Who are you really?

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

My computer flashed a message at me: You’ve gone incognito.

How did I do it? Why did I do it? What did it mean?

The message faded away. I could not find it again.

I’ve felt invisible, like when I take off my glasses — can’t see you, you can’t see me. But incognito? This would be something I did myself, and I had done nothing. I looked up the word and learned, first off, that a message of this import should have read “incognita.” Apparently “the state of living with one’s identity concealed” is gender biased.

My computer thought I had “gone incognito,” maybe like “going commando”? I looked this up and it comes from military slang for soldiers in the tropics trying to avoid rashes by not wearing underwear; it has morphed into other reasons for not wearing underwear, which I won’t go into.

If I chose to go incognita . . . well, why would I? So my computer wouldn’t recognize me? So I could hide from whoever pries open my emails to find out what ads to send me? If I’d known I could go incognita from these busybodies, I would have done it long ago. What key did I hit that made my computer think I was trying to disguise myself? “Incognito” is a word that hangs out with spies, undercover cops, actors, Sherlock Holmes, not the likes of me.

Although it sounds fun.

Going incognito would be easy – change usual clothing, hair color, complexion, speech, mannerisms, gait. In murder mysteries, disguisers get caught because they forget to walk differently. I would have to practice and then pay strict attention; how I walk is not something I think about. And the voice, that’s a tricky one. How would I change my voice and how long could I sustain it? I am no Meryl Streep.

I would like to try going incognita, altering my exterior beyond recognition by people who know me. But, concentrating on what I would do to become someone else, turning into someone else if only briefly, I get lonely just thinking about it. It would mean losing my identity. It would mean, in some way, abandoning my familiar if mundane history. It could mean more than just a wig and make-up.

Maybe I’d just throw a party where everyone came disguised well enough that others would have to guess. Might be difficult for the very tall and short of us to escape instant detection, but the surreality of having guests in my home, none of whom I know at first sight, would make for a livelier party than usual. The masked ball comes to mind, where people disguised by only a mask are completely incognito to their lovers and best friends. Right. We who are watching the movie are wise to ‘em.

If I rode around like Zorro, don’t you think the whole town could figure it out? I liked that costume, mind you; or maybe just the handsome devil inside it. But fooled? Only the folks from the 18th century were fooled.

Disguising oneself as a trick on others seems a poor trick, unless you don’t like the others very well. Disguising oneself to escape persecution is valid. To escape prosecution? Depends. If the law is corrupt, escaping by disguise might be the only answer.

I’ve had folks say, “You don’t look like yourself.” Or, “I didn’t recognize you with blonde hair.” But these observations are from momentary lapses on their part, not an effort on mine to hide.

I think that “going incognito” might be a secret human desire, a bit of incognito of the bucket list that none of us guesses about the other. If we could appear as someone else, get away with being someone else, live awhile in someone else’s dream life by concealing our own identity . . . who hasn’t pondered it? In some science fiction, folks get to shape-change. Becoming someone else – going incognita — is not so uncommon a human desire. We do it all the time in our minds. Doing it for real? Maybe we walk among them.

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