Friday, November 1, 2013

I'm Not Katie: A Case of Mistaken Identity

In my freshman year of college, I joined one of the university's two all-female singing groups.  Though we were there for the music, in some respects, it was also sort of like a sorority for girls who wouldn't ever pledge a sorority: we were each assigned a "big sister"; we would gather in small groups around campus; and many of us (not me) would semi-regularly get drunk together.

As a non-sorority sorority, we also had a "brother" organization: the all-male Glee Club.  They functioned like any fraternity would, providing built-in dates for the members of our group (some pairings actually resulted in marriage), serving as an organization to co-sponsor co-ed events, rounding out the sound when we needed to sing something for mixed voices, and occasionally getting drunk with us (not me).

In my second week with the group, we new recruits found ourselves being inducted into the ritualistic post-rehearsal gathering at a semi-seedy pizza restaurant and bar just off campus.  I was trying, shyly, to make small talk, and be as invisible as possible, when I realized that someone was trying to get my attention.  Only they weren't calling my name.

"Katie," they were saying.  "Katie?"

Katie was another new member of the group, a slight girl with a powerful, fabulous voice who had already found her pairing in the Glee Club: an equally small and talented male.  She was on the fast track.  The only similarity between us was our shoulder-length wavy brown hair, which, if you were looking even just a little bit closely, wasn't that similar at all.

Still, the call was insistent.  "Katie.  Katie!"

Now, others had joined in.  They were all clearly shouting at me, trying to get me to turn around.  Finally, I did.  And spluttered, at the top of my lungs:  "I'm NOT KATIE!"

The bar erupted into gales of laughter, and after a minute of feeling awkward and annoyed all at once, I had to laugh, too.  To this day, one of the friends I met in those Glee Club days still calls me Katie (or "not-Katie"), and I occasionally sign my emails to him, simply, "k."


I've been thinking about this case of mistaken identity a lot lately, at my new place of employment.  Where, it's pretty obvious, people worshiped at the feet of my predecessor.  Or, at the very least, were very chummy.  Sometimes it feels a little like they're measuring me, sizing me up.  And then, they decide, frowning ever so slightly, perhaps: not Katie.

It's true, I think.  I'm not Katie.  I'm sorry that you're pining away for your lost lover, but she's gone.  She made her choice.  And you can't use the same yardstick for me.

I imagine (because this has never happened to me) it's sort of like being in bed with someone who suddenly calls out the wrong name in a passionate moment.  Of course the speaker is embarrassed, but no one feels worse than the newly beloved, who can't help but wonder where she stands.  Is the speaker still smitten with an old flame?


These things take time.  People grieve love lost in their own ways, and I didn't expect to step too quickly into my predecessor's shoes, which are, admittedly, quite large. Still, I can't help but feel some days like I'm orbiting a well-established solar system, and I wonder when gravity will start to kick in.

Until then, maybe it's best to respond to whatever I'm called.

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else?
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  1. My first year of teaching, I taught a section of psychology, a class which for the previous 8 years had been taught by only one, much beloved, teacher. The students were all a bit wary of me. One girl in particular was very upset when her schedule arrived with my name on it.

    It worked out. Not everyone loved me, of course, but that one girl did, and a few more. Be your best not-Katie, and people will find that they like not-Katie a lot, even though she's not Katie.

  2. I love your writing. I know I don't comment all the time, but I do read. And your writing is always so thought provoking. Thank you for what you put out for the world to read.


  3. Our beloved department administrator, we can call her Katie, left two years ago. I was grief-stricken, sure that I would never love again. Then Not-Katie came, and turned out to be awesome. So now I have a Katie AND a Not-Katie in my lives, and both are good things to have.

    When I was a freshman in college, I was frequently mistaken for a then-popular, kind of quirky film star. I found it frustrating, because I considered that film star to be less-than-beautiful. I can now see, 20 years later, that the film star in question was in fact beautiful (and still is), but just not beautiful in the way that I wanted to be beautiful. I think that comparisons are always uncomfortable.

  4. Oh, how I have missed reading your posts! You are such an awesome story teller and this blog entry is no exception! Thank you for sharing. It is hard to follow someone so loved, but I know in time you will be so loved too! Transitions aren't easy... When I was a freshman in high school there was a girl that looked a bit like me and vice versa and people got us confused. I was just thinking about that recently, as she had a crush on a boy and if I recall correctly, people sometimes thought it was me who liked him. What a random memory. Also, how cool you were in a Glee club! How did I not know or remember that?!


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