The Stranger

 (courtesy of

Well we all have a face that we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone.
Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger , but we love to try them on.

You may never understand how the stranger is inspired
But he isn’t always evil and he is not always wrong.
Though you drown in good intentions, you will never quench the fire.
You’ll give in to your desire when the stranger comes along.

                                                                                                                                   (Lyrics from Billy Joel’s “The Stranger”)

How foreign really are the phantoms we carry beneath the thin sheath of our hides?  Don’t pretend they aren’t real.  You know they are — whether or not you’re willing to acknowledge them.

We don’t give up playing pretend when we leave childhood, we just raise the stakes.  We play at being beautiful or handsome or stylish or modern or intelligent or with it or…well, take your pick.  We may, indeed, be many of those things, but chances are that sooner or later you put on a mask to be something you’re not, to fool others or to fool yourself, to try on some clothes “off the rack” (as it were) that you otherwise wouldn’t dare shrug into on a regular basis.

Sometimes we carry regrets for the roles we don’t have the nerve to embrace, the black-edged shadows of our soul that call a seductive siren’s cry into the void.  I look back on my life and realization emerges with a bit of squint-eyed, broken-mirror glare:  I wish I’d been Joan Jett.

I mean, look at her:

 (courtesy of

She’s perfect, an amazing blend of beauty, raw sexuality, and spit-in-your-eye bravado.  God, who wouldn’t want to be her?!

I was raised to be a good girl and I’ve worked very hard to maintain that facade.  In truth, I suppose it isn’t entirely a facade; certainly, I’ve some good girl in me.  (Too much, probably.  The Pollyanna training runs deep.)  But I’ve got a bit of bad girl in there, too, and it’s a damn shame I don’t let that rebel run wild a little more often.  I may be in my 50s, but there’s still a part of me that wants to wear leather, spandex, and silver studs, to bang my head, to raise a fist.  I want to look hot, cut my hair just so, wear too much makeup, and strut like Travolta.  I don’t do it (except in the privacy of my own head and my own home…), but I want to, right out there in public for the whole world to see.

Why don’t I?

Well, partly because I don’t want to embarrass myself.  And partly because once I let that genie out of the bottle, she might not want to go back.

See, she’s the Hyde to my Jekyll, the dark and wild free spirit that lurks at my core, the flame-bearer of my heart, the bit that (thanks to family and society and pressure) I turned my back on years ago.  I haven’t lost her entirely and that’s a good thing, but for a long time I pretended (and believed) that she no longer existed, that I had eradicated her.

It made me sad.

But recently I’ve discovered that she’s alive.  And she’s strong.  And she wants her time.  Oh, I don’t plan on running out and purchasing a new wardrobe, but I’m finding other ways to let her have her day, her say, her time.

And, man, it feels good.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Appearances, Choices, Essays, Life, Melissa Crandall, Women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Stranger

  1. Becky says:

    Might answer why I love to dress in black leather every summer and ride!!!

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