It’s time to come clean: I have no idea who you are.
Yes, you, the one I’ve been corresponding with for several months. You, the one I see four times a day, five days a week. You, who know all the names, ages, talents, foibles, shoe sizes, birth weights and breakfast cereal preferences of each of my children. Perhaps you think I recognize you because my face lights up when I see you, and I appear delighted to be spending time in conversation with you, one of my favorite people.
Well, that’s not delight. That’s sheer panic. On the inside, I’m thinking, “Oh, lord, give me a clue here. Short woman, dark hair, dark eyes. Something to do with kids. Either my pediatrician, or the children’s librarian, or possibly the crossing guard who reminds me of that actress in that one movie with the funny scene in the restaurant. Or was it a TV show? No, I think it was a movie, like from the 80’s, in a restaurant, and there were daisies on the table. Something about roast beef and gravy, and there was that stupid song, “Doot-doot-dootin, a doo-doo-doo . . .” But wait, this can’t be the same person, because that was just a movie! Pediatrician, yes, she’s definitely the pediatrician! But why is she wearing an orange vest and holding a stop sign? What IS this?”
Sometimes I tell people, “I’m sorry, I’m SO terrible with names.” But that really hardly covers it. I’m bad with names like Vlad the Impaler was bad with putting on a spangly bodysuit and teaching intoductory tango. I’m telling you, I’m bad.
Now, there is such a thing as being “face blind,” a genuine neurological impairment also known as prosopagnosia. I believe my mother has it, which is why all my childhood memories of movie night include lots of dialogue like,
“Wait, pause it! Pause the movie! Who is that man all of a sudden? Why are they after him now?”
“(sigh) It’s the same guy, Maggie. He’s just wearing a hat.”
My mother has unlimited powers of not recognizing people; and like, all superheros, she had an arch nemesis: that old lady at church. My mother worked so hard at memorizing every detail of her face so that she would know who she was at their next encounter . . . but every time she made some progress and felt confident and ready, that treacherous old woman would go and dye her hair. Back to square one.
I, unfortunately, don’t have prosopagnosia. I took the test, and it turns out I’m just an idiot. And it’s not just a matter of not recognizing people I ought to recognize. When it comes to doing, saying, or thinking the appropriate thing when I’m interacting with or talking to or about other people, I completely, spectacularly, unforgivably suck. Exhibit A: when I was newly married, my teenage sister-in-law had some friends named Crystal and Misty. In my ingratiating way, I started making fun of their names because those are funny names, you see, said the person named Simcha. “Hoo hoo hoo!” I hooed, in a manner sure to cement good will and amiable feelings in perpetuity: “What kind of names are those? I guess your other friend __________ couldn’t make it here today!”
Now, let me stop for a moment and explain that the name in question is soft and feminine, pleasant and appealing, and above all, extremely common. Which is, among other reasons, why I don’t have the guts to record it here. Furthermore, even as I was jeering, I was pregnant with a baby that I was secretly hoping to name either “Felix” or “Beryl,” depending on the sex, so there you are. Returning to the story now.
So I was all like, “Crystal! Misty! _________! Oh boy!” and sort of halfway wondering why my husband, who is usually so blasé, was making increasingly frantic “I can’t believe you don’t shut up” gestures from the other side of the room. I also couldn’t figure out why my new mother-in-law was looking at me like I was some kind of especially repulsive locust. Oh well, probably no reason, concluded the part of my brain that wasn’t engaged in blabbering. Mothers-in-law BE that way, right?
Especially when they have a daughter named ____________. (She goes by her middle name, which is why I forgot.) And also when their son is engaged to a woman who is also named ___________.
See? Vlad the Impaler.
They say that, at the Resurrection, each one of us will be given a white stone with our true name on it. If you see me peeking over the shoulder at the person in front of me, now you’ll know why.