Who Will Remember You?
When I look at the faces of people in old photographs I try to imagine who they were and what kind of lives they led. I also wonder if anyone still remembers them. They are long gone and the majority of them are not famous so who would remember them. Do they live on in anyone’s heart and memories?
I was living in northern New Jersey in the mid 70’s and had just gotten a job as a car salesman at a Lincoln Mercury dealership. I had no idea what I was doing but my father, being a longtime car salesman himself suggested that I give it a try and so I did. As part of my benefit package they gave me a demo so I had something to drive. They wouldn’t give me a new car demo because I was too green, but any used car on the lot was mine to drive as long as the used car manager approved. Basically I got to drive a different car every day which was great.
One summer day while cruising around in a green Ford LTD I was stopped at a traffic light when I noticed a girl in the car behind me as she was grooming her hair in her rear view mirror. She seemed to be having a dilemma as she brushed here hair one way and then back again the other way.
I started to grin as I watched her and I was taken aback by how wonderfully and simply pretty she was. As I continued to stare she turned her gaze towards the traffic light and then directly at me. I’ve always been kind of shy and normally I would have looked away but this time I didn’t. I just broke out into a big smile as I indicated with my hand which way I thought her hair should go and her eyes lit up as she smiled back at me. With a flourish she brushed her hair in the direction I had suggested and then cocked her head to the side while framing her face with her hands palms up as she smiled at me with happy eyes. I immediately gave her the OK sign with my fingers and at that moment the driver in the car behind her beeped his horn and we both snapped back to reality.
I moved through the green light and turned left and she turned right and she was gone but I was still smiling and that smile stayed with me the whole day.
It was happenstance that I found such a delight at a traffic light and it was brief and gone before I knew it. I suppose that’s what life is all about, small moments in time that seem like they could last forever.
It was a couple of weeks later while I was at work one afternoon and the phone rang on the sales floor and it was my turn to answer the call. A female voice on the other end of the line asked me some questions about one of our cars and she mentioned that she was calling for her boss. I suggested that she stop by and pick up some brochures and said she would as she was just about to go to lunch.
It was about a half hour later when a older Lincoln pulled up and a pretty girl in a floral sundress stepped out of the car. Everyone on the sales floor jumped up to try and be the first one to intercept her but as one of salesmen approached her she loudly asked for me by name. The salesman pointed me out and as she walked towards me her dress seemed to carry her to me on a cushion of air. There was something familiar about her but I just couldn’t place what it was.
She started to smile right away as our eyes met as she said “I thought you would be older”. I’m sure my mouth was wide open as I realized why she looked so familiar, she was the girl from the car. I think I made a few unintelligible sounds as I tried to take in how pretty and happy her smile was. As she continued to smile at me I finally blurted out “I thought you parted your hair on the other side” Her smile turned quizzical and I could see her try to put that statement into context when I quickly followed up with “from the car the other day, in the mirror” Her smile returned quickly as her hand reached up to her head and with a flourish swept her hair to the other side.
“I remember” she said and I was elated. I smiled back at her beaming with delight. She explained that she was at the car dealership to get info on a car for her boss and when she spoke to me on the phone she imagined that I was an older guy with a pot belly and she was so surprised to find someone her age instead. She was even more surprised, as I was, that we had met once before. I got her some brochures and as we walked together back to her car she shoulder bumped me several times. You know the shoulder bump, where two people walk together but one of them is just a little out of step so you have an excuse to lean into their path and make soft contact with their shoulder.
We bantered back and forth filling in the thoughts for each other. It was like a roller coaster of words as we rode together with a singular goal of fun and more smiles. She had to get back to work and so did I but there was a closeness and familiarity I had never felt with anyone before. We were both reluctant to end this treat of new found companionship we shared and as the conversation lulled we stood quietly for a moment facing each other when she spoke again “I won’t be back until the Saturday after next”. For a second I didn’t understand what she was saying and then she spoke again “here’s my number, I rent a room in a big old house with a great family, just ask for me” as she scribbled her name and phone number on the back of my business card and handed it to me.
A breeze picked up and gently fluttered her dress as it also carried the scent of her perfume to me as she spun around to open her car door and as she sat back and closed the door she smiled at me again. But this time it was a smile that promised something, it was a promise of what could be.
I don’t remember the week and a half before that Saturday arrived. I know that I couldn’t get her smile out of my head and I would nervously finger the business card with her phone number. I was worried I would lose the card so I put it in my wallet but then I realized that I could accidentally give that card away because that is where I kept my other business card so I folded it in half lengthwise and crammed it into the back of my wallet away from the other cards.
The Saturday arrived and I faced a new dilemma, what time should I call? I didn’t want to call too early as I remembered that she had mentioned that she was visiting relatives in Pennsylvania and probably had a long drive the night before and she might be sleeping in. I didn’t want to call too late as she might be going out on a Saturday night and I could miss her. I finally decided to call at precisely at 12:30. I figured that she would be up by then and still at home, maybe eating lunch. It would be perfect.
I didn’t have a phone in the room I rented but there was a phone booth I used a couple of blocks down the avenue in a shopping plaza that I planned on calling from. I had gotten up early and showered and shaved and put on freshly laundered jeans and a shirt. I had nothing to do so I sat on the edge of my bed and thought about what I would say. I knew that it took about five minutes to walk to phone booth so I planned on leaving at 12:15 just in case there was someone else using the phone.
I wanted to walk to the phone because the weather was especially perfect. All the trees lining the streets where in full bloom with leaves as large as my hand. The sun was summer shinning bright with not a cloud in sight and as I walked beneath the trees the sun and leaves in concert played light tag with me on the sidewalk. The warm summer day first embraced me with thick humid air and then a breeze would skip by cooling me.
It was a perfect day.
The phone booth was empty and I entered and closed the door behind me. It was a little warm with the door closed but I didn’t want to be disturbed. I already had the business card with her number on it in my hand as I had removed it from my wallet before I left home. My hand was sweaty and the ink on the card was a little smeared but I could still read the numbers clearly. I put a coin into the phone and started to dial. The phone was one of the older rotary dials and it seemed to take forever for the dial to return after I entered each number.
Finally it was ringing and a female voice answered “Hello”. My mouth instantly went dry as I asked “Is ____ there?”
Before I decided to write this story I had told only a very few people because it is so personal. It is now over thirty five years since this happened and even though I can still recall almost every detail it seems like a dream to me now. But in all the detail I do still remember, there is one thing I cannot remember.
I cannot remember her name.
As I write the words I hope that something will jar my memory and reveal to me her name. I can see myself dialing her number and I can hear the voice on the other end say hello and then I respond asking for her, but her name eludes me like a wisp of smoke in a summer breeze.
The woman on the line paused for a second and then responded angrily “who is this, is this some kind of a joke?” I started to respond but she quickly continued “I don’t think this is funny whoever you are”. I think I stuttered something but I was so taken aback I asked again to speak to her. The woman’s voice then took on an emotion that I could feel right through the phone, it was as if a cold hand reached out and grabbed at my heart. I held my breath as her voice continued “we just got back from her funeral and whoever you are this is not funny”. I could hear someone sobbing in the background as I pleaded “My name is Sandy and she asked me to call her today, it’s not a joke, please”
Her voice became softer as she almost whispered “I’m sorry but we just got back from the funeral, she was killed in a car wreck last week and the funeral was today” there was a pause and she then continued “the phone was ringing when we walked in and I just thought, I’m sorry”
I heard a click and the phone went dead.
The first thing I noticed was that I was soaking wet. With the door closed the humid weather had turned the phone booth into a sauna. From that point on I do not remember the rest of the day, or possibly the next several weeks.
She no longer has a name in my memories and I am so sad for that. But I remember her, I remember her smile and I especially remember her happy eyes when she looked at me that bright summer day when all things seemed possible.
And in just that alone she will never be forgotten by me.
I wonder though, who will remember me?