My neighbours have been calling me Gail for months, and I’ve been putting off setting them straight. When they moved in last summer, the man — who I think is named Steve — told me he has mild dementia. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when introductions were made, something went sideways.
“Good morning, Gail! Beautiful day!” he’d exclaim as I headed to my car.
I’d smile and agree, it was a beautiful day.
“What do you think of my daffodils, Gail?”
They’re lovely, I’d say. He called me Gail at every single, damned meeting. He’d always be so upbeat and happy, it seemed unkind of tell him I wasn’t who he thought I was. I even pondered being Gail. Is there any harm in going by another name? But then, he seemed to be stuck on Gail, I was pretty sure he could relearn my real name fairly easily. It was the correcting part I wasn’t looking forward to. I procrastinated. It never seemed the right time to say that I’m not Gail.
But this morning, they were both together heading out for their morning walk and I bit the bullet. As pleasantries were exchanged, I said, “I have something to tell you.”
They both stopped and looked at me expectantly.
“My name’s not Gail.”
They stared at me. What???
“My name is Sandra.”
The woman immediately attributed the blame to her husband. “He told me your name was Gail.”
I said, “I don’t want you to feel bad. It’s not a big deal — I can be Gail if you like, but it’s not my name.”
They tried to make sense of this new reality. The change seemed to throw them off kilter. The man murmured, “I feel so bad now.”
“No, don’t feel bad,” I said in a rush, and taking partial responsibility, because — I don’t know, really. I felt sorry for them. I offered, “I let it go on for a long time.”
I had to go out and when I returned, Steve was in the driveway.
“So you’re not Gail,” he said, as though asking if the change was permanent. Maybe I’d changed my mind?
“No,” I said.
“I’ll have to try to remember Sandra now. I don’t know any other Sandras. No, wait. I do. There’s Sandra Gibbons.”
He seemed relieved that he had another Sandra to connect me with. It seems the crisis is over. His wife, who I think is Nora, gave me a young cucumber plant for my garden.
I’m quite exhausted.
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