Decades ago, before I had the frosty white hair I now use as an excuse for my forgetfulness, I was embarrassed constantly by forgetting people’s names.
One autumn week-end I was attending a workshop for women, one of those weekend retreats we used to hold in the eighties, where people re-enacted painful events of their younger years and went through a catharsis to cure them of their traumas.
Well, while standing in my bathrobe and slippers, brushing my teeth in the common bathroom, I started a conversation with one of the participants. I told her my name and she told me hers, and then I said, “I hope I won’t forget it.”
“It’s easy to remember,” she said, rinsing off her toothbrush. “Just think of Woody Allen.”
“I will,” I promised.
The rest of the weekend passed in the way we all expected it to; with lots of screaming, crying, hugging, and finally a closing ritual to bring us all back to our usual calm demeanours, so we could once more go out and face the world.
A few weeks later, I was walking along a busy street in Victoria with a friend from work and I saw my new acquaintance on the other side of the street. Proud that I remembered her face AND her name, I waved and shouted, “Hi, Woody!”
She waved back.
My friend, who was acquainted with her, said, “That’s funny. I thought her name was Ellen.”
“Oh, no,” I replied. “Her name is Woody. I met her at a retreat and I’m positive that’s her name.”
My friend shrugged and I didn’t think of it again.
A year or more passed and once again I ran into her, this time at a potluck.
“Hi, Woody,” I said, grabbing a plate and getting in line right behind her. “How are you?”
She looked at me and said, very gently, “I don’t use that name any more.”
“You don’t?” I asked, now a little worried because I didn’t know how I was going to unlearn the old name and remember the new one.
“What name do you use now?” I enquired cautiously.
“Ellen,” she replied.
I suddenly remembered that community bathroom and her suggestion that I remember her name, Ellen, by thinking of Woody Allen. I was mortified. I must have blushed the colour of the pickled beets on the table.
“Ellen,” I repeated. “I’ll just think of Woody Allen.”