It’s important to remember the names of the people you meet. Make them feel memorable. That is not the kind of advice I ever got from my father, now that’s for sure. That’s more my father-in-law’s forte. Michael’s dad is a people person, a real salesman. I mean that in the best possible way. He’s not one of those sleazebag sales guys that are good at talking you into things you’ll regret later. He’s the genuine article. Solid as a rock. That’s what makes him so good at selling things. Always knows just what you need. Michael’s the same way, bless his heart. My dad, on the other hand, only excels at selling the idea of himself as a great guy. He’s always been a flirty man, especially back when I was too young to even know about flirting, but I sure as heck can tell looking back on it now. And the way I remember my mom, when I used to ask when dad was coming home from work, the way she used to snap, “Why don’t you ever ask him that? Hmm? Hmm?” Thinking back on that, I can tell she knew.
Those things I remember clearly, no matter how much I wish I didn’t. But names I’ve started to blank on. My neighbor, for example, he’s been living there since the—what do you call it, the millennium—he’s been living right next door. And the other day, I was saying something about him to my husband. I was saying, “Michael, if you can’t find your tiny Phillips head screwdriver and you need it right now to fix the kitchen cabinet, why don’t you go next door and borrow one from—” and then there it was…that blank space in my head. I knew right away it wasn’t one of those tip of the tongue circumstances. I know exactly what those are like: your brain feels like it’s straining real hard, and you want to beat your fist on the table and laugh, because it’s just so silly that you can’t remember the darned thing, but in just a moment you’ll have it, and it’s such a nice feeling when you finally manage to spit it out. Y’know?
This was nothing like that.
As soon as I reached the part of the sentence where I was supposed to say the neighbor’s name, I was overcome by this cold, damp fear. Because I could tell that the name was gone. There was nowhere to reach.
My husband—completing my sentences as he always does—said, “Jared?” And then, “Tell you what, honey, now that you say that, I think that’s who has mine to begin with.” He looked at me with this face, smiling gratitude like I just solved a complex riddle for him, but I was about to cry. I knew he was just being kind, and because, even though it had only been a second before he said Jared’s name, that was plenty of time for me to know I was never going to come up with that information myself. It wasn’t inside my head anymore. Maybe if I went on my merry way and forgot about the conversation and the neighbor came up again some other time, I might know his name was Jared. But in that moment, there was nothing but a hole, a blank, flavorless space.
And it scared me.
Scared the bejeezus out of me every time.
Michael left to get his screwdriver, so he didn’t see how upset I was. He’s such a sweetheart. Treats me right. He wouldn’t like it if he saw me upset. I’m good at pretending; I suppose that’s one thing I got from my dad.
I went into the hall bath. It’s a small bath, that one, and the ceiling is slanted because it is situated right beneath the hallway stairs. Would have been a waste of space not to have a bath built there. I closed the door, and the smallness of the space made me feel better, like a hug.
I looked at my face in the mirror for a long time. I could see my dad, and my dad’s name, and my mothers anger, and my own fear, and Michael’s kindness.
“Maryanne,” I said to my reflection, the way I have been doing now every time I get a moment to myself. “Maryanne. Maryanne.”