Hi, what are you up to? I text Tom on a Monday. Working late, he responds, as he does sometimes.
Another friend who occasionally claims to enjoy my company said he’d be in town Monday evening. Hi, wanna meet for a drink after my assisting gig? I text him. Sorry, no, he replies, I’ll be too far still.
And so I stop by a store, have a snack alone, go home alone, go to bed alone. Except I am not.
Here, with me, are Martin, Martin’s mother, his crazy grandmother, Albert, Heinrich, little Vilma, so small, so blameless, so hurt already, and all the rest of them. Young boys with their lives maimed by the war, beautiful women with their lives shattered by the war, men who have seen unimaginable horrors, men who were the perpetrators, my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, on the other side of the war. The side no longer matters.
I am a little bit like Albert’s late wife, and I sort of wish I were like Martin’s mother, but not really, and I am not anyway. With Martin, I love vulgar bread and potatoes. With Heinrich, I feel the ice crack under my feet, all alone, except he catches a glimpse of hope once. Heinrich is a young boy, I am not; I know hope is poison. On the other hand, I know there is practice, so we both have something to hold on to.
A photograph is my bookmark. It must have been there since the last time I’ve read the book. On it, a lover and I are at a somewhat fancy restaurant. It was taken in year 2000 by another lover. Both got appallingly drunk that evening. The one who took the photo drove; didn’t clear an off ramp, scraped a hubcap against a Jersey wall. Just a scare. I didn’t see much of either after that. I glance at the photo, amused by how much none of that matters any more.
While Martin, his companions, and their lives shaped by the war still do. The war still matters, the cracks it has left reach through time, through generations, new wars sprouting within. I am not alone, and yet anyone else who would have read “House without Guardians” by Heinrich Böll seems beyond reach.
The boys fight and drink to escape. I read. Not much different.