Dear person whose name I can’t remember,
I watched you approaching from up the aisle. For a moment I battled between feigning sudden interest in the varieties of salad dressing, or matching your gaze and forcing myself into an awkward exchange.
You smile, I smile. You stop your basket next to mine, and my mind automatically shifts to panic mode as it often does in social encounters, especially ones that are unexpected. You see, I’m panicking because I don’t know your name. I know that you’ve given it to me. I know that I’ve heard it uttered by others on several occasions, but I just can’t peg the correct series of letters, the correct syllables, to your face.
But before you get upset by this fact, as if you are too unimportant to be embedded well in my memory-recall, I want to explain something to you.
You see, I don’t remember people by their names. For some reason, my brain has just never been hard-wired to remember names very well. It has, however, been hard-wired to remember other things; things that help me know exactly who you are.
I remember who you are by that one dimple you have on the left side of your face. I remember who you are by the sound of your voice, the way you lilt your consonants, or by the fact that your questions never really sound like questions. I remember who you are by the gestures you make when you speak; more choppy and forceful than fluid and carefree. I know you because of the silver pendant you always wear, or that green sweater that is so awful it’s adorable. I know you by the gray starburst in your blue eyes, the cluster of freckles on your wrist that have bled together and look suspiciously like the Apple icon.
You pour barely a teaspoon of creamer into your coffee.You choose raspberry vinaigrette over ranch dressing. You leave your napkin bundled up beside your plate instead of placing it in your lap. You eat your grapes with your fingers instead of with a fork.
You get this smirk on your face when someone is talking to you, and I can always tell that it’s an uncontrolled reaction because of the worry that flashes behind your eyes when you realize you’re doing it (I have that same fear that someone will misconstrue our expressions as lack of interest, or something negative). I see that flicker of fear when you laugh too loudly, the same flicker of emotion when you say something you feel is very witty but aren’t sure how others will react.
I remember you by the sights, sounds, and smells happening when I’m around you. And so when I see you, I see these little things–seemingly insignificant things–about you. When I look at you, it’s not your name that bounces around my head like a neon flashing light, or like sifting through a Rolodex until your name appears. When I look at you, I remember the way the room smelled like rosemary chicken and lavender; I remember that I was cold and you offered to go get your sweater from your car for me; I remember the sound your foot made as it tapped against the ground.
So, before I watch the disappointment bleed across your face once you realize that I don’t remember you name, please understand it’s because I remember you in so many other ways.
That lady who can’t remember your name but remembers that you prefer dogs to cats