Who Are You Again?
By Amber Gordon
A bearded man in a dark knit winter cap smiles as our eyes meet. He seems content with his polite gesture in this normal situation. I am apprehensive and disoriented.
He asks, “How’s it going?”
“I’m fine,” I say, but all I can think is, Do I know you? Would it be rude to ask? Then the moment passes, and I always regret not asking. I can almost never tell if people who greet me are just being polite, or if it is someone I actually know who is trying to start up a conversation with me.
This scenario occurs on a near daily basis. Every time I am approached by somebody, my mind begins racing, searching for any familiarity in his or her face while simultaneously telling my body to remain calm and maintain a normal appearance. And I’m nervous by nature, so that’s not always easy.
I am face blind. The technical term is prosopagnosia, which basically means that I have a difficult time recognizing faces. Some people with prosopagnosia can’t recognize anybody at all. Luckily I can recognize people I am familiar with, or people in context, such as a professor in a classroom. But for the most part ,I automatically group people into categories based on similar features.
This means, for example, that every tall, thin, dark-haired male looks the same to me—a running joke in my house as I mix up a cousin and a friend. And if I only met you a few times, or if you suddenly change your hair style, forget it. I can’t recognize you.
Sometimes I think life might be easier if I wore a shirt that said, “I’m not trying to be rude, I just don’t know who you are.” But I keep it to myself. It’s a tough position to be in. I don’t want people to think I’m strange as I stare at them, trying to memorize their features so I can recognize them later. I don’t want to seem impolite for not recognizing someone across the room and waving hello. I can’t greet my friends in public because frankly, I’m not sure if I’m actually going to greet a friend or a total stranger. And explaining it is also hard because I don’t want to be treated any differently.
I have thought about just treating everybody as if I know them, smiling and starting conversations whether I know who I am talking to or not. That’s not easy, either. I’m an introvert, and I don’t want to come across as insincere. I wonder sometimes whether I was born an introvert or if being face blind forced me to take more of an anti-social stance in life. I’m happy with myself, but I still wonder what life would be like if I weren’t living in a sea of strangers.
By Nikki Mentges
Tonight, our barn is home to a vigil.
I ball up my flannel coat and cushion his head on red and black plaid. He lies on his side, huffing slow, damp breath on the base of my palm, muzzle soft and smooth like a bar of wet soap. I stroke the half-moon curve of his jaw, trace the chaotic whorl of white on his forehead. It’s stark against root-beer bay.
I flash back to last year. Same corner, back to the railing, but a different neck laboring under my palm, a different shade of brown fading, glazing beneath dark lashes. They overlap in my mind, and suddenly he’s not the only one struggling to breathe.
There’s something about this patch of floor he’s chosen. Dirt, grooved by pawing hooves. Sun-mummified grass, clover, and alfalfa, sweet and dusty, mounded high. Hand-milled board railing, spiked through with nails bleeding rust. Why here? What makes this corner a place worth dying in?
I can guess. I’ve seen it before, that animal instinct to seek comfort and safety when death draws near. I think of terminal patients doing the same, checking out of the hospital to die in their own beds, surrounded by their loved ones. It triggers an intimate, empathetic response, proof that at heart we are still animals.
He goes quick, in the grand scheme of things—263,000 hours of living and just a few of dying. Flanks cease to rise and fall in that gradual way, like the winding down of an engine, and then I’m alone.
By Ethan Johnson
I search high and low. Throwing remnants of a model car, an unfinished quarter collection, and old mail into a pile in the center of my bedroom. I am just beginning to search for her memories, having just realized I lost them. I prefer misplaced.
Clothes that were piled up in the corners of the room also become a part of the mountain of junk. I move on to the next pile. Books and old articles. These take a little longer to go through. I pick up the Chronicles of Narnia box set that I read through when I was a kid. Then I spot an old Sports Illustrated article, “A Game To Grow Into,” and I am lost, adrift in a sea of books. Like catching up with old friends.
Her memories. My grandma’s collection of photographs. She keeps them in a large book, each page holding three pictures. She could have fit more, but she says that this way, each photo has its own place. I borrowed the book from her a week ago and promised I would have it back to her by this weekend. The pictures span a lifetime. The earliest are of her grandfather and grandmother standing around an old car with all their children. The latest photos are of my mother and father holding my younger sister, not too long after she was born. I don’t know who half the people are in the earlier pages of the book, but I recognize a few, and the resemblance between my grandma and her grandmother is undeniable. Even though I look at these photos and have no idea who some the people are, I do feel a connection to them. My grandmother calls it a spirit.
I look up out of the pages I had been lost in and restart my search for the photo album. I frantically search the room top to bottom. The mass at the center of the room continues to grow until I can no longer move around it. Her memories are clearly not here. I take a deep breath.
By Deja Miller
When I was in the fifth grade, I used to ask if I could go to the nurse’s office more than once a day. I thought it was normal to feel the need to get out of class, but I guess it wasn’t. My teacher began to say no to my daily adventures to the nurse, so I had to find something else to do to in order to maintain my restlessness. So, I would sit in class and pluck out my hair, strand by strand, just to get me through the day. That’s when I became the fifth-grader with the bald spot.
All of the kids would point it out and ask me why I did what I did, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why I could feel my heart beating fast, or why I became hot and fidgety. I just knew that I felt sick, and I would do anything to get rid that feeling. My mother tried to help by telling me that chewing gum would calm me down. As weird as it may sound, gum became my anchor, my answer to my anxiety.
Through the years, gum became a necessity, but when the gum didn’t help, I began to have panic attacks. I tried so hard to hide my feelings from others because it was embarrassing, and that’s when I started to become irritated. I began to let anger fill the gaps of loneliness and unexpressed emotions.
Soon, it became too easy to get annoyed, and I would put the blame on everybody else. I’d get everybody’s words twisted into something that wasn’t real, and I began to jump to conclusions that didn’t exist. It was hard to control my emotions.
I needed to find a solution, so I went to the doctor and they put me on anxiety medication. After a few months of feeling weird and out of it, I decided to stop taking the medication. Little did I know, it would begin to backfire. I started to cry every day, and sometimes it lasted for hours. I would lie in bed thinking about everything that was going wrong in my life. I even thought about smoking cigarettes again, so that I could lose weight. I was sick. I was depressed, and I didn’t know what to do.
I finally went to the doctor again and got put on some new medication. For now, I’m just trying to adjust.
I feel like nobody understands my situation, and I don’t know how to help them understand. I go through the days lost. It’s as if every day is a flip book of pictures that gets burned the next. I forget things all the time, and I can’t get those pictures back. I’m like a ghost floating through life, trying to cope with those three emotions: anxiety, anger and depression. I’ve lost myself somewhere, and I am afraid.
By Shannon McDonald
There’s a new entry in my little book of lost things. It grows every day, it seems. Every month there’s a new page, and every year a new chapter. Everything, from keys to memories, people to pens, is stored within the covers. It’s a collection of loss in a loser’s mental scrapbook. And for years I’ve known what to expect from it.
As the familiar aphorism assures us, however, life is full of surprises. I’ve learned what to expect from this, too. We lose time and patience, but gain experience for better management. The loss of a friend to distance or tragedy is a surprise, but we are taught to toughen up. And so the process repeats itself: you lose, you learn, you move on. Sometimes it even works in your favor, and you find what has evaded you. We learn what to expect and prepare.
Well, I never expected this. In my twenty-one years of life, I’ve always known where to turn, how to move on, what to plan for the future ahead. The path changed with time and adjusted to accommodate life’s favored surprises, but I’ve been able to follow. I guess I should have expected that, too. My book of lost things always yearns for more, and the future presents a tempting target.
I sit at a desk in my room, ignoring the open textbook in front of me. The white paint on the wall is beginning to peel in the corner. It almost resembles a smiling face, and I find I can’t look away. It’s more interesting than the psychological theories I was reading about before, but I can’t tell you why. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, nor can I say how long I will remain. The face won’t change anytime soon, and in a world of uncertainty and transition, that thought soothes me.
I always had a plan. I always knew where I wanted to go, or so I thought. I was on a one-way road to an ideal future. Now I’m not so sure.
Somewhere along the way the restriction of the one-way clashed with the complexities of the unknown, and in the process I lost my certainty of the future. But maybe that’s a good thing. The world is always changing, so why should my plans stay the same? The future is unpredictable. It strengthens, it hurts, it evades, and it is constant. Fear of it can only hamper you on the journey, so maybe it’s time for an alteration.
I watch the face in the paint for another minute, maybe ten. It continues to smile as I return my attention to the psychology text. The only certainty of my future now is the test next week. I may as well pick a path and start walking. Some things lost are sure to be found again.
Amber Gordon is a student at Bemidji State pursuing a BA in humanities, a BFA in creative and professional writing, and a minor in electronic writing. Nikki Mentges is a creative and professional writing major from Deer River, Minnesota. Ethan Johnson is an undergraduate student at Bemidji State University. Deja Miller is a crazy cat lady that loves to write poetry; she is currently attending Bemidji State University to pursue a degree in creative and professional writing. Shannon McDonald is an English education major who plans to graduate in the fall of 2015 from Bemidji State University.