shot dead in a hail of gunfire.
Even the excitement of planning the premiere brought pangs of pain. Because Charles and I were engaged but not yet married, shopping with my girlfriends for a gown and preparing the theater seating chart felt like planning the wedding we never had.
I also worry about the impact of the movie on my son. Jordan is 15 now and is proud that the film credits say, “Based on the writing of Charles Monroe King and the book by Dana Canedy.” At times, though, I wonder how he is really processing the experience.
For now, he just wants to avoid the romantic scenes and covered his eyes and ears during those moments at the screening. I laughed, grateful for some levity on the emotional roller coaster I have been riding for months.
Helping to develop the script brought flashbacks of the glorious two-week vacation when Charles came home to meet our baby boy. But I also remember the time I sobbed when Jordan covered his eyes at 18 months old and said, “Peekaboo, Daddy.” And I recall him clomping around the living room as a boy in his dad’s shoes.
“One day,” I would say to him. “They will fit one day.”
The early-spring day last year when we filmed a memorial scene in Arlington National Cemetery was one of the hardest of my life. Preparations were being made to film on that hallowed ground when Denzel called out to me, “D, let’s take a ride.”
I got in his car, not sure where his driver was taking us until I saw a headstone with my Charles’s name on it. It was a prop for the scene; Charles is actually buried in a cemetery in his hometown Cleveland. His mother lived there and said after he died that she needed him close by.
That day in Arlington, I could not breathe for a second as we approached the spot where we would be filming. I slumped to the ground and hugged the fake tombstone, tears running down my face.
Denzel held my hand and said softly that he wanted to give me time there alone before the cast and crew arrived. I sat talking to my Charles, telling him we were on a mission with our movie. I said we hoped to remind people of the power of everlasting love, of the patriotism that unites us and hopefully of the resilience that is possible after unspeakable loss. Then I chuckled and told him that women all over the country would soon have a crush on him.
I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to share our movie with the world. And while parts of it are painful to watch, others are funny and uplifting. In the end, I was reminded that even the most difficult moments in life can come with blessings.
On the night of the premiere, Jordan helped me out of the car and onto the red carpet wearing a pair of perfectly fitting black dress shoes. I recognized them from the bedroom shelf where they had always sat next to Charles’s Bible. Our son had grown into his father’s shoes.
Dana Canedy is a former New York Times journalist and head of the Pulitzer Prize organization who is now senior vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster.