Saturday, October 11, 2008

Do You Remember Walter?

I had a visitation, as much as a visit, the other day at where I work. Someone I had not seen and (quite frankly) not thought about for over a decade, stopped in on his way to something else he was doing in his life. There was an awkward instance as I shuffled through the mental Rolodex trying to place this person, somewhat weathered and care-worn, in the file of a memory I have.

He actually had to tell me who he was and what we were to ourselves, one another and our employer as I was doing the 'smile and nod' I've taught my children. When confronted by a Hare Krishan, trapped by a Jehovah Witness, challenged to accept Jesus (no hyperlink necessary) as my personal savior, or to sign a petition banning the bustle skirt, I just smile while gently nodding my head and making some, but too much, eye contact with the conversationalist and keep moving. That's really the key--like those who settled this great country of ours. Always keep moving. Westward Ho!

Of course, trapped behind my own desk in my own office, the effectiveness of the smile and nod is severely degraded. And, as it turns out, the visitor was, or more accurately, is a nice enough person whom I met when we were both hitchhikers, but he had his ear tuned to the roar of some metal-tempered engine on an alien distant shore. The years, to be blunt, have not been kind to him.

Listening to him recap, in less than a minute, ten years of life and have enough time left over to punctuate it with "y'know?' six or seven times (sorry, I keep track of that type of transitional filler-it signals a deeper and more profound emptiness) when I clearly did not know, nor care, was painful enough. When he stopped, I realized it was my turn and I didn't want one.

Some days my evil twin, Skippy, is cruel to be kind but that's often lost in the churn. That may have been what happened next. I asked my guest why he was in my office and what he wanted--not because I'm oh-so-important and my time is a rationed commodity more precious than gold but because listening to him and watching who he was and remembering who he had been I was struck by how badly both of us had managed the passage of time.

I freeze dry people-how I saw you last is how I remember you. When I saw my brothers, or some of them, and sisters a few months ago at the funeral for my mom's brother, I was struck by how 'old' my mother was-as if it were possible for a person to have a child who was 56 and yet she, herself, be forty. My mental scrapbook of her and my siblings has lots of fading and faded photographs and it was hard to reconcile these people with those memories.

Meanwhile, back in my office, my visitor sensing that you cannot step into the same river twice, because both it and you have changed, glanced at his watch and did the 'look-at-the-time' aria from the operetta of his life, said goodbye amid mutual reassurances we really should get together soon (which will happen in the future with the same frequency it has happened in the past), and stepped through the door and out of my life again.

" Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago. If you saw me now you wouldn't even know my name. I bet you're fat and married and you're always home in bed by half-past eight. And if I talked about the old times you'd get bored and you'll have nothing more to say. Yes, people often change, but memories of people can remain."
-bill kenny

No comments: