i should have known this was going to happen. you see a pattern that's not quite what you're looking for, so you completely bypass it. then two days later you're driving yourself crazy trying to find it again!
a couple of days ago someone posted a link somewhere on here to a page with lots of free patterns. i was thinking it was in the november challenge thread, but no dice. it was definitely not knittingpatterncentral.com. i've even looked on ravelry for it and there's nothing that really resembles it. i believe the patterns/pattern cattegories were listed on the left side of the site. the specific pattern i need is basically a beginner's hat (without being called that). it was a simple beanie-type hat. i think it looked like it might have had some ribbing action, but it was hard to tell because the picture was kind of strange like the photographer/editor had added some effect to it. the picture was large and in the center of the page. the hat was knitted with worsted weight, dark colored yarn. i think that's all the details i can remember.
gee. i hope i can sleep tonight!