It has to be a coincidence. Randomness on display. One world is fiction and the other is real. But something just happened to me that is eerily reminiscent of what happened to the character Robert Besch in my novel In Flight.
In the book, after the news spreads that the Plane-Crash Hero had suffered from a dissociative fugue, all kinds of strangers begin contacting Robert. From the novel:
There is an email from someone named Mary Bowman; the subject line reads: I thought you disappeared forever. The note is brief, telling Robert that she recognized him on the news and always wondered what happened to him and asking why he’d disappeared so suddenly and she’d never heard from him again. She would love if he would reach out to her. Except he doesn’t know anyone named Mary Bowman. The name has no ring of familiarity. There are emails from people saying they’ve experienced fugue states and would like to swap stories. No thank you. From women asking if he’d take them to a hotel and role-play a fugue state. Let me check with my wife. Someone asking if Robert would help look for his son who had run away from home last year. Inexplicable. An email from a guy named Gerald who said he was Robert’s brother. But Robert’s brother’s name is Peter. He didn’t know anyone named Gerald, just like he didn’t know any Mary Bowman.
At no point in the novel does Robert recall Mary Bowman, but he becomes concerned about his memory and his mental health because of the dissociative fugue he suffered and because Mary seems to know about him.
Here’s where my worlds collide: I had an email the other day from someone named Mary Recktenwald. The subject line read: “I don’t know if you remember me.”
I don’t remember her. But Mary Recktenwald definitely remembers me and in her email admitted she’s thought of me occasionally over the years. She asked if I remembered a specific party where we’d met when we were both sophomores in high school. That’s a helluva long time ago. From that time of my life, I have the same few memories, and none of them involved a Mary Recktenwald.
She wrote that she didn’t know whose house the party was at, and that she and a couple of her friends had gotten a ride from South Buffalo up to North Buffalo. I do remember some of us North Buffalo guys liking girls from South Buffalo. They seemed to have a mystique about them, as if they were from a different world. They belonged to the guys who went to Bishop Timon, a rival of my high school, St. Joe’s.
Mary wrote that she’d been dating this guy from St. Joe’s named Tom Redden, who I do vaguely recall. He was an athletic strong guy who played on the football and baseball teams, and traveled in a higher social orbit than I did. Tom and Mary had already broken up by the night of this party, and she was pretty devastated still. Tom wasn’t at the party, but I was, and we got to talking and spent some time together, and by the end of the night Mary and I were standing in the driveway holding hands while she waited for her ride home.
I don’t remember any of it. But she said I was nice to her and very sweet and that our holding hands made her feel like things were going to be okay for her, that even though she and Tom had broken up didn’t mean she would never find love again. That seemed pretty heavy for sophomores in high school, and a huge takeaway from simply holding hands. But I think we all have tiny moments like this that may mean nothing to others but are so significant to us that they last forever.
Mary found me easily enough on the internet and decided to reach out to me to see if I remembered this small episode and to thank me for that night. I hope it’s not a case of putting her affairs in order. I haven’t responded to her yet and am not sure if I should, or if I do respond, should I say I also remember holding her hand that night? If I admit I don’t remember, does the significance of that night and my gesture become diminished for her?
You can probably understand why I’m puzzling over how I came up with the minor character of Mary Bowman in In Flight. Did I unlock the inspiration for that idea from a closed door in my unconscious related to Mary Recktenwald? It’s the old “where do ideas come from” mystery.
I’ve resisted looking up Mary Recktenwald on social media or the internet. I think I’m going to lay low and not do anything. On the other hand, if I respond to her and tell her about this other Mary that appears in In Flight, I’ll wager there’s a good chance she’ll buy the novel and read it. A sale is a sale is a royalty payment, right?