I had been in a few times before, each time wondering if he would recognize me. Part of me hoped he didn’t, but mostly I was just curious. Was I as forgettable as I always had assumed? Each visit seemed to prove that I was, as his eyes saw through me and not even a hint of recognition crossed his face. It was comforting to be so easily forgotten, in a way; and who knows, it could come in handy if I ever am employed as a spy or need to go on the lam. I smiled at the thought and told myself my disappointment was silly and took a seat at the table I had been shown to.
Trying to forget he was only a few feet away, now chatting friendlily with a couple who were seated to my right, I concentrated on the menu and all but hid behind its expansive pages filled with exotic-sounding delicacies and the more familiar sushi rolls. Despite my best efforts, my mind wandered as usual and before I realized it I was transported back in time 15 years and was my high school self. Self-conscious, shy to a debilitating degree, I was once again at the corner table in the cafeteria in Devens High School, eating a cream cheese and jelly sandwich alone as I starred longingly… at him. For six years, since the day he transferred into my elementary school, I had developed a desperate crush, something he was keenly unaware of- mainly because I could never muster the courage to utter a single syllable in his presence.
Shaking the memories away, I almost laughed at myself. How could he possibly be expected to remember me when he most likely didn’t know I existed in the first place?
“Okay, here’s your Sprite. Would you like to go ahead and order?” a male voice on the other side of the menu thrust me from my inner thoughts. Looking up, I sucked in my breath through my teeth reflexively- it was him. Trying unsuccessfully to come off as unflustered, I flashed an awkward smile and must have given him my order as he nodded politely, took my menu and disappeared into the back of the restaurant.
“Real smooth,” I thought, mentally flogging my inability to act like the successful, functional¸ 32-year-old I now was. When it came to him, I was still the geeky half-mute 16-year-old who didn’t speak to anyone unless prompted and could count her friends on one hand.
He returned a few minutes later, setting down the customary edamame and to my astonishment didn’t briskly walk away as I expected him to; instead he was standing at the edge of my table. Guessing he was retrieving a lost straw or dropped napkin, I looked up to discover he was peering at me with a curious expression.
“Are you from this area?” he asked finally, cocking his head to the side as if he were trying to retrieve a memory.
Trying to ignore the growing heat from the blush that was now covering my entire face I managed to reply with a shaky, “Yes, I am”.
“And did you go to Devens High?” He asked with growing assurance. He already knew the answer.
“Um, yeah…” could he really remember me? Was it possible? My heart was hammering in my chest, the palms of my hands growing moist with perspiration.
“Is your name Josephine?” A smile had grown from the corners of his mouth and was spreading across is handsome face. A smile I remembered with such clarity I almost gasped.
“It is,” I almost screamed happily. Not wishing to ruin the moment by speaking, I waited to see what he might say next. I was not disappointed.
“Wow! I thought that was you! How are you? Can I tell you something?” his words seemed to be spilling over each other as they fought to escape his mouth in a rush of enthusiasm. “I used to have the biggest crush on you. I thought you were the most interesting, intelligent and beautiful girl I had ever seen. Sounds silly to say it now, but I was so intimidated by you, I never could work up the nerve to talk to you,” he stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets and for the first time I realized giddily he was almost as shy and self-conscious as I was.
And that, kids, is how I found your soccer coach! Just kidding… that’s how your dad and I finally ‘met’ after more than twenty years.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: When you live in the city where you grew up, it is almost impossible to not run into someone from your past. This is usually an event I dread, mostly because I never believe anyone could possibly remember who I am and I remember just about everyone who crosses my path. Today, at our favorite sushi joint, I had a reunion of sorts. Nothing romantic, as the story above would likely have you believe, but it was a friend I had spent a good amount of time with in the yearbook room at Edgewater High School. Now a server at what I believe is his family’s restaurant Aaron in high school was the yearbook photographer when I was a junior editor. I recognized him the first time we entered the small eatery several months ago, but never had the nerve to see if he remembered me. Today, going at an off-time for sushi, Aaron sat Andy and I and then after taking our drink orders, asked a series of questions that ended with, “Is your name Sam?”. It was pretty cool, being remembered (finally) and I even got a free cookie out of the deal. Sweet.
Love & Squirrels.