Whenever I am away on one of these Big Corporate Events, I feel like I have been plucked out of the pages of some book, a book whose characters and landscapes are familiar to me, and dropped into the pages of a completely different book. In this other book I play a character similar to myself, but different in some indefinable way. Sometimes I wonder what the characters from the first book would think of me if they saw the me from this second, unusual book. But I have never feared that kind of collision, because these two books will never intersect. They are kept on shelves away from one another, on separate floors of the library.
Which is why, on the second evening of the Big Corporate Event in Dallas, it takes me a moment to register a familiar face. It is game night. There are a dozen different games, one set up at each station. See how long you can keep three balloons in the air. See how many ping pong balls you can bounce into a bucket attached to your teammate's head. Manning one of these stations is someone who looks very much like someone I knew from the other book, my book. And then I realize that she is, in fact, the character I am thinking of from the other book.
She recognizes me as well. We give each other the same look, the look that says, "What are you doing here, in this book?" I tell her where I am going after the Big Corporate Event is over, to Phoenix, to see an old friend of mine. She and this friend were once romantically involved. (Which makes this meeting an ever odder coincidence.) I have not seen either of them since they parted. We talk for a while about that, the parting. She fills in portions of the story that I have not read. It becomes difficult to keep track of which book I am in.
When I get to Phoenix, I tell my friend about this unlikely encounter with his former girlfriend. He and I talk at greater length about their parting. More portions of the story get filled in, sentence by sentence. He also tells me about his new girlfriend and her son. He tells me about how he met her, through his former roommate, who is the father of his girlfriend's son. I tell him this town doesn't sound big enough, and he laughs.
And what can one do but laugh? Our books are not on shelves at all. They lie open in piles on the ground, kicked about by wondering feet. Pages are torn out of certain books and sewn into others, only to be ripped out again. Eventually their spines disintegrate from overuse, and the pages twist about in the wind. No wonder it is so difficult to keep track of who is who. Or who are you.