I saw a video (included below, but there are some strong things in there, so here’s your trigger warning) in which people are asked about a stranger whom they remember, and it piqued my interest. We meet a lot of people, but who are the ones that stick in your mind? Do you ever wonder if you’re that memorable stranger for someone? I’d loved to hear your responses in the comments below. Here are a couple of strangers who have stayed in my memory.
Stranger #1. I met this first stranger at a grocery store, and we were both buying plants there. She was a senior with short-cropped, curly, “old lady” hair who leaned on her basket as she breathed in oxygen from a nasal cannula. Her smile was sweet, and her light laugh intensely reminded me of my grandmother. There were no prices on the plants, so I sought someone out to ask them. The plants were on the bottom shelf, and she was trying to decide which one to choose, so I brought up her choices to her to where she could see the plants better and didn’t have to bend down. After she had chosen, she offered me a job to help her do errands and chores around her house. I politely declined as I had just started my PhD program and I was already overwhelmed with work and teaching, but I always wonder what would have happened if I had accepted. Maybe I would have helped her to stay out of an assisted living home. Maybe it would have been awful, and we both would have been miserable. Maybe she was a millionaire with no children, and I missed my opportunity to inherit millions of dollars. Who knows?
Stranger #2. When I was in elementary school, I got into my first car accident. My mom and I were driving home, and we were sitting at a stop light. Out of nowhere, a loud metallic crash filled my ears and my vision shook. All I saw was the windshield’s blue tint as I was thrown forward, but my seatbelt threw me back hard into my seat.
What had happened was that a 16-year-old driver in a cherry-red hot rod had slammed into the side of my mom’s car at 60 mph. The driver ran, leaving her car and us behind. I, of course, started crying. Hey, I was 8. Give me a break.
In the car in front of us were two men. They jumped out of their vehicle, and I can’t remember their faces, but I remember their voices. They asked my mom if she was okay, and apart from a few scratches from the broken driver’s side window, she was fine. Then, one of the men paused and said, “Is she okay? Why is she crying?” I look back at that and laugh, because it is pretty funny in a sardonic sort of way, because I was absolutely fine. I just didn’t know how to react, so my go-to was apparently crying, which is pretty funny too. The men left quickly as the driver had forgotten to put his car in park when the accident happened, and their car was rolling into the intersection into oncoming traffic (also kind of humorous). But, I still remember their voices and their kindness.
Oh, and just to finish up the story, the teenager who hit us came back with her mom. She never apologized to us, and she kept changing her story as to why she was going so fast and slammed into us. We later saw in the paper (back when people actually read physical newspapers) that she had won an art award, so it doesn’t seem like her life went off track that much or at all, which is good. We all do stupid things when we’re teenagers. My mom’s car was totaled.
One last thing: wear your seatbelt. You never know when you might need it.
Stranger #3. This third stranger was someone I never even talked to. I was, again, at a grocery store when I saw him walk by. He was tall and lanky with huge hands. He walked smoothly and let his arms swing gangly almost like in a Bigfoot walk, and his white hair was styled in a 1950s pompadour. I had only seen that combination of features once before—in my paternal grandfather.
My paternal grandfather was wonderful to me as I grew up, and he passed away the day before my 21st birthday. This encounter with the stranger was years after that, so it couldn’t have been my grandfather. Still, for a moment, my heart stopped. I followed him briefly so that I could see his face. I needed to see his face.
He stopped at an aisle, and he must have felt me looking, because he turned to me and smiled. I smiled back, but my heart dropped to my stomach. It wasn’t him.
It’s silly and illogical, but part of me had hoped that he was my grandfather and that somehow my grandfather’s long battle with strokes and resultant dementia and his passing had all been a bad dream. I wanted the reality to be that he was in that grocery store and that I could somehow hug him again.
Sometimes, our brains don’t always like to think logically, and grief can poke its head up at random times to make our minds think oddly. This was one of those moments for me. I’ve never forgotten that stranger, that feeling of hope, and how ridiculous I must have looked crying silently next to the cheese and cold cuts as I realized that what I had so wished for could never be.
Stranger #4. At my high school, students were required to do 100 hours of community service, which is actually a pretty good idea. I was doing some of my hours at a student art event for a retirement home during which participants acted as guides for the seniors. I guided one gentleman around and got to talking with him. For the rest of the event, I ended up sitting on a couch and listening to his stories about his career as a cardiologist, his children, his grandchildren, and his colleagues. His story about him meeting his wife particularly stood out.
He said that he was working in a hospital in a room with a big window for one of the walls. A beautiful woman walked by, and then a few seconds later, she walked by again. Then, a second or so later, she walked by again. However, this time, she came through the door and made a beeline to him. She said that she was lost, and she asked him for directions. They had been together since that day. The super cute thing about this, though, is that she later confessed to him that she wasn’t lost that day. Rather, she saw him through the window and knew that she had to meet him. She passed away from lung cancer, even though she never smoked a day in her life.
The story’s sweetness is one reason why this stranger has stuck with me for so many years, but another is because this man had Alzheimer’s and he was keenly aware of it. He would stop sometimes during our conversation and say, “I’m sorry. I may have told you that already. I have Alzheimer’s, so I don’t always remember what I’ve said.” He told me the story about his wife at least three times, and I never tired of it. I’m sure that he’s long gone from this world by now, but he and the story of his wife have stayed with me.