Among my smorgasbord of serious social shortcomings, perhaps the most egregious is a seemingly endless ability to forget names. More accurately perhaps, a limitless inability to remember names, since I'm not certain I'm forgetting something I knew as much as not remembering something I've heard that never quite made it past the gatekeeper of memory.
How poor is my name/face memory? For the past several days I've been plagued by a total failure to remember the name of a person I worked with. I could let it slide but it's not like I worked with her a decade or two ago. We worked side by side just last winter! At first, I sloughed it off, taking comfort in the belief it would come to me if I just stopped thinking about it. When that lateral drift technique didn't yield any results, I tried hard to remember her name, running the alphabet - Abby, Betina, Carly... - all to no avail. It was like trying to chip away a car-size block of concrete with a child's plastic hammer. If the aha moment doesn't arrive soon, I may have to call a friend and ask since there is every possibility we may work together again this coming winter.
Lest you think this affliction is symptomatic of encroaching, age-related dementia, let me assure you it's a malady I've suffered for as long as I can remember. And therein lies a cruel irony. I vividly remember a lot of stuff, both recent and ancient, particularly if it contains any element of personal embarrassment. It's just names that elude me.
I didn't notice this particular shortcoming until around the putative age of adulthood. Why would I? Why would anyone? As kids, our world is small and we know everyone in it. The other kids in the neighbourhood, relatives, family friends all dwell within our sphere of sufficiently frequent contact that remembering their names, or in the case of other kids the cruel nicknames we've assigned them, is a snap. Familiarity breeds comfort as well as contempt.
Remembering names got a bit harder when school started but was still a manageable challenge since I tended to spend all day, every day with the same kids and same teacher. The circle was bigger but frequency and repetition masked the challenge to come. Besides, it wasn't like I needed to remember the name of every kid in the class, just the ones I played with, worked with or knew enough to avoid if I didn't want to be tortured.
Secondary school upped the ante. Different classes, different teachers, a kaleidoscope of faces and names, all made more difficult and traumatic by the overlay of adolescent hormonal storms.