When I’m Not Around.

June 7, 2009


“I’m convinced,” Clara Chase announced, “that when I’m not around, people just forget about me.”

Chevy Chase and his daughter, sixteen years old, discussed certain curious facets of existence as he drove her to school on an oppressively sunny May morning. She’d been quiet during breakfast, far less willing than usual to expound on the virtues or unforgivable shortcomings of whatever novel she happened to be studying in her 30G English class. Now, after five minutes on the road, she’d brought out a statement that seemed designed less for his response than for the sake of a simple debriefing, as if this was a piece of information he was meant to stow away in some impermeable area of his mind rather than a dilemma that could, or should, be resolved.

Chevy Chase shifted in his seat, moving into a position more conducive to asking the proper leading questions. “What do you mean, exactly?”

Clara Chase shrugged with the annoyance of a relay runner waiting for a baton wielded by a partner who seems content to occupy last place. “Well, I mean that… well, it’s something I’ve pretty much always thought. I’ve just always felt like if I’m not in front of someone, in their presence, then they don’t ever think of me. You know?”

Chevy Chase sighed, and wondered if this was some kind of obscure provocation, or retribution for something he’d forgotten to buy, comment on, or attend. “Well, obviously you know this isn’t true. At least, the rational side of you knows this. Right?”

“Well, yeah. But I’m still really surprised when people say, ‘Oh, so and so and I were talking about you the other day.’ And it’s like, really? Even though I wasn’t around?”

“So obviously that proves that people do think about you.” Chevy Chase paused to clear this throat before continuing. “So you don’t even think your mother and I think about you when you’re not directly in front of us?”

The twinge of hurt and confusion in that question didn’t seem to register with Clara Chase. “I guess that is kind of weird, considering that I think about basically everyone I know pretty much all the time. I don’t know. I guess I don’t really… I don’t know.”

Chevy Chase began to think of an obsession he’d had as a boy with secret portals, hidden doors secreted away in otherwise homely and unremarkable surroundings: skating rink change rooms, the space between bunk beds in an RV or camper, a basement-bathroom heating vent. He’d imagine disappearing through one, leaving behind scores of people who wouldn’t miss him, and who he’d be more than happy to desert for the promise of a vast meadow or a clean and efficient city with candy stores at every street-corner cipher. Then Clara spoke again: “I mean, don’t you ever think of that? If people can’t see you, if they aren’t reminded of your existence by seeing you on a regular basis, what’s stopping them from forgetting about you completely?”

Chevy Chase sighed, then reached out to increase the volume on the stereo. He’d answered this question so many times, in so many ways, that he just couldn’t bring himself to rearrange the same words again, into some semblance of the new. Obscured and forgotten: if this was what he faced, then he’d happily accept it, with whatever help was available, but without the aid of hidden entryways or secret worlds. Clara Chase rested her head back and pretended to sleep the rest of the way.


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