“She looks so much like you.”
People say that to me all the time after meeting Sage. Sometimes I joke that it’s because we have roughly the same amount of hair. But often, I don’t see it. It’s not that I think she looks like someone else; it’s that I think she looks like Sage.
I sometimes see flashes of it. A lot of times, I think Sage looks like my sister, Katie, did when she was much younger. And sometimes, I’ve seen Sage give a smile with only one side of her mouth, almost a smirk — something that I’ve seen from myself, my father, and several others on his side of the family.
And it’s not that I don’t think I look like my family. I still remember a time when I was a teenager at the mall, and for some reason I had taken off my glasses while waiting for a friend to meet me; while I waited, I got up and paced, and I suddenly saw my dad walking toward me. It turned out that it was my own reflection in a store mirror. I walk just like him. Or at least I did.
But I’ve never been good at looking at babies and deciding who they look like. (Mostly, to me, they look like other babies.)
I even occasionally have trouble remembering what people look like — even people I’ve known for a while. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the sort of feeling that you know something is in your brain, and you feel your brain sorting through information trying to access it, almost like it’s rummaging through a closet full of boxes because it knows that what it needs is in there somewhere… but I get that feeling and at times it’s because I’m trying to remember someone’s face.
There is a part of the brain responsible for facial recognition. I know that part is functional, because I don’t struggle to recognize people when I see their face; I just struggle to recreate it in my memory. None of my memory is particularly visual unless it is strongly linked to powerful emotion. There are some images burned into my brain with a permanence that frightens me, but most images disappear within moments — and that frightens me even more, sometimes.
So what surprises me, since I can’t figure out who babies look like, is the number of times that I see people and very briefly mistake them for other people that I know better, only to shortly thereafter realize that they’re not at all alike.
The first time this happened (that I remember), I was about eight. A car pulled into our driveway while I was playing on the front porch. I recognized an uncle and aunt in the car that I hadn’t expected to see. I jumped up and waved. My brother asked who I was waving at. I told him. The car then pulled back out of our driveway, giving us both a clear view of the driver and passenger. They looked nothing like my aunt and uncle. To this day, I have no idea what minor visual cue made me think it was them. Did they have similar hair? Body shapes? Did I subconsciously remember that they drove a similar car? Or maybe it wasn’t even a visual cue — maybe I subconsciously remembered the sound of their car, and this one was similar. I have no idea.
Since then, I have experienced this a number of times, minus the excited waving.
I have a fellow ComedySportz player named Luke. I’ve known him for a little over a year now. He never really struck me as looking a lot like anyone else I’ve known. However, a couple months after meeting him, I realized that a guy who works in my office actually bears a strong resemblance to him, if you added about four inches and a week’s worth of beardiness, and if you stripped away the general look of intelligent (and maybe even mischievous) curiosity in Luke’s eyes.
I have no idea what the Luke-alike’s name is. We have worked in the same office for years, but I have never spoken with him. And there’s nobody else I know who is familiar with both people, so I can’t really check up to see if the similarity is as strong as I think it is or not. I’m often curious about this, because there are times when no one else will see the similarities.
There is a man who I used to see walking in my old neighborhood who looked like a friend of mine who lives in Portland, if my friend had those fake “Billy Bob” teeth in and walked with a distinctly jerky stride. By the fifth or sixth time I saw him, he looked nothing like my friend, except for being about the same height.
There is a woman who I saw walking into my workplace that looked like another local ComedySportz friend of mine… for a second. But her hairstyle was wrong. Her walk was wrong. Her nose was wrong. Her eyes were wrong. Her body shape was wrong. I don’t know what I saw that made me think it was my friend for a moment.
I’m fascinated by the workings of the human brain. There are so many things we don’t know and don’t understand about perception and memory. (Note to certain people who may be reading this blog — and I think you know who you are. I am not having THAT conversation. We are not discussing THAT. This post has nothing to do with THAT. Go back and read the first two sentences of this paragraph. Apply no context to it. What I have said there happens to be true, and I think if you’re being fair, you can at least acknowledge that. Either way, please kindly refrain from posting anything about THAT conversation here. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, please disregard.)
I don’t know what it is about certain people, or certain experiences, or certain words… but they will trigger other memories. And really, this is how imagination and creativity work. We combine two things because something occurs to us to link them. (I would like to meet whoever it was who thought, “I bet this chocolate would be pretty good with this coffee.”)
I also don’t know how two people can look at the same face and get different interpretations. Going back to the idea of Sage looking like me — other friends of mine who had a baby recently put pictures up on Facebook. Some of his relatives thought the baby looked like her, and some of her relatives thought the baby looked like him. We think of a face as a single unit of data. Sometimes we think of it as several units — hair color, hairline, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, lips, teeth, facial hair (if any), ears, cheeks, chin. But realistically, there are countless data points — add in skin color and all its variations on a single face, the exact curvature of the mouth in each of its various speaking positions, the odd flexibility of the nostrils, the one tiny little chicken pox scar that we never noticed on someone until just today, the flakiness of the skin around a mostly-healed hole from a piercing that hasn’t been worn in months… we see all of this and lump it together as face because it’s easier to see the whole and to recognize it than it is to need to inspect each data point to conclude that yes, we really do know that this is our spouse we’re waking up next to.
Some one of these data points, or some combination of several of these data points, trigger a memory of someone else with a matching or similar point or set of points… and for a split second, there is confusion before the brain sorts it out.
I have to believe that Sage looks like me, even though I often don’t see it. The data points other people are seeing in the two of us just aren’t the data points that have been prioritized by my brain when recognizing my daughter (or reflections/pictures of myself).
I’m glad that others see it, though. I hope that as she grows older, she doesn’t mind it. And if someday she sees me walking toward her and then realizes that it’s only her reflection, dulled by lack of corrective eyewear or some other image-distorting reason, I hope she has the same reaction I did.
Which was, “Huh. Weird… but kinda cool.”