Recognition
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Something similar, and almost as strange, had happened once before, back in the 1980s, when I was in my early fifties. I was sitting on a bench in the old Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, New York, waiting for my wife to come out of the Service Merchandise store, when an Afro-American of about my age approached and asked me a question. I don’t remember what he said, but I must have given him an adequate reply because he began to proceed on his way when he hesitated and looked at me again.

I was still looking at him to see if I knew who he was because there was something familiar about him. It seemed to me that we ought to be friends, but as far as I could recall, I’d never seen his face before. Something like the same thing must have been going through his mind because he furrowed his brow as he stared at me. We were making eye contact, and I was trying hard to think of something further to say to him beyond what I’d already said.

  
 
People were walking past us, talking, carrying their bundles, going in and out of the stores, but finally it was clear that he and I were as much strangers to one another as to any of the other folks milling about us. I smiled slightly, as I recall, but he finally just shrugged and turned away. Nevertheless, I knew that if we could have found a reason to continue speaking, we would have wound up as good friends. I still believe that, and I regret it never happened.

Many years later, not long after the turn of the century, my wife and I walked into Captain Cote’s Restaurant in Augusta, not far from the town where we had retired. Cote’s was our favorite eatery in the state capital, home of the best lobster pie in Maine, in my opinion. When it closed a couple of years later, we regretted it a good deal, but at our age, we had seen many of our habitual haunts go belly-up, not to mention nearly all of our Maine relatives.

The hostess grabbed a couple of menus and asked us to follow her. We did so, and as she was showing us to a booth on the right-hand side of the dining room, I noticed a young woman, one of the waitresses. She was about seventeen years old, I estimated, quite pretty, petite, and wearing a long skirt. I whispered to my wife, “If I were still in high school, I’d date her.” No doubt Jeanne knew that was true because, in high school, where we had been classmates, she had seen me date nearly all the pretty girls available—all but her, for I thought she was out of reach, and I was petrified of being rejected if I asked her. Instead, what I did was tease her and make her miserable.

It was a silly notion that I had expressed, and we both knew it, but Jeanne nodded her head slightly, and we walked on to be seated. The young woman was not our waitress, but she had the booth next to ours, behind Jeanne’s seat, and as I studied the menu, I noticed peripherally that the girl was spending a lot of time chit-chatting with our waitress. As time passed and our meal progressed, she began to include Jeanne in her conversation.

I was only dimly aware of what was going on, being much more interested, as a hungry old man, in my dinner, but the young waitress was more and more persistent, and finally she got my attention. I looked up, and for the first time we made eye contact.

Something happened, something that was rather like an electric shock. No, not that—a shock of recognition: I knew her, and she knew me. She’d been working hard to get me to look at her; now that she had my full attention, there was a smug little smile on her face, and her expression was gloating.

But I had never seen her before, not in this life, I was certain. I had retired from teaching several years earlier, so she could not have been one of my students. While our eyes were locked, I got the distinct impression that she knew where we had known each other, but how could I ask her that? I wanted to, but Jeanne was sitting there.

And then, even if I could have asked her, what good would it have done? I was more than a half-century older than she was, and there could be no future in any new relationship that we might strike up, or in an old relationship that we might renew. If we had known one another in some existence somewhen else, we could not then have been decades apart, for it had been an intimate relationship, of that I was certain.

So I finished my lobster pie, and Jeanne and I left. I never spoke a word to the pretty little waitress, nor she to me, but the look we had exchanged had said a great deal. Not long thereafter, Captain Cote’s closed.

The universe is a very strange place. I am not an agnostic, nor am I a theist or an atheist. All I know for sure is that an infinity of things is possible, and in eternity, therefore, all things are possible. I have experienced some of them, a very few of them in this life I am living at the moment.

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