Blam­ing the name game

Maryland Independent - - Southern Maryland Classified - By Me­gan John­son Twit­ter: @right­meg

I’m no­to­ri­ously un­ob­ser­vant.

Not dan­ger­ously so, of course. I’m very aware of my sur­round­ings in a does-this-pose-a-threat-to-life-or-prop­erty way. Any­one who seems vaguely sus­pi­cious gets the side-eye and a men­ac­ing glare, es­pe­cially when I’m out with the baby. Mama bear and all.

But be­yond that? The av­er­age fel­low shopper dig­ging through the sale racks or the next driver over at a traf­fic light? I don’t no­tice. I rarely look at faces. When I’m run­ning around, es­pe­cially on a lunch break, I’m check­ing off my er­rand list with head down de­ter­mi­na­tion. You’re not crack­ing this nut!

I guess that started when I was work­ing in the city. Back in my in­tern days, I got used to shuf­fling quickly into our K Street of­fice — par­tially due to run­ning late, but also be­cause I didn’t want to be stopped for money or direc­tions.

I had no money. I knew where noth­ing was, and we had no smart­phones to pull up Google Maps. Un­less I could see the top of the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment in the dis­tance and could point the way (“Um, over there?”), I was ex­tremely un­help­ful. I mean, I get lost in park­ing garages. Rou­tinely.

It’s a men­tal block, I guess. But they’re scary.

Here in the beau­ti­ful sub­urbs, I can frolic mer­rily in our spa­cious park­ing lots. And now that I can oc­ca­sion­ally splurge on an espresso to get me through that af­ter­noon slump, I fo­cus on find­ing caf­feine — and rarely no­tice the peo­ple around me. This has led to many awk­ward mo­ments when I’m spot­ted by some­one I know.

Or some­one I should know, any­way.

Like many peo­ple, I’m hor­ri­ble with names. Or, to be more pre­cise, I’m aw­ful with in­tro­duc­tions. I once to­tally blacked out in­tro­duc­ing a kind aunt — a blood rel­a­tive — at a wed­ding, sim­ply be­cause my brain ex­ploded. And when I re­al­ized the awk­ward pause where her name should be stretched be­tween us like the Grand Canyon, I pan­icked. I might have laughed ma­ni­a­cally. Sens­ing my fear, she took pity on me and in­tro­duced her­self.

If a tre­buchet had ap­peared, I would have gladly cat­a­pulted my­self to the moon.

This hap­pens of­ten. Get­ting ner­vous that I’ll get ner­vous makes my anx­i­ety worse: a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy. I try to take em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tions in stride, but my in­abil­ity to no­tice peo­ple be­fore they ap­proach doesn’t give me time to process. If I’m calm, names ap­pear eas­ily. But if I panic? Well.

See­ing some­one I know — say, an el­e­men­tary-school friend or for­mer co­worker — out of con­text, I fran­ti­cally try to ar­range their fa­cial fea­tures in log­i­cal or­der be­fore hear­ing the fa­mil­iar words, words that do all the brain-ex­plod­ing: “Oh hi, Me­gan!”

I know her. Of course I know her. We worked to­gether at the craft store! We had long, per­sonal con­ver­sa­tions about ex-boyfriends! She showed me how to use puffy paint! I see pic­tures of her kids on Face­book! But noth­ing. Empty. Zero. Hours af­ter our quick, po­lite con­ver­sa­tion, the name will sud­denly ma­te­ri­al­ize. I’ll be wash­ing dishes, typ­ing an email, in­no­cently eat­ing a fifth Girl Scout cookie and wham: Susie! Janet! Mike!

Of course, by then, Susie, Janet and Mike have all moved on. And whether or not I’m good at cover­ing up my for­get­ful­ness, the em­bar­rass­ment lingers.

My hus­band is my po­lar op­po­site. Hav­ing never met a stranger, Spencer eas­ily greets fa­mil­iar folks by name. He no­tices rel­a­tives at the mall long be­fore I do, and raises an eye­brow at an in­ter­est­ing fash­ion choice or pub­lic dis­play of af­fec­tion while my head is buried in a pro­duce bin. I am obliv­i­ous.

And while I bat­tle an anx­i­ety that of­ten en­cour­ages me to run — not walk — away if small-talk is in­volved, Spence will hap­pily chat with just about any­one. For hours.

I need this, of course: the yin to my yang. We can’t both be chat­ter­boxes who eas­ily call out to Susie, Janet and Mike at the gro­cery store; we’d never get any­thing done. But nor would I want both of us to be un­com­fort­able, given peo­ple are strangely of­fended if you abruptly run from them.

In think­ing about it, this would no longer be an is­sue if we were all to wear press-style badges. Ev­ery­where. Not in a gov­ern­ment-con­trol­ling-us kind of way; just a friendly, happy lit­tle badge like the one I wore while work­ing at the bookstore. You could even put stick­ers on it. I’ll kick it off. Hi! My name is Meg. I’m sorry if I’ve ever for­got­ten your name in a truly mor­ti­fy­ing way. Es­pe­cially you, Aunt Pauline. If it helps, I’m still blush­ing.

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