I see you looking at me. Let me answer your question before you ask it. No, you don't know me. We've never met. No, I am not your daughter's ballet teacher. I'm (probably) not your older brother's ex-girlfriend. I'm (most likely) not the girl who sat across from you in high school English. I'll tell you who I am: I'm a person many people recognize on first sight - although they've never seen me before. Sometimes I feel like Everywoman's doppelgänger.
When I was a teen, I hated the sudden recognition I'd see on people's faces. Here I was, searching frantically for my own identity - and everyone was claiming it.
One time, I was particularly miffed. "Well, I never!" I stalked into the house after school. "Some guy thought I used to go to school with him!"
"So?" Mom inquired gently.
"So - he was in his 50s, at least! I don't look that old!"
Mom looked at me, her gangly 15-year-old. She said, "He was dreaming. For a few minutes, he got to be 15 again. I hope he enjoyed it."
"Well, it was ridiculous!"
"Someday you'll understand."
Here's an everyday occurrence: A woman runs up to me in a parking lot and grabs my elbow. "Didn't you hear me calling you?
"Uh ... no," I say, trying to place her.
"I was shouting at the top of my lungs," the stranger says. "Rosa! Rosa! But you kept on walking."
I laugh. "My name's not Rosa. Sorry."
"But aren't you...?"
"No, I'm not."
Sometimes people politely refuse to take me at my word: "Sure you are! You dated Denny and then the two of you...."
"Really," I say. "I don't know any Dennys. Never have."
"But I'm sure you are!"
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I know I'm not." I've never had to actually show ID, but I've come close.
One day, a boy who was probably about 12 came to the door, collecting bottles for a drive. His jaw dropped when I opened the door. "I know you!"
"Really?" I said.
"Sure! You're that movie star - I can't think of your name!"
When I told my husband of my most flattering misidentification to date, he snorted. "Boy! What some kids will say to be the best in their bottle drive!"
"Hey, maybe I do look like a movie star," I mused. "One with dark hair - possibly a younger Liz Taylor or a more, uh, mature Winona Ryder."
"Or maybe Minnie Mouse," my husband suggested, happily bursting my bubble.
Craig was a little less amused the day we attended a class together. A woman I'd never seen before waved and smiled from the front row. My spouse waved back, whispering, "A customer," to me.
But she wasn't looking at Craig. She called, to me, "OK - I know I know you, but I can't think of who you are." After I was done with my usual song and dance, Craig muttered, "I can't believe it. I deliver packages to her nearly every day. She doesn't recognize me, but she knows you!"
"What can I say?" I whispered back. "My features are memorable, even if you've never seen them before!"
One time, I came face to face with one of the women I was commonly mistaken for. And the odd thing was, we both stopped dead in our tracks and looked each other over. It wasn't quite like peering into a mirror, yet it was eerily similar. And then we each smiled and nodded to the other - a silent acknowledgement of seeing something semiwondrous. I wish now I'd asked her how often someone calls her Terry.
After I'd been mistaken for one person or another four times in one day, I told the last inquiring stranger, "I must have the world's most common face. This happens to me constantly."
"Not at all," she assured me. "Your face is most distinctive - which is why I thought you were Ann. She's distinctive-looking, too."
Along with a million other Terry clones. What's the definition of "distinctive" again?
I'm so used to being mistaken for someone else that a few times I've automatically started in with, "No, I'm sorry. I'm not," when I actually was. One time, the woman shook her head and said, "Oh, I was so sure you were one of the Miller girls and that your Mom taught me Home Ec." Oops!
Time to explain that I am one of those Millers, and why I appeared to be denying it. These days I know to let people finish their description of who they think I am. Besides, I like to hear it. Although it ruffled my feathers to be constantly misidentified when I was younger, these days I rather enjoy it. For one thing, it's an instant conversation starter. For another, I love hearing about my twins.
I've been taken for the head of an art center, a flute player, a biologist, and uncounted friends, friends of friends, girlfriends, ex-wives, mothers, and cousins. People thought I was the woman who biked across the country or landscaped their grandmother's garden or bought a goat from them.
My imagination takes off, dreaming of my alternate lives. It adds a touch of va-voom to a pretty content life behind my much-recognized face.
So, if you think you know who I am, please tell me about it. I can't wait to hear.