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I subscribed to the Facebook group “Remembering Staten Island,” my hometown until 2004. It was a pleasant look back until someone tagged me with “Hi Cookie, remember me? We were in home room together.” I could not place this person, but with a jolt I recalled “Cookie.” I was catapulted to another place and time.

I changed my name from Celia to Cookie in my sophomore year of high school to impress a motorcycle-riding ”hunk” of a guy. Ah, me. His dark hair fell over his forehead, just so. He wore a black motorcycle jacket, leather boots with a rabbit foot hanging off the back of each boot. He swaggered when he walked with the rabbits feet hopping along. The hunk was my kind of guy — but not Dad’s, however.

The hunk was in my history class and I coveted him from afar. On this particular day, when the teacher called on me by name, the hunk turned toward me. Heaven and earth collided when we locked eyes.

After class, he approached me. Before he opened his mouth, these words flew out of my mouth: “I’m Cookie, everybody calls me that.”

It was news to everybody, including Dad. Dad beat me to the phone when the hunk called my house and asked for Cookie.

“Cookie? No Cookie here,” he said and hung up.

When this scenario played out again, it was time to fess-up.

My attempt to explain to Dad that the hunk wouldn’t date a gal named Celia was met with silence. Dad sat me down and said: “Mia figlia [my daughter], be true to yourself. Don’t bend and sway to accommodate anyone.”

Back then, I thought Dad’s words were used to dissuade me from dating someone he didn’t approve of. However, over time, his words became my truth.

Although I have not lost my love of motorcycles and have changed my surname twice through widowhood and remarriage, I have learned through trial and error to nurture my authentic self — and to hell with what people think.

Some folks live a life of quiet desperation. Like chameleons, they change and project a fake persona to be deemed acceptable by a potential partner, friend, political or social group. What a precarious way to live, don’t you think?

Some gals never realize they possess a warrior’s heart. Hiding behind their phantom selves, they overlook the obvious. If her partner is indifferent or insensitive to her needs or ideas, she continues to hope he will change. After all, she has morphed into someone else to accommodate him. Often, she lives on behind her mask never summoning her power.

Some guys don’t realize that macho-male persona is a turn-off to some women. The bravado, outrageous, insensitive and the-spicier-you-eat-the-more-macho-you-are mindset, is often a cover for their sensitive side.

Women loved Alan Alda’s character Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H for a reason. His character was charismatic, energetic enthusiastic, bright and passionate. Off-stage, Alan Alda is a champion for women’s rights.

Do you know folks who when discussing politics will adjust their beliefs to fit in? I witnessed this behavior not too long ago. Astounded, my ears perked up and my eyeballs rolled back when I heard a comment that was contrary to what this individual said three days prior on a different Zoom group.

At a book club some years ago, a fellow reader expressed over lunch how much she enjoyed the book. Yet, at the book discussion, most of the readers reviewed the book negatively. Guess what? She did too. I wasn’t surprised. Her behavior was known to me. Yet, I felt oddly sorry for her.

Politicians will hide behind their phantom selves in order to garner votes. They have a special talent for telling us what we want to hear. Their ability to make us believe they are on the same side of an issue, even if they are not, is uncanny. You gotta listen, carefully.

Sometimes an elected official must choose between an unpopular policy they believe is in the public interest and a popular one they do not sanction. If they choose the popular one, their flip-flop is usually called out. The Internet knows — as should we.

Why do we go along to get along even if it’s out of character? The technical term is “normative conformity.” I call it people-pleasing: seeking approval and validation from others instead of from within. Fear is usually attached to those who settle for less than they desire or deserve. They betray themselves moment by moment.

Have you ever said to yourself or someone else “I am not myself today?” If you courageously looked into the mirror of truth, would you realize you seldom are? I hope wherever “you” have gone; you will reclaim yourself.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.“

The great comedian Flip Wilson said it simply: “What you see is what you get.”

And this writer says: Having the pluck to “do you” is the ultimate freedom!

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Celia Marszal-Iannelli
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.