Photo CC by Brent Moore
I’ve had my identity mistaken many times before. We all have. I would be willing to bet my computer’s hard drive that you’ve been strolling down aisle number 8 at your grocery store when a complete stranger all too enthusiastically exclaimed, “Hi! How are you?!” If you have an older sibling, I’d be willing to wager my left big toe that you’ve raised your hand in class before and been called on – by their name. It happens to all of us. And I wish it’d stop happening to me.
I have a sister, Chelsey, who is four years my senior, but evidently my twin. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve pretended to be her, just so I wouldn’t have to deal with the tirade of awkward apologies that ensues after one of her friends’ mothers or one of her former teachers yet again mistakes me for her, then realizes their error. One time, when I worked as a cashier at a store, a customer had a fifteen minute conversation with me about how my (er … my sister’s) life was going. Normally I don’t even bother to correct people because it’s a 30 second ordeal then it’s over. But somewhere between minute four and minute five of that conversation I realized there was no end in sight and that it would be the most uncomfortable event of my day if Chelsey’s friends’ uncle happened to notice the oversized name tag hanging off of my vest. I took it off as sneakily as I could and tossed it under the counter. And I made that same sneaky maneuver every time afterwards when he’d come in the store.
It doesn’t stop with my sister. There is an elementary school teacher in my town who also must be my identical. Though I’ve never seen her for myself, I’ve had plenty of kids come up to me and tell me, “You look just like my teacher!” One night, I was out on a date with my fiancé when our waitress came over and told me that her other table was just schmoozing over what a fantastic teacher I was for their daughter. I spent the rest of the night avoiding eye contact with that table.
Tonight was not an instance of mistaken identity, but of misunderstanding. I went to a lecture given by Dr. Coughlin, one of the English professors at Chadron State College. As is always done, the lecture was being filmed so that the 20 people with access to the cable station it was broadcasted to could have one more channel to flick passed. As the professor got to one of his final poems, he looked directly at the camera — the camera conveniently stationed next to me — and said that the following piece was a love poem he had written for his wife. The audience (mis)followed his gaze directly to me. And they smiled at me, (un)knowingly. Because, you see, I am not Dr. Coughlin’s wife. But at that moment, anyone in that room who did not know Dr. Coughlin’s real wife, thought I was Dr. Coughlin’s wife. And, after he read this beautiful love poem intended for his wife, several nodding heads turned, smiling at me. Awkwardly, I smiled back and joined in on the clapping.
Perhaps I should simply be outright with people and endure their embarrassed apologies the next time they mistake me for someone else. Maybe I should have fun with it when, inevitably, I am mistaken for someone who I am not. Or, more likely, the next time someone mistakes my identity, I’ll take on that façade. Whatever happens, I hope that you all know, you can just call me Shannon.