(photo credit: Worm hole by marphlix on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.)
I was making my way around a wonderful store, full of contemporary, off-beat designs in everything from jewelry to art to housewares, when I came upon a polished cherry wood box that I loved.
Actually, it was several triangular wood boxes set one on top of the other, connected by an invisible hinge. If you gently pushed the top box to the side, it revealed a compartment that could be used for jewelry or some other relatively small item. Then, if you pushed that box aside, it revealed another compartment. I pushed that next box aside to find another compartment. And so on. I believe there were seven compartments before you reached the bottom.
I didn’t realize how much I loved this piece until a salesperson came over and started discussing it with me. He told me about the artist and the other pieces of his that the store carried and how thrilled he was when the artist showed him the newest design–the box I admired. As we talked, I learned that this salesperson was the buyer for this store and that he played off the aesthetic of the owner, who was also a jewelry designer.
We talked for several minutes as he showed me how one of the boxes, called the Cricket, made a sound like a cricket if you pressed it in just the right place. For some reason, this made me happy and I started making all the Cricket boxes chirp, at least until he started to talk about the other qualities of this line of products. It’s possible he was nervous that I in my enthusiasm, I was going to break one of the boxes.
I was listening intently (because when I love something, I probably am the best possible customer, other than the one who buys without asking questions) when all of a sudden, the salesperson stops. He looks at me, opens his mouth to speak, then shuts it again. Finally, he opens it again, and says,
“Are you Sara?”
Now, I look more closely at him, until his features, which previously looked like ‘a salesperson,’ suddenly started to mean something to me.
“You’re Michael. It has been a very long time.”
Indeed it had. We went to elementary school together. Met when we were maybe five or six, in Kindergarten. We continued in school together through high school but we were never in the same classes after sixth grade. I felt like that was the last time I saw him.
We hugged and swapped stories of our lives and talked about our very different reasons for separating from the community where we grew up. He told my daughter and mother, who’d made their way over to us by then, that he’s crossed paths with others from our childhood and done a deliberate turn-the-other-way move. But he also mentioned a few names from the early days of people he’d seen whom he’d loved seeing, people whose names had slipped into the deep recesses of my mind. When he mentioned them, I felt as though I’d fallen through a worm hole, and entered a world of our joint past.
I remembered him as he was back then, small and squeaky-voiced, artistic, a bit off-beat. It made perfect sense that forty years later, he was in this place, doing what he did.
After I left the store, it struck me how we see so many people during our days that we unintentionally label them in our minds: teacher, parent, waiter, salesperson. Once the label has been placed, we stop seeing them beyond their present occupation.
I was interested in a box and a salesperson told me about it. Not a man. Not a man I once knew. Not a man whom I eventually remembered as the little boy who sucked his thumb in first grade.
I am so glad that he recognized me and told me so. He isn’t somebody I’ve thought about much but he is somebody that made an impression on me when I was a little girl. And he told me about somebody I loved as a girl, one of my best friends, who’d switched school when we were still very young, who had stopped in his store recently and approached him. I hadn’t thought of her much, either, in the last thirty or so years.
But I would know her face anywhere, it is so deeply engraved in my memory.
What I don’t know is if I would notice her, if we were in this same room, if she passed by me or even if she spoke to me, asking for directions or the name of good restaurant. Then she would be the woman with a question not the little girl with the chubby face who could always make me burst out laughing.
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