From the time I was five years old I have looked like someone else. It's never the same person twice, either.
When I was in kindergarten my best friend was Patsy Hartman. We had matching hats that we wore all winter long. Everybody thought we were sisters. And couldn't remember who was who. The same thing happened in high school. My best friend and I looked alike. The confusion continues to this day at reunions. Not because we look alike anymore. Because people our age can't keep anybody's name straight. Let alone remember who it belongs to.
In college, things changed. I started getting confused with people I didn't know.
At the end of my freshman year at Duke I got a phone call the day after the yearbook came out. Some guy was calling because he looked me up. He claimed we sat together in English class. Except I wasn't in that class. He swore I was and just thought I was lying so I could blow him off. After convincing him that I had never sat next to him he promised to tell me who I looked like when her found her.
What a disappointment that was. I didn't think she was very cute at all.
Sophomore year some guy followed me all the way into the reference room at the library and told me I looked just like his sister. Then he asked me out, so I didn't know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
My senior year at Northwestern University I was confused with a famous celebrity who had graduated from the same school. Paula Prentiss had just made a movie called Where the Boys Are and we looked a lot alike back then. From our tall thinness and sixties flip hairdo to the sound of our voices -- we could have been sisters. Everyone in the speech department remarked about the similarity. So did Alvina Krause, the legendary teacher of many famous actors and actresses who attended Northwestern.
We couldn't look more different now.
After college I was at a party when some guy came up to me and continued a conversation he had been having with someone else earlier. I realized that he thought I was someone else when she walked up and his jaw dropped because we looked so much alike.
A couple of years later I was walking to my apartment on the near north side of Chicago when two guys came up all excited, yelling, "Sheila, Sheila, Sheila from the beach!" They swore I had spent the summer hanging out with them.
Then after kids marriage and divorce I returned to work only to discover that I had a double working at the same company. In fact there was a third woman and the three of us became interchangeable as far as some people were concerned. "Hey, I just saw you downstairs. How did you get upstairs so quickly?" was something I heard more than once.
It's still not over. During my curly blond days people said I reminded them of Bette Midler. Even though I may be foot taller. And one of my nicknames, Big Bird, sums up my celebrity lookalike career. Just tonight at my healthclub, some woman did a double and then a triple take as I sat in front of the mirror doing my hair in the locker room. "Is your name Valerie?" No. "You look just like her."
The flip side of all this is that I reinvent myself so often that if you met me five years ago I probably don't look the same anymore. My hair was curly. Now it's straight. It used to be reddish brown. Now it's blond.
The irony is that even though I pass for other people a lot, I don't looklike myself for very long. Although my laugh will always give me away.