I try to think of Cynthia, who I know I met volunteering Thursdays at the farmer's market -- volunteering Thursdays for several years, at which point we were close without my knowing when it happened, and now it is as if I always knew how batty she was, how good a cook, how attached to terrible, poorly-behaved dogs that nobody else would ever adopt, how she is totally a hoarder but her mother is worse. It is as if I always knew about her ratty pants that she wears for field work and has to continually sew up the ripped crotch.
I try to think of Eric -- I can pinpoint the day I met him, the coffeeshop, the stools in the window where we were sitting, the blue hoody he wore with a fading print of a whale skeleton up the side. But I can't describe him from the perspective of that moment. Even thinking of, say, his glasses, or his extremely straight teeth, or the halting then rushing pace of his speech, I'm sure I'm not excavating these details from my first impression. What did I learn about him then, and what did I learn about him later? Why can't I remember what I thought at the beginning, if I can so clearly remember the beginning?
I attempt to think of someone I've met more recently, who I don't know well, so that my only impression must be a first one. Some kind of Catch-22 is at play -- if I actually have first impressions, they aren't distinct or interesting, and anyone who actually made an impact has blurred into an amalgam of what I feel for them and what I store alongside them in my mind and what they make me think of.
I then attempt to go back farther. I remember before I met Tony, a teacher who mattered to me. I remember standing outside his office door, which was covered in cartoons and clippings from the phone book. He had clipped advertisements from the yellow pages where people were trying to frame their businesses as Christian. Some of them included a fish, or a chapter and verse. Something about the assemblage of them was beautifully ludicrous -- as if Jesus and your plumbing needs were deeply connected, or as if they'd gone ahead and called their business God's Own Trucking Company. I felt a wryness in his door that I liked, that made me feel safe. But I can't remember seeing him or speaking to him for the first time -- I can't remember opening the door.