I’m at the supermarket, about to pick up a cantaloupe, when a woman I don’t recognize walks directly toward my cart smiling.
“Hey,” she says, calling me by name. “How are you? How’s Howard and the boys?”
I stare a little too deeply into her face. Nothing. No recognition what-so-ever. I stall. “Good. Good. How are you guys doing?”
“Fine.” She goes on, not noticing my plastic smile and discomfort. “Jake is really liking camp.” Jake, I think, my brain fluttering at hummingbird speed to cob-webbed reference pockets for a connection. I wonder if he’s a friend of Tyler, Michael or Julius? Jake? Jake? I come up blank.
“That’s great.” I stall. An awkward silence follows. I focus my attention on squeezing a cantaloupe and gravely consider its worth, like I have a clue what a cantaloupe is supposed to squeeze like. Why doesn’t she just leave? Can’t she see she’s killing me, here?
“Ok, well. It was nice seeing you.” Finally, the torture is ending. “Call me up and we’ll set up a play date.” She sing-songs, then rolls away.
“Absolutely. Sounds good.” Waving her off, I chuck a random cantaloupe in my cart and move on, hoping not to bump into anyone else. Given the size of our town, however, the probability is more likely that I will than won’t. Come to think of it, I actually don’t think I’ve ever gone to the supermarket without seeing someone I know, or at least, someone I am supposed to know.
This is a typical, recurring theme for me. I’m somewhere in town and a woman will approach me with a wide smile of recognition on her face. Sometimes I recognize them but can’t place where. Sometimes, I just don’t remember their name, and sometimes, I just have no idea. When we are out, Howard is constantly whispering in my ear, “You know who that is, right?” A good 90% of the time I don’t. The other 10%, he’ll be testing and teasing me. “Come on. Give me a break. I know who our next door neighbor is.”
“Just checking.” He’ll say with a wink. I did forget who his boss was three times already, maybe four.
It’s a running joke, but I worry. Why can I remember where the mask is to the batman costume we haven’t put on in over a year. Or the grey army man with the black gun. Or the fork with one bent prong. Why do I know where everything is but not who anyone is?
I can’t even say I know who my kids are all the time. “Don’t do that Howard!” I yell. “I mean Julius! Tyler! Crap!” Of course, you know, the kid standing before me is Michael, grinning like cat. Arggh!
When I meet someone now, I consciously try to remember their name. I verbally repeat it, like the memory experts say, knowing full well I sound like an idiot, or an anchorwoman. “Yes, Susan, nice to meet you too. And now, the weather.” We will chat for a few minutes, then Susan departs. “Who was that?” Howard will ask, coming up next to me. “No idea.” I answer, and I really don’t. “Something with an N, maybe?”
So today, I had another one of those moments. I’m at the gym and a blonde woman, who looks familiar but I don’t know where from, corners me on the elliptical machine and starts chatting happily. “So how’s Julius doing? Does he like the camp?” I nod as I always do. She must think I’ve overkilled on Botox, the way my face stiffens up. Finally, when she asks after my mother, I have to interrupt. Who is this chick? “I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.”
She gives me an assessing look, but is still smiling when she says, “Of course, I’m terrible with names too. It’s Kate.”
“Of course, Kate. Sorry.” Who?
We chat a little more (Kate apparently is having a great summer and we are so setting up lunch!) and after she leaves, I’m left wondering. Kate? Kate? I keep thinking through the day. Who is Kate?
Later that night, I tell Howard about my experience, and how frustrated I was that I couldn’t place this woman and how uncomfortable that she knew so much about us.
“What was her name again?” He asked, poking his head out from behind his iPad.
I take a moment. I take another. I have no idea.