I woke about 5 a.m. and for the next hour memories seemed to wash over me in the way they envelop Robert DeNiro at the end of Once Upon a Time in America, as he succumbs to an opium haze.
Most of these memories were about my life in Texas. I remembered an act of breathtaking selfishness, one that would be done to me just five years later. I remembered the hometown of the young man who helped me move from Waco to San Antonio (Frost), but I couldn’t remember his name, which is shameful, given the remarkable favor he had done for me. I remembered my first apartment, then my second, and then the fact that I had no air conditioning, which seems unthinkable now. I remembered the bedroom, which had nine windows, covered in rose rice-paper blinds from Pier One, and the strange configuration of the kitchen. I remembered the night my neighbor caught a father and son in my bushes, trying to spy through those pink blinds, which seemed rather sad, given that all I was doing was reading. I remembered my neighbor’s cat, James Russell, who had the disposition of a particularly bitter Vietnam veteran, stalking through the neighborhood looking for a grudge, and finally finding it, with disastrous consequences. I remember how James Russell once came into my house unbidden and, when I asked him to leave — literally, said to this orange-and-white tom, “Would you please leave?” — he reared up on his hind legs and bit my calf, a bite that swelled ominously. I remembered that the receptionist at the vet’s office was insulted by my drop-by, telling me sternly: “We don’t do HUMANS,” but it seemed to me that a vet should know more about cat bites than my doctor. I remember the co-worker who burned a tiny hole in my pink-on-green Laura Ashely dress, in the hem, where it was barely visible.
And so it went, until wakefulness became more stressful than the dreams from which I was trying to esape. Yes, detail unlocked emotion, as I keep contending it will, but these were not emotions I wanted. Because these memories brought with them the realization, far from new, that we may think we are the major characters in our own lives, but we are minor characters in hundreds more, and we probably fare about as well as most minor characters do. I’m not sure I could bear to hear these stories from anyone else’s POV — my neighbors, the boy from Frost, my co-worker, the friend I wronged, even James Russell, who probably had some sort of rationale for biting me in the leg.