When I was younger, I never forgot a face. My mother always said that I bumped into people I knew everywhere I went. This was true, but it was partly because I never forgot a face, so if I saw you and thought we'd met before, I'd hound you to the gates of hell to figure it out. I always sought out familiar people because I needed to feel a sense of belonging, and recognizing people made me feel like we were all in this together.
Once in the late '70's, I was home in Jersey getting ready to leave for Germany on a semester abroad. I hit a party with some high school friends where I bumped into Bill Mason, who I didn't much like. Bill always had to one up me and I'd get competive, so he didn't much like me either. (But I feel certain I didn't like him more.) Our conversations were always short and on this night he asked me what I was up to, so I said, "I'm flying to Munich on Monday for three months," and he said "I'm flying to Sweden on Monday for four!" Then we both walked away.
On my way to Munich, our plane stopped in Reykjavik to refuel. We de-planed at the crack of Icelandic dawn and as I stumbled through the airport flanked by my college crew, I see Bill Mason ahead surrounded by a few friends too (although not as many as I had). We noticed each other, we neared one another, I said, "Hi Bill" and he said, "Hi Debbie," and we both kept walking, never to look back. My friend Sharon said, "Who the hell was that?"
"Bill Mason from Cherry Hill," I said nonchalantly.
"If you knew him why didn't you talk to him?" she asked.
I shrugged and said, "I don't like him. I don't like him in Jersey, and I don't like him in Iceland, either."
In the early eighties, I was waitressing in Manhattan. One day walking down Broadway, I saw a lady who I recognized but wasn't sure how, so I stopped her.
"Wait, I know you. Do I look familiar?" She said, "No." Then I went through my litany of quizzes, "Are you from New Jersey? Did you go to college in Vermont? Been to Boston? Do you..did you…have you… " She insisted, "No, not me, no."
I kept her in my holding glare for several minutes until I finally put it together; I screamed, "You ate at The Copper Hatch last month, I waited on you, you had a hamburger, rare." The woman nodded, slightly weirded out and then she dashed across the busy street to get away from me.
"You gave me a shitty tip!" I yelled after her. I sighed in victory. I knew I knew her.
But my crown jewel of small world stories happened right when I got out of college. I was living in Boston and went to a party. The party was dimly lit with candles, when across the living room, I see a familiar face. There sat a blonde girl about my age, who I swore I knew. I yelled from across the room, "I think I know you!"
She said, "Oh?"
My next question was always, "Am I familiar to you, too?"
She nodded vaguely.
I said, "Don't worry I'll figure it out, I always do. Are you from New Jersey?"
"No, Virginia," she replied.
"OK. Where did you go to college?
"Florida," she said proudly.
"Vermont," I shot back trumping her tone.
"My name is Debbie Kasper, is that familiar?"
"No. Donna Wells."
"Nope" I said. We both smiled uncertainly and I turned away. My date led me towards the kitchen to get a glass of wine while admonishing me that I was annoying her. "Let it be," he said.
"But I know her, I whined." I had a half a glass of wine with whoever he was, when I darted back through the crowd to take another go at Donna.
"Summer camp at Matollionequay?"
"No," she laughed.
"Shit. I'll figure it out, I definitely know you," I said.
I was starting to sweat since I was only 21-years-old and was running out of places I'd been. "Where do you live in Boston?" I asked brightly. It was a futile question since the familiarity was old, I knew this girl from the way back.
A few hours passed, the party was winding down and I was out of time, but Donna's familiarness was nagging at me like a tongue cut. I kept staring and stalking.
I finally took the seat on the couch next to her by the lava lamp. By this time, she was pretty sure we'd met, too. So everytime I neared her she'd welcome me with her wave and her curious eyes.
Finally out of desperation, I said, "What's your sign?"
"Me too," I said! "How old are you?"
"I just turned 21," she admitted.
"Me too!" I said, squinting my eyes. "When's your birthday?"
"August 4th," she answered.
"Me too!" I screamed out. "Now that's weird."
"Really weird," she nodded. By this point there was a pack of partyers around us, egging us on.
"Maybe you were twins seperated at birth," someone offered.
I don't know what prompted it, but suddenly a memory of a vacation came into focus. We spent my eighth birthday in Washington D.C. and stayed at a hotel with a big pool. Playing in the pool, I met a blonde girl with my same birthday, which at that age was a magical event. We played for hours in the water and it all came back to me then. I looked at Donna and asked if she went to Washinton on her 8th birthday.
She thought for a long second and said, "Yes, we stayed at a resort, and…"
"…you swam in a pool with a girl named Debbie," I announced proudly.
"Oh my God, we had our birthdays together!"
"You had a maroon bathing suit with a little navy skirt."
I believe our paths cross with people from our past all the time, if we take a moment to notice and yes, sometimes even stalk. To this day, nothing makes me feel warmer than running into someone I know out of context from some place, some time, maybe just a moment. But it doesn't seem to happen to me so much any more. Maybe I'm not looking or maybe my eyesight isn't what it used to be.