Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your Friend and Mine...

In celebration of finding my long-lost friend Erica B. Newman on Facebook, I want to post something I wrote about a year ago while I was figuring out what to do with myself in North Carolina.

Letter 12. Finding Myself

It’s been almost a year since I moved here. I never planned to stay this long, and now it has become hard to think of leaving. Terry says he thinks I’m trying to find myself. I patiently insist that I have already done this. The process was a long and trying one, replete with difficult emotions, full of travel and strange characters. Indulge me; I need to tell this story.


When I was in high school, I won a prize in a science competition that was one of those little big deals, and so a radio station interviewed me about it. At the end of the interview, the reporter asked me about my leg.

“My leg?”

“Yeah, we just did a story about the car accident you got in last week. Sounded pretty bad. Did you break both legs, or just the one?”

“I was in a car accident?”



The mystery was resolved by the introduction into my world of a second Erica Newman, who spelled her name just like mine, and was a year behind me in the high school in the next district over. A coincidence perhaps, and not one to raise any sort of fuss over, until a similar event occurred three years later with a college setting. My roommate Cara left many whiteboard notes alerting me to the fact that I had not called my grandmother, and that she had tried to reach me four times in the past two days, with increasing anxiety and hostility. I read the tone out of the larger and larger notes on the board, the last of which was circled in red so many times that I actually began to feel like a bad grandchild. I returned the call to the number on that shaming panel.

“Hi, Grandma?”

“Erica, why haven’t you called me? Didn’t you get that package I sent you?”

“No, I didn’t. When did you send it?” I, a grandchild clearly on the far side of wrong, was trying in earnest to be conciliatory.

“I sent it over a week ago!”

“Well, I didn’t get it. Where did you send it?”

“I sent it to your student box at Hampshire College.”

“But I go to Amherst.”

“No you don’t.”

“I do.”

“No, you go to Hampshire.”

I paused here, because this was getting a little surreal, even for me. “Is this Grandma Pearl?”


“Well,” I said, noting that her accent simply could not be bent into Lithuanian, “you’re not Grandma Luce. So which grandma are you?”

Grandma Something Else, she said.

Ah ha! “You want another Erica Newman!” I proclaimed, “and I bet she went to Foxwoods in high school.”

“Of course you did!”

We managed to figure it out, but I got yelled at again in the meantime.

I lived in New York after college, and then in Michigan. For two years, my life was twinless, unique. Time trod on in its usual way, and I didn’t think about Erica Newman again until I moved back to Massachusetts, where I tried to open a membership in an art-supply store and found that I already had one. I tried to open an account in a video store, and found that I had two.

“Are you Erica B. Newman, or Erica C. Newman?” asked the video clerk.

“I’m Erica A. Newman. I’m the original.” Here she was, in the Pioneer Valley. I had found Erica Newman again after too many years of solitary existence. Erica B. Newman was a woman of many memberships. I tracked her through the art store, the video store, the interlibrary loan system, Dave’s Soda and Pet Food City. Erica C. Newman, in contrast, was harder to track, either uninvolved with the community at large or extremely judicious with her personal information. She belonged to the Temple, and beyond that, her trail petered out.

After some years of abusing my namesake’s art supply membership, I found that it no longer existed, and I worried both about the fate of my doppelganger and the renewal fees I was being asked to pay. Had she moved? Died? Had she found me out? I had no idea. Our relationship was not the kind where we might exchange change-of-address postcards.

Erica B. Newman was gone from my life, once again. As time went on, I would sometimes wonder about finding Erica C. Newman, but not too hard or often. Sometimes I would tell the story about Erica B. Newman’s surly grandmother. But mostly, I found myself moving on with my life.

When it came time to actually move, I considered California and Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. I was determined to know birds. I visited my friend Claudine in San Francisco to see what birds there might require my attention. Claudine and I both artists, and I made her take me to a number of paper and art supply stores. One with an attractively variegated storefront caught my eye, and we stopped in.

As I made my purchases, I asked the woman behind the counter if I could sign up for their mailing list.

“Sure,” she said. “What’s your last name?”

“Newman,” I answered.

“That’s funny,” she said, “That’s my last name, too.”

“You…” I said—disbelieving—but somehow knowing for certain I was correct, “are Erica Newman!”

“I am!”

She was little, tattooed. Punk rock. Pierced. She had blue hair. I’ve always wanted blue hair. She was, and is, everything I have ever wanted in an alter ego. I nursed a secret hope that this is also how she felt about me. Erica Newman and I had a lot of catching up to do. I told her that her grandmother was unpleasant to me, even after she found out I wasn’t her grandchild. “Oh yeah,” said Erica Newman. “She’s a real bitch.”

“So…. How’s your leg?”

We talked, and exchanged phone numbers, and promised to go out drinking if I ever moved to San Francisco. I lost the number, but somehow I don’t think that will keep us from reconnecting.

So is this story over, now that I have met the Erica Newman who has tagged along in almost every chapter of my life? Is there meaning in any of this? And if this really is over, what was all that business with Erica C. Newman? Was that just a diversion? A red herring?

I cannot shake the feeling that some day in the not-so-distant future, perhaps even here in rural North Carolina, I will be walking down some country road distracted in thought, and will look up to find that I have once again come face to face with Erica Newman herself. “There you are!” I’ll say. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”