I do not have Alzheimer’s; however, it is getting harder and harder for me to keep straight all the people I know.
This is not some brag to make myself sound popular, but more of a testament to what I’ve discovered is something from which many a city dweller tends to suffer: relationship ADHD.
New Yorkers have so many people coming and going in our daily lives that after two and a half decades, not only can I often not put names to faces but sometimes the faces get lost in the recesses of my mind as well.
It is really no reflection on the importance of the people—just my brain going to into recognition overload. Do you know how many teachers, parents, coaches, tutors, after-school instructors, neighbors and colleagues have crossed my path in the past decade alone? It’s like there’s a TV remote clicking pictures of faces in my head every few seconds.
What makes it worse are the people who take an inordinate amount of offense. Do we not all live in the same get-out-of-my-way, comin’-through-city, where “I can’t talk now, I’m swamped,” is the favored expression, and no one can make a move unless they check their Blackberry?
Perhaps I just have low self-esteem, but I usually re-introduce myself because I assume people won’t remember we used to chit-chat at toddler ballet back in 1999.
On more than one occasion though, I’ve been approached by people I have not seen in forever, and they eventually left me in a huff because I needed to re-familiarize myself. There was one mother I thought was going to hire a hit man when I not only didn’t remember her name, but I also couldn’t place her child who had been in pre-K with my son. Just to give you a point of reference, my son will be entering high school. I guess I could have faked my way through the conversation, but since I was never a student of Stella Adler, I didn’t think I’d be that convincing. I clung to the belief that the truth would set me free. The only thing that was set free was me from the exchange.
To be honest, not everyone is quite so oversensitive. The other day a young woman greeted my daughter and myself as we passed on 86th Street.
I did recognize her and we all stopped to chat. She graciously asked my daughter how she was doing and complimented her outfit. In turn we both asked the woman how she was and then I extended my interest to include her family. “How’s your baby?” There was both horror and confusion on her face. “No baby for me,” she made clear. Oh no, to whom have I been speaking? Isn’t this my girl’s former speech therapist? Apparently not. My daughter then reminded me of her name and that we knew her from gymnastics. I apologized profusely and tried to explain (read: babble) how she and the person I confused her with were both tall and thin and wore their hair back in ponytails. She laughed it off.
It must be easier to live in a small town where there’s one grocer, one doctor, 10 neighbors in your cul-de-sac and a mailman. But I love Manhattan with the never-ending stream of people and all the action. I just feel that on top of everything else that goes on here, if I’m also expected to remember names dating back to 1980, my head will explode.
If that happened, I bet you’d remember me.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel, Fat Chick, will be published in September by The Vineyard Press.
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