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Alumni of the University of Melissa’s Life

A few weeks ago, we had to go up for our yearly trip to Bucks County and we passed the place where we witnessed the motorcycle accident last year.  I still think about that man all the time, especially when I’m driving in light rain near our house where I often see deer.  When the police officer took the report the afternoon of the accident, he told us that deer often become spooked during grey, in-between weather and run out in the road.

For a while after the accident, I Googled it, looking for information about the man’s condition, but there were so many accidents on that road that it was impossible to know which one was ours.  We just had to trust that he recovered.

As we passed the spot, Josh and I quietly murmured back and forth in the front seat, replaying the accident with words.  When we drove back home, passing the spot again, we did it instinctively a second time, with a reverence and automation often associated with prayer.

What neither of us noticed last year when we stood on the side of the road in the rain, screaming into the phone to the emergency dispatcher, was that the man’s body had landed right outside the gates of an enormous cemetery.  An enormous, well-established, headstone-worn cemetery.


The man certainly doesn’t remember me.  He wasn’t even conscious for the most part, and his body was so traumatized by the impact that I doubt he even remembers Josh who was with him while I was on the phone.

But his accident changed the way I drive.  The way I pay attention to the sides of the street.  I used to drive a shortcut through this state park when I was pressed for time, and now I choose my route based on the weather.  I don’t like to drive in the woods at twilight or when there is that grey, in-between weather.

I don’t even exist to that motorcyclist, but he changed my world enormously.

And the strangest part is that he is continuing to live (since I am assuming that he recovered), riding his motorcycle through this world, and he has no idea that I’m thinking about him.


I often wonder who is thinking about me without me even knowing that I’m inside their brain.


I dropped off the twins for their first day at camp.  The ChickieNob was beyond nervous — she had worked herself up to a stomachache in the car and burst into tears when her counselor opened the door.  I parked the car and got out to wait with them until it was time to go inside to their room.

As we sat there, this quiet girl sitting near us saw a kindred spirit in the ChickieNob, and the two of them started a conversation in their whispery little voices.  If that hadn’t happened, I’m not sure the ChickieNob would have let go of my hand when it was time for me to leave.  But as it was, she was engaged in unloading her massive first-day-of-camp anxieties on this girl, and the two of them walked into the camp together.

Thirty years from now, unless they strike up a lasting friendship, that girl may not remember my daughter.  Or maybe she will — maybe I have no idea what that moment meant to that little girl.  All I know is what it meant to the ChickieNob and how she might think about this girl in the future, turning her around in her brain like a ballerina rotating in an eternal pirouette.  Without that girl, she may not have walked inside.

And this girl will have no idea that she is inside the ChickieNob’s mind, thirty years from now, when she drops her own child off for that first day of camp.  I was certainly thinking that morning about the little girls who got me through my first days of camp — wherever those girls might be now.


When I drove off the campus, squelching my own anxieties about their first day of camp, I distracted myself with a random thought of a random person that I knew through my old camp.  We called him Tate, though that wasn’t his real name.  He was the geeky older brother of a boy in my unit — only a year older but I didn’t know him.

We were on a camping trip together when I was a C.I.T. and we shared a tent because he had the new They Might Be Giants album and a Walkman.  That night, after the campers went to sleep, we laid in our sleeping bags, each with a single ear bud and our heads close together and listened to “Flood.”  I don’t think we ever went to sleep.  At dawn, we both went jogging along the canal while we waited for the rest of the group to get up.

I think about Tate any time I see the canal or hear They Might Be Giants, which means that he often pops into my brain.  He exists there at least once or twice a month in the winter; more frequently in the summer when we go down to the river/canal more often.  I have no way to prove it, but I doubt I pop into his brain.  We were never good friends — we were just two people who jumped into each other’s life for somewhere between a brief moment and a few weeks — and those types of people are rarely remembered.  Except when the moment meant a lot to one of the people.

Sometimes I think about one of these liminal people who have a foot both in the well of forgotten encounters and the world of lasting memories.  Who barely have a history with me — certainly not a friendship — and therefore will most likely not remember me even if I remember them*.

Sometimes I’ll look them up on Facebook, try to figure out their life based on pictures or wall posts if they’re open to the public.  I never send a friend request because it would be too strange, trying to explain who I am, reconstruct memories for them.  It would seem weird to admit that I still think about them, even though I would completely understand if someone approached me and admitted that.  But I could see how someone might be confused if I wrote them out of the blue, telling them how much they’ve influenced my life from a random moment, how they might feel if they didn’t even remember me.

Still, I wish there was an alumni newsletter for people who have moved in and out of my life.  A three-page, xeroxed handout listing what everyone has been up to.  I wouldn’t mind these people knowing how much they’ve changed who I am.  I would love to know who considers me one of those liminal people, influencing their life even though I might not even remember ever meeting.

Describe one person who would be in your life’s alumni newsletter, a person who would never remember you if you tried to friend them on Facebook, but you still think about them to this day and they’ve changed the way you live your life.


1 N { 07.27.11 at 8:43 am }

A professor of mine from college. I can’t even remember her name (I’m terrible with names) and she’s moved schools (possibly even out of the country – she wasn’t American) so I have no idea how to find her.

During The Semester of My Emotional Breakdown, I somehow stumbled into a conversation with her about having a hard time. I remember saying that I had such a hard time putting on a fake face, smiling and saying I was okay when people asked how I was, since they didn’t actually care. And she told me that I didn’t have to lie for their sake. That if it was somebody I didn’t want to tell, that’s fine, but if somebody asked who I was, that me saying I wasn’t okay was on their shoulders, and that if they didn’t care, they shouldn’t have asked. It was obviously a bit longer and more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it.

She quite literally changed my life. I wasn’t quite in the right place to understand it fully then – at the time, it was enough to know that somebody heard me – but when my brother passed away, her words became a sort of life line to me. And is a lot of what I try to base how I live on. Which, while she may remember me as a student (I had her for 2 or 3 classes), I’m certain she has no idea the impact that one 10 minute conversation had.

2 a { 07.27.11 at 9:32 am }

I love this. I used to be the person who remembered everyone and they would never remember me. Now I’m the one with the faulty memory. But I think it speaks more to how you pay attention to people – you obviously do. I don’t do it too much anymore, and it was brought to my attention recently. I held a training class and it was 2 guys from a local agency. I think I was 3/4 through the class before I really looked at them and thought “Hmmm. He looks sort of familiar.” about one of them. When I went back and checked his last name, I realized that he used to come in on a regular basis about 6 or 8 years ago. Then I was embarrassed that I didn’t recognize him until after he had left. The same kind of thing happened last year, when I spent almost my entire hour long interview trying to remember the name of one of the women who was on the interview team. I had trained with her, but hadn’t seen her in about 14 years.

That’s kind of the opposite of what you were asking, isn’t it? I can’t think of anyone who fits the criteria, although I know they exist. Aging sucks.

3 magpie { 07.27.11 at 10:42 am }

liminal people, huh?
just yesterday, i saw someone on the train who looked just like an old boyfriend and i was smack dab in a wave of awkward nostalgia.

4 Heather { 07.27.11 at 11:00 am }

OMG! When I was 14, I was a CIT at the local 4H (don’t judge) camp. I was head over heels for a guy called “Ducky.” He was the biggest, geekiest, most perfectly delicious boy I had ever seen.

And I can’t for the life of me remember what his real name was so I can stalk him on FB. 😉

5 Jo { 07.27.11 at 11:21 am }

I loved that sentence: “I often wonder who is thinking about me without me even knowing that I’m inside their brain.” My guess, Mel, is that it happens a helluva lot more than you realize.

As for me, I moved a lot as a kid, so a lot of my friendships died out over the years. I can think of several girls whom I’ve been unable to find again (through FB or whathave you) who have been influential to me, and I do sometimes wonder what they are up to. However, the ones that stick with me are the people with whom I had more intense relationships and yet have had to let go of for various relationships. Them, I think about often, and I do wonder if I ever cross their minds.

Great post.

6 Jo { 07.27.11 at 11:21 am }

Sorry, that should be “various REASONS”, not relationships.

7 Peaches { 07.27.11 at 11:58 am }

For me, I can think of several. Once I dated a guy who was a little older and in the service. Now I don’t remember how we met or any of those circumstances, but we continued the connection when he had to go to CA through letters until he met someone there. I still have the letters. To him I was just an “in-between” I’m sure and there is never a passing thought. Another guy I wanted to date when I was slightly older. We went to separate high schools so it was hard for me to find ways to be in his world for him to notice me. About the time he did notice me and we were starting that calling before dating thing, my dad moved the family out of state. He’s in my head still wondering what if….. Interesting enough they were both named David (a popular name for that era.) And their last names are pretty common so they have never been someone I could find – but like you – if I found them, I doubt I would reintroduce myself…..Like someone else posted, I had a teacher at college that helped me after my dad’s death which was unexpected. He said – I know you think you can’t get through this, but you can and when you do, you’ll come out a stronger person. Those words have helped me through lots of tough situations in my life. Only had him for one class. I doubt he even gave a second thought to what he said after I walked out of the classroom that day.

8 liljan98 { 07.27.11 at 12:36 pm }

Fascinating subject, which will probably keep my mind busy for a while over the next few days…

9 HereWeGoAJen { 07.27.11 at 1:10 pm }

I had a best friend in elementary school. I was easy to pick on then and she was one of the “cool kids”. And we were best friends. She always included me and that gave me some protection from being picked on. And I reconnected with her on Facebook last year, six weeks before she got married and changed her name and I would have never been able to find her again.

10 Sunny { 07.27.11 at 2:10 pm }

A long time ago I was flying from who knows where and the flight kept getting postponed. When it was time to finally leave it was a little hopper plane. I sat beside this young guy who was entering into the military. His name was the same as my brother. We talked life the whole flight. I had just got engaged, so young. He was nervous about his new life to be. I told him I would pray for him. I never thought I would remember him but he crosses my mind ALL THE TIME. When he shows up in my mind I pray a simple prayer for him. I only know his first name because its the same as my brothers.. I wish I knew how his life turned out.

11 Keiko { 07.27.11 at 4:40 pm }

“I often wonder who is thinking about me without me even knowing that I’m inside their brain.”

So cerebral and so brilliant. Fantastic post, Mel. Not sure who would be in my Alumni newsletter. Weirdly (and morbidly, I’ll admit) – I’ve been thinking about friends who’ve passed in the last few years (like my colleague who was killed in those very same storms last year) and what their lives would be like right now if they were still here.

In fact, I think you’ve just inspired a post.

12 Anna { 07.27.11 at 5:32 pm }

This is an interesting subject! I am sure that people change the course of my thoughts, days and life fairly frequently but here is the first one that came to mind.

I once met a young woman on a train who was reading a beautiful bound hardback book of musical notation complete with German words. I had never seen anybody sit and read music ‘in their head’ as I would read a novel. It was the first time that I have ever spoken to a stranger but we got into conversation and passed a couple of hours chatting, she was an opera singer in training and apparently her Dad is a famous conductor, though I know nothing about classical music and their names passed me by. I now wish I had paid more attention to the names – just from that one conversation I gained a sense of hope and positivity about strangers and meeting people in strange places. Usually I am too cautious to strike up conversations but it worked out so nicely on that occasion, I often remember her.

13 Manapan { 07.27.11 at 5:49 pm }

Another great post! When I was eight years old, a friend and I decided to sneak over to the motel next to our apartment complex so we could cool off in their pool. Only problem? I couldn’t swim. So when I fell off the floaty ring in the deep end, I never made it back to the surface. A woman who was tanning poolside jumped in, fished me out, and gave me CPR until I started breathing again. I was so scared when I regained consciousness that I forgot to thank her. I bet anything that she remembers me better than I remember her, but I just wish I knew her name so I could thank her now. I learned to swim two weeks later, and I still think of her every time I’m near the water.

14 Becky { 07.27.11 at 6:48 pm }

I, too, have had several of these people throughout my life. Once, in college, I was walking across campus, not particularly busy, but it was kind of cold outside. I came upon a girl, sitting on a bench, who was sobbing. I slowed as I came near her, and my gut told me to stop and comfort her. But I ignored it, and her, walking on. That has been, oh, probably 14 years ago and my decision not to stop still haunts me. I am sure she didn’t even notice me, so doesn’t think of me ever, but I think of her often and wish I had stopped.

15 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 07.27.11 at 7:48 pm }

When I was 27 and just starting IF treatments, I was on a business trip and on the plane sat next to a Kiwi and a Dane. We all talked about the differences among our respective countries and the joys of travel. Up until that point, although worldly in many ways, I hadn’t been outside N. America. After that flight I decided that it was time to start seeing the world, and that it did not make sense to save all of my international travel until my future children could join me. I could always go back again with the children, and there would be plenty of places not yet visited. Without the conversation with those two guys, I don’t know if I ever would have taken the plunge and started traveling as a couple instead of waiting (many years, it turns out) for trips as a family.

Within a few months, I was on a plane to Paris.

Between the Kiwi-Dane flight and the time my twins were finally born so many years later, I visited 22 foreign countries.

16 slowmamma { 07.27.11 at 7:49 pm }

Such a great post. I may be a silly romantic but I like the fact that people like this remain safely tucked away in my memory of them. I get a bit overwhelmed when I think about how difficult it will likely become for people to enter and then disappear again from each others lives in our children’s generation. As soon as they begin their online presence, and I’m guessing that this happens when they are pretty young, they will be forever ‘findable’ to each other.

17 Missy { 07.27.11 at 8:39 pm }

I am thinking about mine even more these days as 9/11 nears. He was a friend of my roommate and we had only met once before. But when his office in DC was evacuated without letting anyone get access to the parking garage, he had no way home and came by our place since it was within walking distance. My roommate worked far enough away that she couldn’t get back to our place. So I spent that day with a near stranger watching the tragedy in NYC and our own city. I only saw him twice again after that day, but still wonder what he is doing now.

18 Justine { 07.27.11 at 10:25 pm }

I love this. There are so many … but tonight I’m remembering Sunil Pandya, from 8th grade. He signed my yearbook, telling me that I was better than the jerks who had teased me. He always had a smile and a kind word. I hope that he found a good place in the world.

19 Kristen { 07.28.11 at 4:21 pm }

Thanks so much for organizing IComLeavWe…I just participated for the first time and it’s been so cool!
Your story about the motorcyclist was really interesting to read (I wasn’t able to go back and read the original post, though…sensitive subject as you’ll see.)
My brother was killed in a motorcycle accident a few years ago…and though I’m sure your motorcyclist recovered…for me it’s always interesting to think of the people who were there with my brother, who called 911 and did other things to try and help. A few have contacted me over the years and the one thing I always take away is how much this impacted them and how much this intersection into a stranger’s life will always be with them. I feel bound to these people in a weird sort of way. I think there’s some beauty in the ways we as humans intersect…whether for just a moment in real life or on the internet or in a myriad of other ways big and small…

20 coffeegrljp { 07.30.11 at 12:48 am }

My friend’s son at 4 years old, was hit by a car – knocked to the ground and dragged a short ways under the carriage of the SUV which thankfully was moving slowly as it approached a stop sign and was large enough to do no more than give the boy a concussion. I think about him *every* time I see small kids near a road. I will never shake that image. Nor will I shake the image of my friend screaming when she saw her son lying under that truck (again thankfully between the wheels rather than under them). A true miracle. And yet terrifying enough to stick with me. I’m not sure Andrew would have any clue who I am at this point as his mother and I haven’t had many chances to see one another lately. And really, I’d just be a dorky mom friend anyway.

21 mrs spock { 07.30.11 at 10:33 am }

20 years ago, a few weeks after I turned 13, I tried to commit suicide. Long story: I was the well child in a family rife with psychiatric issues, father with schizophrenia, brother with serious psych issues, taking care of my younger siblings and constantly defusing my brother’s berzerker rages. Hit puberty and constant bullying at school plus constant fear for my life at home put me over the edge.

There was an aide named James at the hospital that was assigned as my bedside sitter for several days in a row, as I was on suicide precautions. All I know about him is that he was a black man in his 40s, the father of eight, and a holy rollin’ Baptist. He was the first adult who had listened to me and treated me with kindness in so very long- it was truly like balm to my tattered spirit.

Years later, when I became the psych social worker and the nurse, I remembered his actions and did my best to truly see that person I helping, just like he did for me.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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