I dreamt that other people had latched unto my consciousness like fleas and followed me into a dream. They started to take photos and document my dream interior, as if they were scientists or tourists.
. . .
While Billy Pilgrim stumbles from decade to decade in Slaughterhouse Five, I remember the donut shop in San Diego. Donut shops are waiting rooms with coffee and donuts for sale. Mine is nice and quiet, especially on those afternoons in the summer, when nothing ever happens, when nothing can interrupt whatever dreams or demons preoccupy you. Fans whir, percolator burps, newspaper rustles. Once in awhile, the refrigerator shudders. Here you can sit, anonymous and unbothered for hours, gazing through big windows at a wide, shining boulevard.
Most people order and leave in a hurry, as if life is always an emergency. The people who stay, though, they've done everything and seen everything. They don't worry about the future, not in the way the quick orders do. It's no wonder donut shops are repositories for old men, veterans, survivors. They prefer plain donuts, without frosting or the little candy sprinkles kids lick off first, and burnt coffee served in Styrofoam cups and diluted with plenty of milk poured from a tin jug.
They come, escaping silent shuttered air-conditioned houses. They come, avoiding wives and children, or memories of them. They come, gazing out of those wide windows on a wide, wide world capped by blue skies. They come, to remember massacres, egg-prices, a cigarette brand you can't find anywhere.
A Cambodian gardener laughs huskily, talking with Dad about things I can't translate. The art history professor lends me magazines with strange pictures and stories in them. Three old guys meet daily, all in powder-blue jumpsuits and caps printed with names of WWII battleships. All of them talk as if they have all the time in the world, slowly, with pauses as wide as the windows, as wide as the sky.
Survivors eventually die, but a war is ready somewhere. Somewhere too many people walk into an orchestrated, obscene future of death while a present reverberates with what was lost and what was known--too late--in hindsight. A donut shop is just another waystation for those dumbly lucky few, as they wait out memories now penetrated and disguised by an artificial sweetness.
. . .
From these men, I got my funny sense of time and my habit of gazing out of windows. But I was only nine; I had only neighborhood bullies, racist slurs, my mother living in another city, punishments like writing I will not talk in class x 1000. I hadn't lost anything except, perhaps, a sense of wholeness. Innocence, I guess.
Once you're separated from your mother, or from the first place you called home, you've been wounded. Everyone shares this wound, eventually.