Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot …? (A Little Light Reading)

This post was written as part of the Great Cake Experiment (A Writing Project for the Unmotivated.)

Lots of writers contribute to a common theme on a weekly basis. Do pop over for a look!

Well, should it?

Depends on what you mean by “acquaintance”, I suppose. Time has this habit of flying by, bringing with it small chunks of your memory. Someone should have told Time that these memories can be useful to hang onto, thank you very much. There are at least two types of acquaintance-forgetting scenarios I think we’ve all played a part in at some stage.

Firstly, you have the Forgotten Face situation. Ever bump someone you’d actually completely forgotten ever existed?

Awkward, that.

Picture this. They instantly recognise you. They’re delighted to see you. They even greet you by *name*. They remember what you studied in uni, and they ask after your dog. Also by name. You, on the other hand, are panicking. You’re mentally treading water. Although in the dim recesses of your mind you have a vague recollection of this person’s face, you have no memory whatsoever of where they feature in your past. Flailing, rewinding at the speed of light over your school, college and working life, desperately seeking clues in the conversation (although they’re giving nothing away), and conspicuously avoiding addressing them by their name – because you haven’t a notion what it is – it finally clicks and – oh, blessed relief! – you remember.

Simultaneously wondering what on earth it is they include in their diet that helps them to remember such a tenuous acquaintance in so much detail, and trying not to make it obvious that you have only this second remembered where it is you ever met them in the first place, you struggle through the last excruciating moments of the conversation until someone makes an excuse to leave. (Usually them, because you feel too guilty about forgetting their very existence to also lie to their face about being late for something.) You wave them off, exchanging lovely-to-see-you-agains and we-must-meet-for-coffees. You breathe a sigh of relief for getting away with it. You still haven’t a bull’s notion what their name is.

Yep, awkward.

Then, you have the opposite of the situation outlined above. You are the Dog-Name-Rememberer, and yours is the Forgotten Face.

You run into them by chance, in the middle of a car park in some god-forsaken part of the midlands. (Yes, I may be recalling a incident from personal experience here. If you’re reading, I’m glad I made a stronger impression second time round.)You haven’t seen them since college days, and memories of days locked up in libraries and reading rooms frantically piecing together project work come flooding back. You had all the craic back then. You really bonded. Such a shame you lost touch, you were *such* good friends – isn’t it great to see each other? Two minutes in, your ego’s reeling from that punch of non-recognition. You know by the panic in their eyes and the whiff of desperation that they actually don’t know you from Adam. In fact, you have a sneaking suspicion that only this minute have they remembered you ever existed. Stunned – how could they possibly forget YOU?!

Immediately, you switch the conversation mode to ‘Vague’. They don’t remember you? Well, you’ll give them no clues, and watch them squirm. Ask after their mother. And – the killer punch – the dog. By name. You haven’t forgotten, oh no. Then, you see the relief wash over them, as they wipe the sweat from their brow and you know they’ve placed you. Or at least remembered where they last saw you, but you know they still haven’t a clue what your name is. Trying to salvage some dignity, you excuse yourself. You’ve somewhere important to be. You ARE important, despite what they clearly think. You call them by their name at least twice as you say your farewells, and swagger off with as much dignity as your wounded pride will allow.

Yep, even more awkward.

There’s a further scenario, where you run into someone you know you recognise, and you know they recognise you. You’ve been acquainted in the past, but neither of you have the foggiest notion how, or when, or where. But the low level of emotional investment there means the awkwardness remains minimal, and crucially, you both have the good sense to mumble a perfunctory greeting and Just Keep Walking.

There are certain other acquaintances I’ve made in the past that I’d bloody love to be able to forget, but that’s a ramble for another day. I’ve even had a couple of occasions to think that Clem and Joel, as inspired by Alexander Pope had the right idea, and that erasing memories of acquaintances past wouldn’t half be a bad plan, but grudgingly I always come around to the realisation that those memories are part of me, as much as my skin, hair and eyes are, and to lose them, and forget what I had and shared, would be to lose a part of me.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

One small tip, though. No matter how forgetful you become, always remember the dog.