My Surreal Life

A young woman and a child, a toddler young enough for a stroller but old enough to walk alongside it, entered the elevator my friend and I were already on. The doors shut, and the child looked at me, looked me square in the eyes, and said, “Hi, Mark.” Precisely enunciated. Distinctly direct.

Now, Mark happens to be my name. I had never seen the woman, or boy, before. My friend looked at me and I suppose he saw a shocked look come over my face. When we got off the elevator—not at our floor, but the next available, because I was spooked—he asked, “Do you know them?”

“No. That was random. Did that kid say my name?”

“Yeah. Definitely. As if he was about to tell you something important.”

Every once in a while, I wonder about that encounter. In subsequent years, I have confirmed with my friend that this really happened, both the unmemorable banalities and the one memorable bit. When one describes an event as random, really what one is saying is that something incredibly specific took place with absolutely no context around it and none to be found. “It was like it happened at random.”

This was almost 25 years ago. Was the child prescient and have I since become an important person in his life? No 20-something person that I have gotten to know recently has told me that I look familiar or asked if we have already met.

How random can random be? Is there a scale to measure random? Is there an ultimate random? If there is, I may have caught a glimpse of it one glorious day.

I have only a few specific memories of the event: Who was with me; the fact that it was a woman with a boy with a stroller, but both of their faces have receded into blank, amorphous, generic people-faces. Were they on my right or on my left? If I work on it, I can remember myself facing them in either direction. I have said hello to strangers on elevators many times since, (well, nodded) and all those people have similarly melted into faceless, generic folks.

I realize that if I am ever required to give evidence in a trial, I will be close to useless, as I do not notice specifics like what someone is wearing or what color anything is—which is one more way in which I really am a terrible boyfriend, so I am lucky that my girlfriend accepts me as I am—but I retain quite precisely the things people say. (Which also does not help me in the relationship department.) I am now working on remembering details, to be a better boyfriend and a better writer.

I remember the surreal precision of that anonymous little boy speaking my name, clearly and randomly. That is what remains: the creeped-out and surprised feeling remains ever accessible to me.

It is one of those moments that I feel like I flubbed on my first go at it, and I have lived the quarter-century since as if waiting for something similar to happen again, to get it right this time around; I will not leave the elevator in surprise next time.

Of course, the chance of a next time, the possibility that something like this will ever happen again in my life is almost nil; this was my one true-life encounter with infinite probability, with something similar to the infinite monkey theorem—you know, the thought that given enough time (infinite time), a chimp or group of chimps pounding on a keyboard will accidentally or coincidentally type out all of “Hamlet.” One will encounter many children who are learning words for things and names of people and how to talk and one of them may blurt a name out and coincidentally it will be yours. It happened to me and I am writing about it two decades later.


I will not leave the elevator in surprise next time. No, I will confirm my name and tell the child who accidentally said it about how rare it is to encounter this moment twice in one’s life—the true random moment—and how moved I am by the opportunity to experience it again. I will tell the child to celebrate the fantastic accidents that make life special, the surreal life, the “fabulous realities,” as one of my teachers used to call them.

And then the mother and child will quickly leave the elevator, one or two floors before their intended destination, a bit spooked.

* * * *
(This is an edited version of a column that appeared on September 8, 2014: “‘That Was Random.'”)

* * * *
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The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 21 asks, “What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?”


  1. Mr. Atheist · March 21, 2015

    That’s a great story. I suffer from “super recognition”. I can remember faces too well. I have freaked out some people before with this magic trick. I remember fellow passengers and I can somehow recognize people that I had only met as children that are now well into their adulthood. It is a little creepy and spooky but fun sometimes.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Mark Aldrich · March 21, 2015

      The one oddity is I have off-the-chart face and voice recognition (like you), but absent specific details like what the person was wearing or jewelry. If Det. Munch ever interviews me, I would only be able to concede that the suspect was dressed, because people wear clothes and I am assuming this was true in this situation as well.

      If I have learned anything about the person’s life history in our previous encounters, once that file clicks in, out it gushes into my brain and sometimes, super awkwardly, our conversation.

      Childhood into adulthood: That I have not had tested and I think you have me there.

      Off-topic: I will be participating in the Alterna-Prompt you established last week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mr. Atheist · March 21, 2015

        I think I’d prefer the Munch interrogation to the Pembleton interrogation. The recognition is usually instant. The memory of the where and when comes into focus… If I knew the person’s name I might give details but not the actual name immediately. The name, however, if known will be produced. The where/when has only eluded me once. And it still bothers me to this day. Tall about awkward conversations… I stopped having the conversations after I turned 40. It’s a little creepy. Hahahaha.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. sparkyplants · March 21, 2015

    Maybe you guys met in a parallel dimension at some point. Perhaps he was surprised you didn’t remember him.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. loisajay · March 21, 2015

    I love how you turned this story around–let them be spooked. You’ll be just fine, thank you. BTW, I cannot wait to open my clothes dryer! Oh, I will let you know. 🙂


  4. thereluctantbaptist · March 21, 2015

    And you’re sure you weren’t wearing a Hello My Name Is….?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lifelessons · March 21, 2015

    We all need a story like this in our lives. Once, when I was about 16 or 17, I was traveling alone, driving to some meeting or other in another town. I was over 100 miles away from home when I stopped in a restaurant for a quick bite to eat and noticed an older man looking at me from across the room, but didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t obvious or excessive. When I got up to pay the bill, the cashier told me it had been taken care of. When I asked by whom, she said it had been the man I’d noticed, who had already left. Not as strange as your occurrence, but of the same ilk. I like these life mysteries…

    I can’t get pingedback to the Prompt site today. Did you have any trouble? Hope these problems aren’t starting up again…Loved your post. Judy

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wscottling · March 21, 2015

    That was kinda weird. I think I’d remember that for the rest of my life too. Yep.


  7. camparigirl · March 21, 2015

    I had something similar happen to me in a monastery in Greece: an old woman who couldn’t speak English but had a little Italian who knew my name and the city I came from. If my husband hadn’t been there to witness the encounter and verify it did happen, I would be questioning it to this day. What did it mean? I have wondered many times. How did she know? I couldn’t even communicate with her beyond holding hands and understanding she learnt a little Italian during the war. I will always remember it.


  8. Pingback: Daily Prompt; Whoa! | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  9. John Lundemo · March 21, 2015

    Cool story but the kid just overheard you and your friend, bullshitting. Plus he was a brat who cannot keep from the casual jab. But really you know things like this are cool and happen to some very lucky folks and that is you bro! Saw my double once and he saw me at the same time, like a mirror
    . We both knew it was the freakiest lucky momment

    Liked by 1 person

  10. singhpiyush6089 · March 22, 2015

    Stunning story! Maybe that toddler was your mate in previous incarnation, lol!


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