Friday, June 17, 2011

Who are You Again?

I have a chronically bad memory for names and only a limited ability to attach names to faces. People I don’t know or don’t know well tend to be faceless and almost completely interchangeable with any other person until I’ve interacted with them long enough that they are distinguishable. This is a problem that has followed me throughout my school and work experience. I also have almost no talent with small talk, which in general, has made most of my social experiences highly unpredictable at best.

As an example, throughout my early school experience I was a very isolated person who very seldom interacted with others. I had only a small group of friends and people I interacted with only because I was in a class where we had to share a desk. Most of my interactions outside of this group of friends was mostly hostile because I had inadvertently given offense or because I had done something terminally awkward or stupid.  (This was a very frequent occurrence all throughout everything. If there is something ridiculous or incorrect to say, chances are very good I will be the one who says it. This is one of the reasons why I do not talk.)

So, I’d be extremely surprised several years after the fact when someone who had apparently known me from school would come up to me and say hello. They would generally become upset if I told them I did not remember them, and would go to great lengths to try to make me remember them. I still have no idea why, since they had never spoken to me back then, and had no reason to speak to me at the time.

The conversations would go something like this:

Them: Oh, hi, Rena!

Me: ...do I know you?

Them: I’m so and so! We went to school together!

Me: ...I don’t know you, sorry.

Them: But I sat right next to you in class!

Me: ...I don’t remember you.

Them: But I was in the same class with you, don’t you remember the time that blah blah blah?

Me: ...Sorry, I still don’t know you, I don’t remember much of high school, I have stuff to do, bye!

And I would walk away with the vague conviction that I had done something wrong with the conversation. Some of the more awkward conversations would happen at somewhere I was working. Occasionally the encounter would be terminally unpleasant because I did recognize them...as someone who had been extremely hostile to me for one reason or another. Sometimes they would not realize that I was still angry with them about something they did and sometimes they did not remember what they had done. Very rarely, they wanted to take the opportunity to continue the abuse in an environment where I had even less ability to fight back or avoid them.

I’d like to think I am better at this now, but I have no way to test this, as I haven’t had any encounters where someone admitted to remembering me from school in years. (Not even the most recent case where I recognized someone from a college I had attended years and years ago during the nineties. I’m pretty sure she remembered me, as she promptly withdrew from the class--which was something of a relief for me, frankly, since this encounter would have been one of the hostile ones since that first college experience was a horrifically nightmarish.) Given that I still have the same inability to make small talk and am still very solitary in lots of ways, I think it’s a safe bet that the conversation will probably go a lot like the one above.