I was upstairs in the study when the letter box clapped with a thud. It sounded like the postman had pushed a block of lead through the flap. I wandered to the top of the stairs and bent down sideways to glance and decide whether the post warranted a trip downstairs or to leave it until later. Clipped by the brass letter box hung a light sky blue thin letter. With white printed text on a dark blue rectangle in all it’s glory shone the word ‘clubcard’.
I’ve never had a supermarket club card. I never felt the urge to sell my details for a few pounds discount but with my recent attempt to cutting my bills and spending I decided to give it ago; albeit in a different name. With another name they would never link my personal habits to myself and it felt fun, even if a little understated deviousness.
Last week I had prodded into google the club card phrase and filled in the form hoping there would be no need to provide any details I just wouldn’t be able to give other than a name and address. I paused and thought for a moment about the name to give and in an excitement of inspiration I was soon hitting the submit button with the promise of my own card in the post in the coming weeks.
That day was here. I hurried down the stairs like a child with the ice cream van synthetic tune ringing in her ears. I pulled the envelope and the letter box snapped shut. It was one of those fold over envelopes. You know the ones, grated edges that pull away to open the letter much like a payslip leaving you with two or three useless strips of paper. In my excitement I tried to ignore the proper ‘tear here’ instructions; but finally succumbed to the proper way when I started to tear through the internals of the letter with the white fibre flesh of paper on show.
I could feel the card inside. The envelope hanging off its rigidness that shouted exactly its contents like a credit card inside a letter with Barclay Card printed in big letters on the front; hardly the height of security-sophistication. As the letter unfolded the card shone at me in all it’s domesticated boringness but polished by just one piece of information stamped permanently in on the front with a half-life of several decades and the utilitarian nature of all capital letters, ‘MISS H JAMES’.
After everything I’d felt about being associated with an information sponge like the supermarket club card scheme I had prostituted my female persona for such a small reward as having my desired name in print. It wouldn’t cure a migraine or relieve boredom but it would give me some temporary sense of identity. Any confusion about identity and gender for that moment had gone out the window in an instant for the sake of the small plastic card that was soaked in it’s cheap capitalist disease.
With it came two smaller cards. Those keyring type things to remind you to scan in your daily shopping habits and sell another small chunk of your soul. These didn’t contain my name and so I was ever so slightly disappointed. May be it could be used at times when I didn’t want someone who currently doesn’t know to spot my true identity but then that in itself was a backwards step. A defeat in my ever growing struggle to let a little more of myself out to the people I know and love.
But may be that’s the point. I should take this nameless barcode wonder and carry it with me. The challenge to not use it. To push myself towards using the Hannah branded card like an ambitious women working her way through a career to the top; okay, may be not that much. The last thing I want to do is work my way towards emptying my bank account to the likes of a corporate supermarket leach.
Later that day I slid the card into an empty linen purse that masquerades as a wallet and left it there to do it’s work in my head. It was ridiculous of course that this piece of plastic could help me a little but such is life that the unexpected can resolve little issues, even if just temporarily, and I am still aware that it is in a way one of those extension closets. A step away from reality creating it’s own fictitious world for me where I believe this hidden identity is now real just because it’s stamped on a card but then what would be reality? Would it be having all my bank cards in my name? My passport, national insurance or gym membership with a photo of me wearing eye liner and three quarter length running leggings? Will it only be real when this identity is openly used with people I interact with every day?
It’s everything. Everything that I do and who I am with and how I present myself to those people, whether they believe in me or not, that everything in total is what makes it real but even that isn’t the one hundred percent package. Reality is when I believe in myself enough that it doesn’t matter what others see or think they see, or what identity is on my cards in my purse. Self belief in who I am is the reality and I think in the last few years was when I realised I am who I think I am.
By Thursday I’d started to look into the financials of this identity flattering scheme and was soon dismayed by the cliff to climb just to get a one pound fifty discount off my next shop. Months of remembering to scan the card and sell my habits for two coins with the queens head. I needed to get out. The feeling of identity I had gained was now just a stamp on plastic amongst my Starbucks card and Nero check box.
I grabbed my running clothes, those three-quarter length running leggings that I’m so keen on, a t-shirt and five minutes in front of the mirror carefully weaving a French braid into my hair. It wasn’t me testing myself, my bravery to go out with a quite obvious braid and besides it would hardly be bustling at 9pm. I just decided I fancied a braid instead of just the usual high pony tail swaying about as I ran.
I opened the front door and hit the quiet streets. The street lights had lit and dusk was almost over. The chill of the sea-like mist in the air of the day had long retreated and a thick and very still humidity of the continent had pushed its way into the night air. It was dry but with the rarity of any breeze it felt like something was brewing and any time soon something would spark a thrilling thunder storm.
I had one of those moments. I was well into my run when I suddenly remembered my braid. One of those double-checks, ‘Should I worry about it in case someone sees me?’ Of course not was the immediate answer and I carried on. By the time I had completed my circuit of the village and returned to my street my neighbours were back and slowly making their way from the car to their house with one on crutches. I don’t know why but I said “Hello!” as I passed, he smiled and I ran on rather than stop at my door. It was as if for a minute I thought if I pass quick enough he won’t notice the obvious leggings or the very obviously female hair braid. I got to the other end of the street and stopped trying to catch my breath. This was stupendously ridiculous. I’m not just doing this thing to be brave in front of other people. I’m dressing this way and styling my hair that way because I want to. Because it makes me happy. Because it’s who I am and the only person making it difficult is bloody me.
I strolled back down towards my house coming back into view and still catching my breath. They had all gone into the house except one person. An adult woman who I don’t know yet. She was checking her mobil and standing in front of her car right by my house. Stuff it. Lets do this. I’ve done so much more before, why is today suddenly spooking me? “You’re supposed to run back, not walk.” she said jokingly as I approached.
“Oh that’s me done.” I said, “That’s it for the rest of the year.”
Really, the fuss that goes on in my head sometimes.
Until next time.