By: Donna Johnson
I was riding a bus downtown when a young woman approached me. Her hair was in dreadlocks, and she was wearing fuschia leggings, black Mary Jane shoes, and a sweatshirt that said “Uncommon” on the front of it.
She sat down across from me and intently peered into my face.
“Did you used to live on Emerald Avenue, off Central?” she asked.
“Why, yes, I believe I did,” I replied, before remembering that it was my friend Ann who had lived there. At age 63 my memory is not what it used to be.
“Do you remember me? I’m Penny,” she said with such a pleading look that I said, “Well, of course I remember you. How could anyone forget a person like you.” I hadn’t a clue who this eager young woman was. But I had known people who greatly resembled her-needy, unloved people whom no one else wants to talk to, so I wasn’t completely lying.
“It’s been so long,” I murmured under my breath.
“Ten years,” said Penny. “It’s been exactly ten years!”
“Well,” I said.
“You saved me!” she exclaimed.
“Thank you,” I said, by this time feeling as virtuous as if I had been the one who had saved her. But from what had I saved her from?
“From crack,” said Penny. “You saved me from my addiction to crack.”
“Oh, I can’t take credit for that,” I said. It was the first true thing I said to Penny. By now the other passengers were waiting to see what was going to happen next. Penny fell upon me with such ardor that I almost fell out of my seat and began weeping.
“I love you,” Penny said passionately. “Everyone loved you.”
Someone handed her a Kleenex and she blew her nose loudly, as I did, for now I was beginning to get a little tearful myself. I wish I were the woman who saved her-so virtuous, loving, and popular, even. I have to admit that I have not been winning any popularity contests lately. Most of my friends have dropped me recently, so I’ve gotten my telephone number changed so I can say to myself, “Oh well, my friends are not calling me because they don’t have my new number.” It’s a lie I tell myself. I often do this to make myself feel better.
“I love you, too,” I responded. It’s hard not to love someone I have shared such memories with, even if the memories are fictional.
By now Penny was calm and laughing. “You remember Snowball, don’t you? He used to crawl on your lap every time you came over, and he tried to follow you home when you left.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course I remember Snowball,” I lied, wondering who or what Snowball was. A dog, a cat, a plump child, or perhaps an elderly grandparent?
“Snowball is still with me,” Penny said. “I know he would love to see you. Would you like to come see him sometime?”
“I would love that so much,” I answered, because I liked Penny and longed to know who Snowball was.
Penny was the first person I gave my new phone number to. She didn’t call me either.
Perhaps as I was exiting the bus something about my demeanor made her realize I was not the person who had saved her. This was tragic, for just when she realized I was not who she thought I was, I had decided that I was the wonderful person she knew who lived on Emerald Avenue.
I traipsed on down Market Square wondering to myself, “Who am I, really? A projection of someone else’s personality? Did I even exist at all?” This reminded me of a quote from my favorite bumper sticker: “Honk if you don’t exist.” Though it was not a meeting entirely conducive to building my already failing ego, it was not an encounter I would soon forget, as I continue to ponder the existential question of who I really am.
© Donna Johnson, 2015.