As a married adult I've lived and raised our children in six different states. I've made moving arrangements and unpacked more times than I care to remember. The hardest part about moving isn't the physical move, it's leaving the familiar behind. Not only do you have to learn your way around in a strange city, but once you find your way there, you realize that you exist in total anonymity. For some reason, I need proof of my existence, and unless someone recognizes me, how will I know I do? I cried for Sandra Bullock in The Net when some crazed computer hacker erased her identity.
The good news about being a stranger in town is that you can go to the grocery store without makeup or fear of running into your boss. The bad news is that you continue to search for friends even when it's logically impossible for them to be there. I'll never forget the day I made a total fool of myself in a mall at Christmas time. I was pushing my way through the crowds when my heart started to pound. Just ahead of me, or so I thought, was an old friend from high school.
"Hey, Fran," I hollered and waved, trying to get her attention. Thank goodness my daughter wasn't with me or she would have called me a dork and told me how embarrassed she was to be seen with me.
Fran apparently didn't hear or see me because she just kept walking. I pushed through the crowd, mumbling excitedly about the odds of running into Fran here in Houston when we went to high school in Independence, Missouri. I hollered again, this time loud enough to be heard over the Christmas music.
"Yoo-hoo, Fran. Wait up."
The woman continued to walk but I certainly got the attention of everyone around me! I continued to push through the crowd, but as soon as I caught up with her I wished I could shrink at will and crawl out of the mall unnoticed.
"Am I the person you've been chasing through the mall?" she asked with an irritated look on her face.
It was definitely not Fran. "I am so sorry," I apologized. "I thought I knew you."
I ducked instinctively as she started to swing her shopping bag in my direction, but apparently she hadn't been aiming at me. She was just making a quick left turn and didn't feel the need to tell me I was in her way.
Like grey hair, this state of confusion has been earned. Unlike June Cleaver, I have not lived in the same small town all my life. I have a huge database of friends in my mind. Apparently some small parts of our personalities or looks are fairly generic and God likes them enough that he keeps giving them to other people. In some ways it's very comforting. When you meet a new person who reminds you of someone you already know, you feel like you have a touch of familiarity even if you don't. It's much easier than starting with a blank page.
In Houston, I ride the Metro and like to watch people as they get on the bus. One day after just moving here I saw a career woman in a very tailored suit with hair that had definitely been styled in a chair. A daily blast of hair spray must have kept it in place between visits to the hairdresser. I'm sure the color was a creation of someone other than Mother Nature, too. This commuter was very prim and proper, with a neatly packed briefcase in one hand and purse in the other. She reminded me of the organist at church in Overland Park, Kansas, right down to the glasses hanging on her chest from a pearl and gold plated chain. I suppose there's nothing too strange about that, except that almost every morning a tall, dark-haired man got on the bus who reminded me of the organists husband. They didn't get on the bus together or even acknowledge that they knew each other, but I watched one morning to see if they approached the bus from the same direction. If they did know each other, they were very good at protecting their secret. I wondered if they had any idea that in another city there were clones of their bodies living as man and wife. I was fascinated with the possibilities.
In Kansas City I worked with a young woman named Mary who was the marketing director for a commercial real estate company. Mary was a petite young woman with sparkling eyes and a bubbly personality. She was trying to start a family, but in the meantime she was building a wardrobe that Jacqueline Onassis would be proud to own. She had a wonderful sense of style that included lots of trousers and short jackets to show off her shape. Her clothes all had designer labels that were still intact and hadn't been mutilated on their way to the clearance rack. Mary's style was so predictable, I was sure I could have done her shopping for her. Now I'm in Houston working in the marketing department with a young woman who could be Mary. Kim goes one step further and has a professional seamstress make her clothes! I know Mary would be impressed. If these two women had the opportunity to meet each other, they would become instant friends. It makes me wonder: Is this something they teach in marketing classes? Does this say that women in marketing are typically bubbly personalities who have great taste in clothes? Does this mean I have to have a marketing degree to get into a size 4? With that degree, will I automatically be drawn to designer racks?
I'm not the only one suffering from this syndrome I call look-alike confusion. My future son-in-law, Roger, just recently met my other daughter and thought she had a remarkable resemblance to his brother's wife. Just imagine the confusion at family reunions when Roger will have two sisters-in-law who look like sisters but are only related by marriage, if actually related at all! That presents a question: What is the relationship of two women if one is married to the brother of the man who is married to your sister?
My youngest daughter, Denise, the one who is marrying Roger, has often been told that she looks like Carrie Fisher. People tease her about the doughnuts on her ears in Star Wars. Personally, I don't see the similarity, but thought it was really weird when one day someone at work told me I looked like Debbie Reynolds! Apparently something in Debbie's gene pool has been infused into ours. Maybe I should check my family history to see if Debbie and I are distant cousins. With her connections, maybe she could get someone to read my unpublished novel. Maybe I could get the lead part in The Debbie Reynolds Story. I could be perky...for a price.
The story continues. Eddie, my husband, not to be confused with Debbie's ex-husband or Carrie's father, Eddie Fisher, has a friend named Jeff. Jeff has an uncanny resemblance to our son, Spencer. Both young men are in their late 20s, about 5'10", have dark brown hair and eyes, olive skin, and at the current time, both have goatees. One day I said to Jeff, "I'll bet if people saw you and Spencer together they would think you are brothers."
Jeff said, "No doubt about it. When Eddie and I are out playing golf, people always think I'm Spencer." Now I have never met Jeff's parents, but what are the chances that his father looks like Eddie Fisher?
Wouldn't you know the one time when I wasn't paying attention, the real McCoy was right in front of me! In church one Sunday a couple stood up and introduced themselves as having moved to Houston from Denver. Big deal. I was sure I didn't know them. After all, Denver is a big city. After church I bumped into them, and without even trying to make a connection, realized I had known them. We had gone to church together in Colorado and our oldest daughters knew each other. Now I know I can't totally discount the chance that a friend from Oklahoma City might cross my path in Houston.
I saw a button on a woman in the fabric store the other day and it said, The face is familiar, but I can't remember who I am. It struck me as funny, probably because as I get older and recognize people I've never seen before, it seems entirely possible that one day I will forget myself. Or maybe I'll be in another city, see someone who looks like me, and be excited to see her again.
back to the Short Story Page.Hey! Don't I Know You?, 11 June 1997