I thought the era of funny things was over. This is the age of fear, sorrow, and fed-up-ness. This is a pandemic.
I was walking home up the hill, just past the yard with the artichoke plant, across from the hoarder’s house. My neighborhood is pin-droppingly quiet which is why, at this particular moment, my cloth mask was hanging from my wrist and not strapped to my face. I was alone.
A black car drove past, then turned around and pulled over beside me.
The window opened and a man called out, “Is your name Denise, by any chance?” He had a bushy moustache and thick black glasses. He was smiling at me.
“No,” I said, and kept walking.
“You’re not Denise?”
I paused. I hadn’t slept well in several nights. Could my name be Denise? Had we all been renamed?
“No,” I repeated, moving my bag to my other shoulder.
The man asked if I used to live near SF State. He seemed happy and hopeful.
“Really?” He stared at me and shook his head. “You are the spitting image of Denise.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I hope she’s a nice person.”
He laughed. “Oh, she’s the best,” he said reassuringly. “I haven’t seen her in twenty years though. Funny thing, because I’ve been thinking about her recently and then – I drove by you, and I swear – ” As his voice trailed off, he kept staring at me, head cocked.
I put down my bag. “Maybe that’s why you thought you saw her?” I was no longer in a rush to get home. This was my first spontaneous chitchat with a stranger in five months, and it had nothing to do with the virus.
He asked what I meant. I explained that when someone is on my mind, particularly someone I miss, I see them everywhere. For example, in every older man who smokes a cigar, for a split second I see my dad.
Moustache ran his hand across the steering wheel and looked wistful. “Denise had a great sense of humor. Really funny girl. I always wondered what happened to her.”
“I hope you find her someday,” I said, meaning it.
“Thanks. You too. I mean – ” He laughed and shook his head before driving away.
Back at home, I told my husband about the encounter. He questioned the plausibility of Moustache’s story while adding I look different from twenty years ago, which I found both rude and beside-the-point. But everyone’s sensitive right now. It’s a pandemic.
Maybe this isn’t a funny story after all. Denise is nowhere to be found, and my husband thinks I look like an old lady. Maybe it would have been funnier if I had told the man that, yes, I was Denise, and hopped in the car with him. We would have had a lot to catch up on.