I don’t like saying “goodbye”. I never have. “Goodbye” is a word of permanence to me, but even more than that, it is a word which brings great fear to me, particularly with people I know well.

Because life for me, as a person with prosopagnosia, is an extreme case of “out of sight, out of mind,” I find it exceedingly difficult to even think about people who are not in my physical presence. There are a few exceptions, but it is rare. When people leave my physical presence, for me, it is almost as if they were never there. Most of the time, I don’t think about them. I don’t feel connected to them. They aren’t really there, after all. However, even when people are in my presence, I often don’t feel them.

For example, when I go for a walk, I don’t look up. I concentrate on my steps, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, and watch my feet hit the ground, only occasionally looking up to figure out where I am going, often aided by my cell phone’s GPS so I can look up even less often. For me, there is nobody else out there. Just me and my cell phone. Somehow, in a way that I will never understand, the zombies with faces I will never recognize talk to me as if they know who I am. Some of them even call me by name. I see them, and I talk back, but I don’t feel connected to them. I wouldn’t know if I saw the same one before even if they told me they had seen me. Sometimes, I don’t even care. They don’t feel real to me. 

                                 *       *       *

Alone, I walk down the street, often at night when I know it is less likely for the zombies, with faces I will never know, to try to converse with me. I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t want to try to figure out who they are. Even if they tell me their name, that is merely an amorphous detail lacking any meaning or context.

One of the zombies says hello to me. I feel violently jolted from my thoughts. I look up, pretending to care, pretending to be interested in a conversation I try to end as quickly and politely as possible because I am not getting any useful contextual clues to figure out who this zombie is, acting as if I have recognized them for fear of what might happen to me if the zombie should figure out I really don’t know who they are, the discomfort of talking to a “stranger”, one who seems to know exactly who I am, overwhelming me. Mercifully, we eventually say goodbye with the usual pleasantries, such a fake collection of words coming from my mouth. No, I am not looking forward to seeing you again. I never saw you in the first place. I wish only that I could actually see you, that I could actually feel your presence, be connected to your thoughts, and really understand what it was we had just talked about.

And then, they leave. I sigh, breathing deeply, never having let on that inside, I was hyperventilating for the whole conversation. But the zombie who recognized me is gone now. We said our goodbyes, and it is a relief.

Another zombie approaches me, asking me for directions. I exhale slowly again, because at least I don’t have to pretend to recognize this one. I smile, and try to be as helpful as possible, but because I am also severely navigationally challenged due to my topographic agnosia, I am rarely of much help. Sometimes, however, my cell phone’s GPS can help them, and I am always more than willing to give that a try.

Eventually, this zombie thanks me and leaves too, saying goodbye, leaving me alone again, safe again.

A third zombie approaches me, identifying them self to me. Eventually, the conversation gets to a point where I am able to match the name to the person to various events in my life. As each person wears a mask, their face, that I am unable to take off, this person, at least, has had the courtesy to remove their mask for me. I now know who they are. I don’t have to pretend with this person. In return, I am able to form and recall memories of them. I am able to relate to them. I feel them.

Masked Memories
Written by Glenn Alperin ©2004

Blind to the faces of others,
     Still seeing the face,
          the eyes,
          the nose,
          the mouth,
But not understanding why
     it is so easy for others
          to see who is there,
          to know who is there,
               to recognize,
               to identify,
But for me,
     I can still see
          the eyes,
          the nose,
          the mouth,
               and remember
For every face is a mask
     to the eyes of the faceblind,
     to the eyes of a person with prosopagnosia,
But be consoled because,
     though I may not remember your face,
          I will remember you.

Eventually, we part ways, and while that zombie, too, has disappeared, at least for just a moment, they were really there. That zombie, that person, felt real to me. Unlike the previous two, this goodbye is bittersweet.

People come and go in my life, and when they go, even if they are alive, they feel dead to me. That makes it harder for me when people go. It is so difficult for me to connect socially with people. I talk to them, maybe, and when the conversation ends, we go our separate ways, and they disappear into a sea of faces. While I will remember the conversation, the person, within the context of that conversation, may well have been a shadow, not even really there.

Lacking the visual input, I often feel like I connect better with people online than in person. I’ve met a few people online who I will probably never meet in person, but I genuinely wish I could meet them. Others I have met online and then met in person, which has heightened my experience of them as people to whom I feel connected.  Those people don’t feel like strangers to me. Perhaps it is no surprise that I don’t like saying goodbye to them either. Instead, I typically close all of my online conversations by saying "hugs".

So hugs to you, my readers. I know all of you are real. Without the need to identify people by face online, you do feel more real to me in many ways. To those of you I have never met, I hope to meet you some day, and to those whom I have met, thank you for being as real to me as you can be, and for taking the time to be patient with me to allow that to happen. You are not a zombie to me, and it is quite an honor to occasionally feel like I am among living breathing beings.  Thank you.  Hugs.

©2012 Glenn Alperin

Teaser image courtesy of http://www.halloweencostume.co.uk/zombie.php

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