What Others Remember

When I bumped into an old friend two days in a row, on the second day, he told me he had tried to remind his mom of who I was after seeing me the first time.

“It’s Nik, from fifth grade. Remember? Blond hair, glasses?” “Not a clue,” his mom said. “We used to hang out even outside of class, don’t you recall?” “Nope, nada.”

“Come on, mom,” my friend said. “He’s the guy with the video game.” Now at that phrase, her face lit up. “AH! The guy with the video game. Oh, I remember!”

As my friend relayed to me, I had loaned him my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64. It was a long game, and quite scary to play for ten-year-olds, we remembered. Therefore, my friend had spent forever trying to finish it. Every day, he would play for hours, hoping to beat the game before he had to return it to me.

Ironically, this exact behavior prevented him from doing so, because — as parents tended to do back in those days — his mom got so worried about his excessive playing that she forbade him from playing any more, and promptly made him return the game to me.

I laughed my ass off when my friend told me this story, but I had to admit: “I have no recollection of any of this.” It’s a memory that seems to have happened without me, and yet, I was there. It felt marvelous to have my friend repeat back the incident to me and get to laugh about myself as if I was someone else, a character in another story.

As adults, we often spend a great deal of energy trying to massage other people’s perception of us. We worry about it at night, and we get extremely frustrated if our efforts don’t fall on fertile soil. Children know no such habit as “cultivating a reputation.” They just do what they feel like, and if that happens to make them the subject of a funny story later, all the better.

You can feel sad about the fact that you forget, and you can desperately try to control what other people will remember from their encounters with you — or you can let life unspool and enjoy whatever comes back at you. “Wow, so that’s what you remember. Interesting!”

The human mind is fickle. We all sow plenty more seeds than we can harvest. If a few stray ones find their way back into your hand, don’t read too much into them. Enjoy the extra strawberries, and then lend the game to your next friend.