What Was that Name?


          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.”

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