This week a near run-in with a lady made me gasp as I stepped back in surprise. I was polite and apologized for our near collision. She reacted exactly as I had. I noted fear in her eyes. We had not expected to be so close to each other as we rounded the corner. Her hand slid to her mouth quickly like mine had. I knew she was attempting, as was I, to conceal a small startled sound from escaping her lips that would draw attention. There we were nearly nose to nose. We jumped, we locked eyes and there was identical fear that could be noted between the two of us. Not fear stemming from anticipated harm, but fear developed from nearly running into each other in the compact store aisles.
Twice now I have written about being shocked by a female unexpectedly invading my body space. Once was a situation I wrote about face blindness to display humor. This week I write about it to display how even though I am constantly aware of my condition, prosopagnosia, images of a stranger can still create surprise, humor and fascination. The woman this week, as I went around a pillar in a shop, was not a stranger at all; rather, the lady was again my reflection in a very tall, wide mirror. I did not apologize to a stranger that was as startled as I was. In this store I, yet again, made an apology everyone could hear to my own reflection.
I assume you are curious how I could not know myself and how I came to realize this was my own image. I do not keep a record of every time this happens to me. Trust me it is often: my image has been a stranger many mornings in the mirror, in unfamiliar houses where I believe a stranger is near me as I pass a mirror I never knew existed or as I try on new clothes and do not connect this face attached to the newly outfitted body as the person I had just seen. I never maintain a memory of what I look like. When I do have the expectation of a female with similar characteristics to be looking back, I have no doubt it is me. In the mall, there are many mirrors in unexpected places. These are the times I truly realize the extent of prosopagnosia and how it has taken away a significant part of my memory of how I appear.
This week was one example of how my reflection becomes a complete stranger when an unexpected female surprises me. I saw her eyes. She registered surprise instantly. I understood the discomfort she felt considering how close we had come to running into each other. I next noticed her glasses. I wore similar glasses that day. They were a narrow, gold frame. I quickly glanced down to see how close our feet had brought us to colliding. Her shirt was a black sleeveless blouse. Her shorts were a tan material. By this time, I had already said how sorry I was. Then everything started to register. I had tried on two different tops that morning. I decided on the black sleeveless blouse. This day, I wore shorts rather than jeans because of the high temperatures. Wait, we were wearing identical outfits and had the same style of glasses. All of these thoughts, all of this processing, were completed within a few seconds. I knew this stranger. I did not know her appearance, but I knew the surprise and shock she felt instantly. We had the same haircuts verifying it was me! I turned away and quickly glanced around to see if others had watched this awkward exchange. I laughed not a quiet laugh but more of my cackle relieving my embarrassment and expressing humor I truly felt.
Every day I see myself I am a familiar stranger. I do not see the visual resemblance between the memory of what I look like and reflections from the passing mirror. I do comprehend what this reflection feels. There is confusion, uncomfortable humor, amazement and fascination with the reality she is me. All of my life I have had mirrors. Most days I notice my reflection as I style my hair and put in contacts. The person in my mirror is someone I should know. A reflection I knew for twenty-seven years. This reflection is now a stranger. I have no doubt several people in the busy store saw me apologize to the mirror. I have no doubt their curiosity was raised. So is mine when I, once again, come to understand this familiar stranger is me.