Mistaken identity happens all the time

Diane Brown

sometimes people die for it

October 05, 2011|dmbrown@comcast.net

"Hello. It's so good to see you again. I met you a couple of weeks ago at the museum," the nice lady said to me. "I'm so glad you could come to this."

"This" was the sendoff for the president of the Friends of Trees in Portland, Ore. I was videotaping a play involving some friends who were popping out like gnomes and fairies in the forest in the upper northwest part of the city. I was also on jet lag.

"No," I said to her. "I just arrived in Portland yesterday."

"Oh, yes," she insisted, "it was you I met at the museum."

"No," I said briskly. "As I said, I've arrived yesterday."

"It was you."

Clearly a case of mistaken identity. The stranger honestly believed I was a woman she had met before, spoken with before, probably shook hands with before.

That conversation took place years ago, but remembering it brought to mind Troy Davis, who was executed in a Georgia prison last month. I can't help wondering if he was misidentified. Some say he was.

For several years, a few parents at a Howard County school have thanked me for the wonderful care I have given their children in an after-school program. I have never worked at a school. When my first compliment came, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I just told the lady that I was not the person she was thinking about.

Then it persisted. From time to time, over the next three years, parents told me how happy they were that their kids had such good care. No longer bemused, I became amused.

Last year, I espied a woman selling crafts at an evening function at the school. I approached her, and we got to talking. I introduced myself, and she said she knew who I was. Then she told me she was the after-school child-minder.

"OMG!" I said. "You're the person parents here keep getting me confused with. I wonder why." We looked each other up and down, noting the difference in complexion, as well as stature. We look nothing alike. We both broke out laughing, hugging each other with abandon. Except that we both belong to the same human group, we have nothing physical in common. "Golly, who on earth could confuse us?" she laughed.

The parents with whom she deals see her every day when they pick up their children. Up close and personal, they speak to her, thank her, tell her to have a nice day. Yet, there is continuing mistaken ID on their parts. Some think she and I are the same person. My question is, do they really see her, or do they see a phantom that blends people of color into a mass?

So again I wonder about Troy Davis, who was identified as the murderer of a police officer in 1989. Since then, several "eyewitnesses" admitted they got it wrong, but that fact did not save his life.

Two weeks ago, I bought a cake for a surprise birthday party at a big-box store in Columbia. The cake was exquisite and the decorator told me she had added some red roses to make it even prettier than what I had ordered. She was a blonde, in her middle years.

One week ago, I ordered another cake for a baby shower, and told the blonde there how much I loved the touches she had added to the previous cake. "You must be thinking about Linda," that blonde said. "I'm not Linda."

I was so sure she was. Short blond hair, nice smile. I'd mistaken her, identified her wrongly, in only one week between the two cakes.

Makes me wonder about Troy Davis. Makes me wonder about eyewitnesses. Others have gotten me wrong. I've gotten others wrong.

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