Some days I scan the dark figures flitting along the sidewalks for a face. I plant footsteps until my muscles ache, until I gasp for breath, until exhaustion and numbness force me to seek shelter indoors. I see many haggard faces during these jaunts, but never the one I want to see.
One day, on the Metro I saw a woman transform her own face. She was rather plain looking when she got on the train and sat down. But then, she opened her makeup kit and painted a new one with the brushstrokes of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Everyone was busy reading the morning papers, playing with their phones, or listening to music; no one else noticed the metamorphosis. I had never seen her before: I never saw her again. Maybe it never really happened.
There was a homeless man who sat on a bench in the park I cut across to get in to work every day. I sprinted past him in spring as the first leaves sprouted, in summer when lovers sat in the shade of trees, and in autumn as the crimson and burnt-orange leaves fell. He always stared at the statue of the famous admiral in the center of the park. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” I thought, as I rushed on every day. On the coldest day of winter, the bench was covered in rags– it looked like a termite mound. I wanted to go up to the homeless man to say, “everything is going to be all right!” but I did not have the courage to brush the thick blankets covering the bench, and lie to the face I had never really noticed before. Instead, I glared at the statue and walked on. I never saw the homeless man sitting on that bench again. Maybe he was never really there.
It frightens me when I walk out of the shower and the mirrors are so foggy that I can’t see anything clearly. I wait for the condensate to streak down like tears. For a moment, I am taken aback by the face I see. I try to remember what it looked like to test my memory, but always fall short.
There are many faces I see every day. Some of them seem familiar… Is it true that none of them are exactly like they were when I last saw them? Maybe, as they change incrementally every moment, they reach a point after which I will no longer be able to recognize them. Or maybe, incremental is not the right word? As we sleep, what if black dotted lines are etched and a sharp scalpel is taken to our serene faces so we wake up different each morning?
Snapshots are not helpful either. I can recall the face in one photograph, but it doesn’t look like the face of the same person in another. Photographs only serve as crutches for failing memories to lean on. We build memories around deceptive hazy images, which crystallize shades and oblique angles.
I shut my eyes and try to remember what you looked like. All I can recall from all those years that I knew you are a few disjointed fragments. I am bitterly saddened: I am scared because I am forgetting your face.