This weekend I had a case of mistaken identity. It was most certainly due to being childless. My in-laws kept Drew for two evenings this Fourth of July Weekend, leaving Gordon and I with two bona-fide, hot-n-heavy date nights in a row.
The first evening we spent at a friend’s pool party, drinking margaritas and watching the fireworks explode just over the tree line. One person I met there said I looked just like Scully from X Files. Do you remember that show? Do you remember Scully’s 90’s-fabulous bob hair do? Let me just state for the record that I don’t have one of those.
The next evening, we took in our first-ever Fort Worth Cats game, the independent baseball team that plays at historic La Grave field just off the banks of the Trinity. The air that night was oppressive. It was like walking through a blowtorch-lined sauna dressed in a very cute, long-sleeved Juicy Couture jogging suit. In the rippling mercury, people with little carts were selling sparklers and light-up bracelets and what I assumed to be tepid lemonade. A man dressed in the mascot costume of a giant black cat was doing his best Michael Jackson impression, moon-walking down the baseline wearing a glittering glove. (This kind of cultural enrichment is why I refuse to move to Keller. No offense. Just saying.)
Gordon and I were looking for our seats in Section D. The man on the loudspeaker was recognizing members of the armed services who stood for applause. We found our row and a young man in front of us turned around, looked at us, and held up his hand; to stop us, I supposed. I wondered if these seats were taken.
“Hey, glad y’all could make it!” he said, a bright smile on his face. His hand was still upraised. I proceeded to “give him five”, which I assumed was the intent. He turned around, still grinning, and kept watching the game. Odd, I thought. Professional greeters, here at La Grave field? Nah. This wasn’t Wal-Mart.
After melting in our seats for the first couple of innings, we got up to get something to drink. The listless man behind the concession counter looked as if he had just been taking a spinning class in the middle of the Mojave. He was palpably yearning for death.
When we returned, the cheerful man who had first greeted us was now sitting in the seat right next to ours. He began talking to me.
“So, where is Amy and that whole crew?” he asked.
I blinked. Um, what?
Just then, a girl over behind home plate got beaned in the kidney by a flying baseball bat. The crowd was suddenly enrapt, a thrill of voyeurism and horror pulsing through the stands like a drum beat. Three medics rushed to her attention and soon she was standing. The crowd applauded as she was escorted out, each arm draped over a medic’s shoulder.
“Close one,” said the Cheerful Man, as he leaned over and slapped my thigh. Let me repeat in case you missed it, he slapped my thigh.
I didn’t think to ask him why it was a “close one,” given that someone had actually been struck by a bat; I was trapped in a pit of inner chaos. Who was this person? Who was I? What was I?
Gordon had struck up a conversation with the guy next to him, so he missed the thigh-slap, but eventually began to be amused by the one-sided conversation the Cheerful Man had struck up with me.
At one point, someone tried to enter our row. Cheerful Man stood and I swiveled my knees to the left to let him by. Once he passed, Cheerful Man began sitting, smooshing my knees down between my seat and his. The pain was intense. I was gasping. In a desperate act to save my kneecap, I was suddenly grabbing his hairy leg. He stood back up just in the nick of time. But despite my throbbing pain, I was more traumatized that we had both been, within the course of ten minutes, touching each other’s legs.
Now, perhaps you are wondering why I didn’t immediately set the record straight about who I really was. It’s simple: my crippling fear of embarrassment. (Literally crippling, in this case.) I avoid awkwardness like I avoid J.C. Penney. I prefer posing as other people than being my one, true, uncomfortable self.
Plus, I wasn’t entirely sure that he was mistaken.
See, we got the idea to go to the Cats game from our church, which had bought tickets in Section D for whomever in our age group wanted to come. We don’t hang out much with that crowd, but since we had never been to a Cats game before and because it was the Fourth, we figured what-the-heck. So in the course of my encounter with Cheerful Man, a nagging suspicion was pecking at my head like a toucan beak: what if I knew this man from church, but had forgotten him? I wouldn’t put this past me. After all, Dr. Oz says pregnant women lose 8% of their brain mass while gestating. Granted, we’re supposed to grow it back, but I’m sure you could find all kinds of living examples to the contrary. (Me being one of them.) Perhaps I had met and developed a friendship with Cheerful Man, and he had been lost--along with my ability to recall the Greek alphabet--with the Elusive Eight Percent.
So I nodded and smiled. For an hour.
Finally, sometime in the fifth inning, Cheerful Man leaned in to me and said, “Wait, what is your name?”
Oh. Bring me home, Jesus.
“You’re not Jennifer?”
So we hadn’t met before. My brain had not failed me, at least in this particular case.
I could feel the mercury rising. But before I could worsen the situation by opening my mouth again, Cheerful Man yelled without missing a beat, “Hey Mark, she looks just like Jennifer, huh, from the singles class?”
The man Gordon had been talking to—Mark--looked sideways at me. “A little.” I obviously didn’t. I obviously look more like Dana Scully.
“So, Julie, tell me about yourself,” he continued. Gordon was leaning back, pretending to watch the game.
And I proceeded to tell him all about Julie. It was like the past hour of me being Jennifer had been erased. Like Cheerful Man had watched a German Shephard stand up, unzip his fur from the neck down, and emerge a great big hairy tarantula—and then just shrugging.
In the course of things, I found out his name was James. He was telling me about himself. “I still carry my student ID around,” James told me. “Still pass for a college kid. You should try it!” he said.
“Eh,” I replied. “I think the toddler might give me away.”
But who knew? Apparently I could still be Jennifer from the Singles Class. And suddenly, at the bottom of the fifth, I had a new friend.
It’s weird. When I’m schlepping Drew around town between the places we go—church, the store, our friends’ houses—my identity feels wrapped up tight like a perfect little Tiffany’s box. But when I’m without Drew in a new place—a new baseball field sitting next to a stranger—I feel strangely up for grabs.
I guess I hide behind Drew to feel comfortable with myself more than I’d care to admit. But that night, I left La Grave field a new person. A lighter, de-toxed person what with all the perspiring. But more well-rounded Person, not just a Person With a Toddler.