August 27, 2015 § 4 Comments
I have taught approximately 950 students in the past 4.5 years. Some are repeats, but still. That means, when you live in the same place you teach, you can’t go anywhere without being recognized. I have some talents, but they are limited. I can, for example, remember 120 students’ names each semester, provided they sit in the same spot for the first two weeks of class. It’s a visual/situational memory thing. Unless they have made an impression on me in some other way by the end of the semester, however, I unconsciously delete the names to make room for the new batch. But I always remember faces. Jeff did not teach as many students, but he got to know his students well over the years. In North Carolina, there was nowhere we could go within a 15-mile radius where we wouldn’t be recognized by somebody: no coffee shop, restaurant, or grocery store, at least. On my last day in Durham, we went to the Whole Foods, sweaty and disheveled from packing, and I ran into a student I hadn’t seen in a year or so. I remembered his face. I was grateful for his nametag. He remembered me. I smoothed my hair to try to look closer to my work self. He told me I’d made him like English, which may have been a fib, just because Jeff was standing there, but still, when you are leaving a place you didn’t plan to ever leave, you love everything about it, especially students who say kind things.
Now, that is gone. I could be anybody, just another one of the millions of people in the Northeast from around the whole world. Predictably, I miss being recognized as “Ms. Whetstone.” I knew who that was, what I was expected to say, even if I was embarrassed that a former student was scanning my tampons or cheap wine.
I am anonymous here for at least a few more weeks. on the upside, I could wear pajamas to the grocery with no shame if I wanted. Hell, slippers even. (Apparently, this is a thing. See the photo I found on the Internet.) I don’t have to make eye contact, much less conversation, with anyone in retail. Still, I must admit, I felt slighted when the guy who checked me out at Ross the other day told me the total due and turned away as he gave me my receipt, as if I was already gone– as if I was nobody. Not even a nod.
Jeff says he likes this, the anonymity of a new place. We haven’t even run into anyone in NYC—doesn’t that always randomly happen? We are individuals at the tail end of a liminal space—stepping off from the unknown to the barely known.
A week ago, I was on the way to meet a friend of a friend for the first time, and I heard someone call out, “Stephanie!” There are a lot of people with my name, so I just kept going on my bike, then I heard it again. I stopped and turned around. It was the one friend I already know in this town. It actually was my name being called, a great and wonderous surprise.
My invisibility cloak is slipping. Then again, maybe the thing never fully covered me anyway. Today, in the phone store, the young guy waiting on us observed, “Your accent is different than his (meaning Jeff). When he talks to me, his changes a little, like he’s travelled for business. Yours is stronger.”
“Where do you think I’m from?” I ask. I think I sound like I’m from Kentucky/North Carolina, but I’ve been placed anywhere from Mississippi to England.
“The South,” the guy says.
“You have a good ear,” I say.
I guess I never was totally anonymous. I’m just not sitting in the same spot.