What Happens to Who You Were, When You Become What You Are?

I was going to title this Whatever Happened to Mary? mostly because it was shorter, and because I have an answer. My given name is ‘Mary’. That sound used to mean ‘me’. My driver’s license still thinks that is the case. But is it the truth? Was it ever? In my recently published book, Walk A(New)Way, I write about living a truth that often goes unseen.

It began oh, so early on, but this memory still brings a smile. Identity isn’t what we are taught it is. I’m not sure it even exists, unless, like a particle, we show up in a certain way.

Do you remember when you were about four years old? My heart always likes to think ‘four years gold’. Everything was still a game.

I knew what I was on the inside and was confident in that. Happy about it, even. There were things about the world I wanted to know and more things about it that I didn’t. I knew that even then. Every experience had something of the fascinating about it and some things, like the back of the closet at night, were better left alone.

I remember taking my carefully folded tiger costume out of my school satchel in one of the bathroom stalls. Today was the Halloween costume party and even the Kindergarten was invited.

Mum showed me how to get myself out of my uniform and into the costume at home that morning. I untied the sash to my pinafore and slipped it off over my head. Next came the white oxford cloth shirt and cotton shorts that buttoned up the front. I had to take my shoes off because the onesie tiger pajamas had feet. I didn’t know how I was going to get those bumpy pad thingies into my saddle shoes so I carried them back into the classroom with me. The shoes, that is. Mum hadn’t figured on that, I thought. I was probably going to get into trouble for getting my feet dirty.

I put on the cool tiger mask, with its plastic whiskers sticking out all anyhow, and tiptoed down the hall to the Kindergarten room. Our teacher, Mrs. Dickens, was busy counting children because she could no longer tell who was who. She was even wearing her little eyeglasses that turned up at the corners and stayed around her neck on a beaded necklace thing.

The Princesses and Fairies were obvious. Who can’t see through one of those masks? So were the Dancers and Witches and Clowns… but no one recognized me.

We all began school together a few weeks ago and stood in a circle every day before ‘ring-a-ring-a-roses’, reciting each other’s names. No one knew who I was. Of course the full body onesie with hood, ears and a tail probably made a difference. And the fact that my mask covered my whole face the way those little kid ones used to do. I knew who they were, all those other girls. Huh. I wasn’t the only one who could stand in that circle after nap-time every day and recite each person’s name in turn.

Huh. ‘Curiouser and curiouser’ as Alice would say. They didn’t know who Alice was yet, either. I’d been warned about that before school ever began. The others girls wouldn’t know the same stories I knew, or maybe some of the other things as well.

As a school treat, the Headmaster held a costume contest that year. The winner from each class, K through 12, would be the person whose name no one could guess.

I won.

There was even one girl from my own class who kept guessing, “Nancy?” I couldn’t remember if she was one of those who knew all the names when we stood in circle everyday. It didn’t matter.

I was shocked that no one recognized me and delighted and oh, so shy. I wanted to slink off to the playground and ‘play tiger’ under the trees until Mum came to collect me. When it came time for me to lift the mask and tell everyone my name, Mrs. Dickens and my upper class ‘monitor’, Emmie, laughed in recognition. No one else did.

They don’t see me, I thought, knowing it was true. This has possibilities, thought another part of me.

“There are many ways to be in this world,” said the voice that was always with me. ‘Huh’ became ‘hmmm’ as I began to consider this… for the few minutes before I was allowed to run out onto the grounds and ‘play tiger’ until it was time to go.

The girls in Princess and Fairy costumes were playing ‘magic’ under a little grove of trees. Hmmm, thought my tiger-self. Maybe I’ll just sneak up on them.

“Kitty, kitty, kitty,” one of them called, mockingly.

“Grrrrr,” I snarled, wrinkling my upper lip the way the tigers at the zoo did.

Shrieking, the gaggle of would-be magic-makers bolted for the classroom door, as I stalked them on hands and knees. Slinking from shrub to shrub, I finally made it to the classroom. Mrs. Dickens stood there, shaking her head. My classmates were occupied with other things and had seemingly forgotten all about it, or their mothers had already been in to collect them.

Mum was sitting in the station wagon, waiting not too patiently.

“MaryBeth, what were you doing?” she asked, as I grabbed my satchel and climbed into the passenger seat next to her.

Playing, Mother,” I answered, as if that wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world.

“Mrs. Dickens says you growled at some of the other girls. I’m surprised at you!”

“I was sort of surprised too, but they yelled and ran like anything and it was jolly fun. I guess I’m a good growler.”

“She says you won the costume contest too,” said Mum, smothering a smile.

“No one guessed my name,” I answered slowly.

“Not even Amy?” Mum sounded confused.

“Amy only comes to school on Tuesday and Thursday. You know that.” Amy was a year younger and the ‘pre-schoolers’ only joined us twice a week. Our mothers were best friends and we were pretty much inseparable outside of school hours so I understood but didn’t see what difference it made, really.

“None of your friends saw you change into your costume? No one knew your name?” Mum’s voice was rising in pitch with each question.

I shook my head, for no. She took a good, long look at me and asked if I wanted to go over to Marguerite’s for tea. Marguerite was her spiritual teacher and lived two doors down from us. Her helper, Katherine, always made good things to eat. Yummy chicken and mash, or sometimes that French seafood ‘bewya…’ soup when it was cold out. {Bouillabaisse was Marguerite’s favorite.}

It wasn’t cold today so I thought maybe cucumber sandwiches and lady fingers with creme tea. Or cheese and pickle with brown bread.

I said as much to Mum.

“Tigers don’t eat cucumbers, you know.” How did she know that?

“Is that like the cats and the mouse steaks?”

Marguerite had just finished reading me a story called Belling the Cat, during which tale I learned that cats like eating mouse steaks as much as the mice and I like eating cheese. It made me sad to think of my little cheese mates being munched up like that but Marguerite told me I had to get used to things like that on this world.

“You seem to like that costume,” Mum said, as she helped me out of it and tied the sash on my pinafore. She said nothing about the dirt on the foot bottoms or the grass stains on my knees that, barring the miraculous, would never come clean.

“Do you want to wear it next year?” She had a funny look on her face when she asked that.

“Next year I’ll be different,” I shrugged.

Mum smiled as she took my hand while we walked the half block to Marguerite’s side door.

Later that night, long after I had been put to bed, I listened quietly from under the covers. Warm in my fuzzy light blue bedtime onesie, I crept out of bed, making my way to the parlor door on silent feet. Crouched behind the phone stand in the hallway, I continued to listen. Mum and Dad were laughing about something. What was so funny?

“Mrs. Dickens said she growled at the other girls?” Dad sounded incredulous. Mum couldn’t answer for laughing.

“What did Marguerite say?” Dad was beginning to chuckle too, but I could tell he didn’t quite know how to react.

“Not much,” Mum gasped, trying to get her breath. “She sent MaryBeth to the kitchen with Katherine and we had a good laugh together.”

“I keep wishing I could have seen those girls’ faces, and wondering how this little one will ever fit in, in the world.” Mum was shaking her head again.

“She will definitely have adventures,” Dad added, setting Mum off again.

“That’s what Marguerite said!” Mum was doubled over laughing, with tears streaming down her face. “She said ‘well, you prayed for an adventure’.”

“I prayed for this child,” he said softly, holding Mum close while she caught her breath.

I crept back to the bedroom and over to the wall behind their bed, where my stuffed friends, Clownie and Gingerbread Boy, stood waiting. I was almost taller than they were by now, but not by much, and could still scooch down between them and feel safe and supported.

“What was so funny?” I asked my friends. They were either asleep or didn’t know because there was no answer.

I woke up just for a moment when Dad lifted me into my bed.

“Good night little tiger,” he murmured against my hair. “Sounds like you had fun today.” He was laughing again when he tucked me in.

***

I watched the film A Dog’s Purpose last night, and in one scene a young boy and his dog are in bed, supposed to be asleep. The boy is reading out loud, bouncing up and down, wrapped up in the excitement of the story, ‘hiding’ under the covers with a flashlight. The dog thinks, “My boy plays the best games! Making noise under the covers! Genius!” They were both having fun and each was having a different experience. I’ve always known that about this world.

Who we were is an accumulation of games we’ve played. Who we are is something entirely different.

Call To Action {or maybe Adventure} ~

If you enjoyed this, please click the heart so others might see and enjoy as well. It means a lot that we support one another in even the smallest of ways.

And if you are interested in a different kind of adventure, check out my new book, Walk A(New)Way, on my Amazon author page. Or sign up for my monthly newsletter or my blog.