Nice to Meet You? Yes, It Always Is

Todd was well known around campus, a life-of-the-party fraternity-type. Women loved him. Men loved him. He moved in a crowd or inspired one to gather. Why, then, would he remember me? I was quiet then, boyish-looking in my collared shirts and short hair. He’d only met me a dozen or so times even though when we did run into each other, I was always with his former roommate and good friend, Jon. And, true, Todd and I did rollerskate once together — because he asked me. He’s sure to remember me now, I thought, clinging to his arm as we stumbled around the rink to Duran Duran. But the next time Jon and I strolled across campus, here came Todd, reaching out his hand to grasp mine, saying, “Nice to meet you!”

I moved around a lot in my twenties. My social circle changed again and again. It wasn’t until we settled in Rowley that I discovered: My god. It wasn’t Todd at all. It’s me.

Josie and I worked out at the gym. Her children and mine took swim lessons at the same time so we shared bleacher seats and the family changing room. Two other friends introduced us at various times, told us we should get to know each other, that we had so much in common: children the same age, vegetarianism. So, a couple years later, when she requested a meeting with her son’s teachers, I was excited to see her again. I opened my mouth prepared to greet her, when she looked up from her notes blankly. “This is Carla Panciera,” the guidance counselor said, and Josie said: “Nice to meet you.”

Then, there was Tina, a perfectly lovely woman whose daughter was a year ahead of my daughter at our local (and tiny) elementary school. Many days we waited outside for the end of the school day, my friend Anne, Tina, and I chatting. Eventually, I also had Tina’s children in my class. Tina came to parents night. I see her often at Market Basket. Anne and I pass her working in the garden on our morning walks. Each time, she smiles brightly at me — she is very friendly — and cocks her head the way people do when they are waiting to be introduced. “She doesn’t have any idea who I am,” I say. Anne used to say I was imagining it (how little she knows about my history!), until the day she mentioned me to Tina and Tina said, “I hear you mention her name a lot, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met her.”

My brother once married into a small family. By small, I mean ten relatives including his new bride. The matriarch was Aunt Edie, a well-dressed woman who clearly worshipped her niece’s new husband. “Janice’s new husband is a wonderful artist,” Edie would tell me. “Yes, I know,” I would say. “I’m his sister.” She’d glance at me as if I was playing a mean trick. “Remember we met at the shower?” I’d say (where there were six of us around a tiny table?). “And the wedding?” (which took place in my family’s back yard). “And in Janice’s new shop?” (where I was the only customer). And, okay, my brother has four sisters, but she remembered Barbara Ann, Jeannie, and Patty.

Last summer, on a river cruise, I saw Lillian who was very pleased to meet me. I knew she would be, as she has been genuinely pleased each of the dozen times she’s done so — even the time before last when I said. “You know, I’ve met you several times before.”

Marybeth gave my daughters Halloween glowsticks for years because she lives beside Anne whose house I am in nearly as often as my own. When my mother visits, I call Marybeth at the senior center to request a wheelchair rental and remind her that I’m Anne’s friend. When I return the chair, she doesn’t even bother to pretend I’m not a complete stranger to her.

At the Rowley library, I help Suzie unpack books for the used booksale. We’ve met at Holly’s house, a gathering of a few couples to celebrate Holly’s latest book launch. At another of Holly’s (small) gatherings, we embark on a hike and then regroup in Holly’s barn for lunch. Now, across piles of paperbacks, Suzie says, “I have a very good friend in town who’s a writer.” Before I can stop myself I say, “Yes, I know. Holly Robinson.” This causes great confusion until I’m forced to remind her: “I met you at her book launch?” I leave the hike slash luncheon thing out. Preserve some little pride.

At the Ipswich library, Elena, who took several of my writing classes, asks me again what my name is so she can check my book out. At least she admits she has a touch of that facial recognition thing. The director of the library, a man for whom I worked for several years, passes me as if I’m completely invisible, and, perhaps, at least at certain times during my life, I am.

You might think I’d learn by now.

But Bob and I had been counselors together at UNH’s Freshman Camp, an organization that was known on campus as a tight-knit, borderline cultish group. Once a month for three years, we gathered to build the kind of team chemistry that would foster an amazingly fun four day camp experience for three hundred incoming freshman. Camp itself lasted nearly a week. Counselors also spent one weekend every spring at a retreat in a mansion in North Andover where we danced until dawn each night. Bob could swing dance; so could I. Our final year as counselors I was on the Exec Board which meant I sat ON A STAGE to conduct meetings. Fifteen years later, Bob and I met again at a pediatrician’s office where we had both taken our babies. Hugs all around! Good times! Fun, improbable reunion!

So this fall, when Bob’s son walked into my classroom, I said, “Oh my god! Sean Dorring. You’re not going to believe this, but I have danced with your dad.” A few weeks later, I searched the parents night crowd for Bob’s familiar face. Instead, I met his wife who said Bob wouldn’t come to my class because he was embarrassed. “He doesn’t remember you,” she said. His son had even shown him my picture in the yearbook. Nothing. “How do you remember him?” his wife wanted to know.

How, indeed? Maybe I have the opposite of that facial recognition thing. Maybe I am cursed, instead, with indelible imprints. I can see you, all of you: loping across campus as the bells at Thompson Hall chime, bending down to fasten a neon light to my young daughter’s neck, smiling up at the Justice of the Peace as she pronounces our loved ones husband and wife, waiting for your child to bound out the doors of school with her lunchbox swinging. holding out your hands so I twirl just right, spinning so close to you that it is impossible to believe you would ever miss and let me go.

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