Brenda’s Unfortunate Record #17
I’ve totally glazed over. Kristina’s standing beside me in an off-license near Gillet Square. ‘Oh hiiiiii! How’s it going?!’ she says warmly to the tall, brunette stood beside us. He’s looking at me, full of familiarity. I clock that I should know him and smile. With an unconvincing nod of recognition and in the hope something might click, I ask what he’s been up to. But nope. Nothing.
As we leave, Kristina’s flabbergasted. ‘Oh my god I’ve never seen it so clearly,’ she says. ‘You honestly had no idea who that was?!’ I shake my head somewhat despairingly. ’You really do have face blindness!’
‘Yeah, I’ve been telling you for years! It’s really bad…’ I feel so awkward. She goes on to tell me we spent an entire day with him not so long ago. I remember the outing well and it wasn’t even that this particular individual failed to make an impression, I just genuinely really struggle to recognise people. Anyone who knows me will confirm. There’s bound to have been one moment or another where I’ve patently drawn a blank.
A little while later we’re at an event in Clapton and it happens again, only this time the recipient pulls me up on it. ‘You totally don’t remember me, do you?’ he asks. I lie.
‘No, no course I do, sorry. What’ve you been up to?’ followed by a bold ‘it’s been ages!’. I say bold as this can totally backfire. Shoot yourself in the foot if said person ends up being someone you were with the previous weekend.
‘Chloé!’ exclaims Kristina, ‘he’s the guy who interviewed us!’ Which was quite awhile ago, so I know I’m somewhat in the clear. She goes on to suggest I should have a badge made, warning folk of my shortfall – I’M NOT A CUNT, I HAVE FACE-BLINDNESS – and she jokes about wearing a day-glo vest to guide me through social interactions. PLEASE DON’T DISTURB, I’M WORKING.
The first time I realised something was really amiss happened just after I moved to London. I was working for a couple venues, travelling around the city ensuring flyers were topped up and promotion was present. Despite the heavy bag, it was a good job – daytime hours, decent-ish pay, relative autonomy, plus I got to explore lots of new neighbourhoods. Every morning I headed down south to collect the day’s batch of leaflets and posters.
This one particular day I was trundling up Brixton High Street. The sun was shining and I was feeling good. Suddenly a young man stopped me dead in my tracks. ‘Chlo-aye!’ he said, going on to explain (in French) how happy he was to see me. He’d just arrived in London and had left his bag with passport, wallet, everything on the train coming in from Gatwick. I was desperately trying to work-out who this was. You’d think the fact he wasn’t speaking english might’ve narrowed it down but after a few unsuccessful minutes of brain squeeze I finally had to come out with it,
‘I’m so sorry, you’re going to have to remind me how I know you?’
The look on his face will stay with me forever (even though I can’t remember his features). It went from animated to aghast in one fell swoop, like I watched his eyes and cheeks sink with the heart.
‘But, it’s Julien. You stayed at mine last summer?’ And with that, the floodgates of horror – it all came back. I’d spent weeks in his house in Marseille! He’d put me up rent-free. We’d had dinners, we’d partied together. This was a pal, what the fuck was wrong with me?!
I awkwardly tried to wriggle out of it, apologising, ‘I’m so, so sorry … You’re just the last person I expected to see here! I haven’t had much sleep. I’m on my way to work. I’m in a total daze. How can I help?’ I gave him my number and urged him to call, but it was too late. I didn’t see or hear from him again for nearly a decade. The next time was a chance encounter on a dance-floor in Paris. He came up and made a point of introducing himself, telling me off the bat exactly how we knew each other.
Over the years I’ve devised better coping tactics. Whilst they sometimes work, they’ve also made me more vulnerable to the overly-familiar, unscrupulous male. I can’t count the number of occasions I’ve been duped into dubious conversations with a chancing stranger who I thought I might have known. This in turn has made me more suspicious and probably even more socially inept.
But it is a real thing, face-blindness. I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the eye colour of my nearest and dearest & unless you have a really strong, defining feature, it will take me a few times to recognise you. So if you ever see me in the street and I don’t say hi, please don’t be offended. I’m not stuck up, I’m not a snob and I genuinely want to be friendly. Kristina’s promised to make me a badge soon.