Recognizing Strangers

Today, on the shuttle that serves as the ankle on the last leg of my morning commute, the one that goes from the subway to the office, I saw this girl I know. She wasn’t on the shuttle bus. She was driving a small SUV next to it. My window seat pulled up next to the car at a red light. I look at the person driving and it’s this girl I knew from high school. Immediately, the memories about her come rushing to the forefront of my mind. All the stories, all the student clubs she was in, the instrument she played in the fourth grade, all this trivial knowledge that my mind retains. She was never much more than an acquaintance. But I’m sitting there and I filter through all this arbitrariness. Her middle name, the shirt she wore in her school picture sophomore year, that forced smile. All this information I pulled up like I had a damn CIA file on her. It was all triggered by seeing a face. After all, that’s all it was: a face. I only recognized her as that girl from high school for about two seconds. After that, she was just a motorist with a Massachusetts license plate. She turned her head and the girl I knew disappeared. Driving the SUV next to the shuttle buss was another being in the world. One with stories, but not any I knew.

It is that near-reach limbo created by a socially-reinforced past that plagues the transplanted  life.

At least once a week I recognize strangers as people from my past, momentarily wondering what I will say to them, remembering some interaction we had, and ultimately I am left wondering what they are doing. Do they ever see me in the people they pass on the street or in line at the supermarket?

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