Today, my mum spontaneously called an old friend of hers from elementary school. When I was younger, our family and her’s would get together every summer. She had a daughter named Heather, who was my childhood penpal and faraway best friend. We used to call each other princesses when we discovered we could never become royalty. As we sat in mountains of strawberry bubbles while our mothers struggled to bathe us, we plotted ways to annoy them for the next day. We wore more matching outfits than typical twins probably did, and we insisted on sharing forks because we believed joint saliva made us stronger. Though we saw each other for only two weeks every year, I never really missed her, because there was the security that she would always be “there,” and there would again be next summer.
Now, even though we haven’t seen each other since fourth grade, the memory of her pops up every once in a while and makes me smile. I don’t know much about her present life, but I know she is studying biomed at Duke and she has a new stepsister. Her mother says she cares a lot about her appearance now, although we used to roll around in the mud like little piglets to infuriate our mothers. If we met again today, I don’t know if we would still have the same strong connection as we did before. It doesn’t need to be said that time changes people. Regardless of how well we may get along now, I still remember who she is—or who she was, or who we used to be. Every now and then, I remember that she is a person who exists somewhere in this world, and someone I used to care about.
However, when my mum called asking about me, Heather merely responded, “Who’s that?”
In a way, that gives me more anxiety than it should have. I don’t know how to feel. We were young, memories are hazy, we’ve both moved on with our lives. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder, were the memories so long ago that she now has zero recollection of someone she spent every summer with? Was I that “forgettable?” Did I not create enough of a dent in her mother’s car (from swinging my Skip-It in the wrong direction) to leave a dent in her life?
Perhaps my perception is a bit skewed though. Anyone who knows me knows I am a deeply emotional and reflective person. Many years ago, after I sobbed my final tear onto Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, I became acutely aware of the importance of ordinary people who pass in and out of our daily lives—those we may never see again, but those who may leave a lasting impression without our notice. So, there is no doubt I remember Heather, too.
However, people are different. Some will cherish the memory of us long after we walk out of their lives, and to others, our existence will merely fade to nothingness. It sucks to be forgotten, left behind in the ghosting path of a runaway car, collecting dust atop a shelf as the neighbour of Wheezy the penguin. But that’s what time inevitably does.
I don’t blame Heather. I know it isn’t that she has forgotten me purposely. Rather, so much else has crowded into her life that there just isn’t enough room anymore. With time, people fade away into the mist, and no one can be labeled culpable.
This fact of life can never be negated, and the people who remain in our lives for a long time will undoubtedly leave the most significant impact. But I challenge all of us today: take a moment to appreciate the people who pass in and out of our everyday lives, too.