January 10, 2008

I Know Who You Are

She had a pretty face. A girl-next-door face. She wrote in her dating profile that she was a great kisser. That was good enough for me, so I emailed her.

“What a coincidence; I’m also a great kisser,” I wrote.

I didn’t expect a response. Hardly anyone replies to emails on dating sites. Thousands of conversations begin in messages that go in only one direction, before they simply die, unanswered. So, no response was what I got, until about two weeks later. In the business of online dating, this is called a miracle.

“You look familiar to me,” she wrote. “Do we know each other?”

“No,” I wrote back, “I don’t think so.” Then I backtracked. “It’s possible.”

It was possible. Even though I had no recollection of her whatsoever, she still had the kind of fresh, everyday face that made me wonder if we did know each other from somewhere. I can go so far as to say that, if pressed, everybody looks familiar to me. And when people say I look familiar to them, I take notice. I do not look like the boy next door. Someone once had the nerve to tell me that I didn’t look American. And many years earlier, when I was young enough so that an offhand remark could inflict a deep emotional scar, a friend’s father referred to me as that “unusual looking boy.” In short, I am not a leading man. More like a character actor in the shadows. The kind that invariably gets whacked. People remember my face. My cat’s veterinarian remembered me after ten years.

“Vividly,” he said.

In the course of our email flirting, the dating prospect had a revelation. Vermont. A small town. The summer of 2000. I was sharing an apartment with a friend. He had taught a writing class she had taken in New York. Finally, over the phone, she told me that she had stayed with us for two nights in that town.

“Really?” I said. This had turned embarrassing. I still had no memory of her. I worried that she wasn’t as attractive as her photos. Because I always remember the pretty ones. Always.

“We hardly interacted,” she said. “It was a bad time for you.”

It had been a bad time. The worst time of my life.

She said, “But I know all these details about you for some reason.”

“You have me at a great disadvantage,” I said. I tried to make this sound funny and mysterious.

“You grew up in the Upper West Side,” she said.

“I did, that’s right.”

“And your father, he was a Holocaust survivor.”

“Right.”

“And I remember that he was very sick that summer.”

“Yes, true.”

He was very sick, sick with lymphoma. And then he died. I left Vermont and came back a few weeks later when it was all over.

“I lost my car keys,” she explained. “That’s why I stayed for two nights. We hardly talked. You were very depressed.”

I had spent the rest of the summer getting baked with the locals. They taught me how to open beer bottles with a lighter and I learned who was the best waitress in the county.

“I’m sorry, it’s weird,” I said, “but I don’t remember you at all.”