I was a freshman in college when I first watched an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It was late at night and I was trying to sleep, but some women in my grade sounded like they were having a party in the common area. I decided that if I couldn’t sleep, I might as well read, but the noise prevented me from focusing. And then I somehow remembered Sarah Silverman saying how much Mister Rogers meant to her, and I was happy to find that full episodes of his show were available on YouTube. And by “happy” I mean I cried my eyes out for 28 minutes, not including commercials.
Ever since that night some two years ago, the music of the Neighborhood has not only been playing on loop in my head, but flowing out of my mouth as I walk the streets of New York City, the one place where a person can sing children’s songs at full volume and still not be the weirdest person on the subway platform. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is of course a classic, “Many Ways To Say I Love You” could melt anyone’s heart, but of all of Mister Rogers’ songs, the one that has had the greatest impression on me happens to be one that is rarely cited: “Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake.”
The song only appeared on one episode, and features a grown man imitating the singing voice of a child cat, the very unintimidating Daniel Striped Tiger.
“Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake” begins with Daniel, in a raspy cat voice accompanied by a piano that manages to go through every stage of emotion, confessing to Neighborhood regular Lady Aberlin that he sometimes gets “to dreaming that I’m just a fake.” Lady Aberlin’s response — “I think you are just fine as you are” — is predictable yet reassuring. But where the cross-species duet gets interesting is when the two begin singing at the same time. As Lady Aberlin repeats “I think you are just fine as you are,” Daniel insists again that “sometimes I wonder if I’m a mistake.” They continue singing simultaneously until the very end, when Daniel’s last line is “I’m not like anyone else” and Lady Aberlin’s is “You’re my friend.”
Evidently, Daniel has not found his friend’s reassurances remotely convincing, or else he wouldn’t decide to repeat everything he has already said. The repetition may be impolite and illogical, but it’s definitely realistic; so often, the part of the mind that tells a person (or cat!) that they’re fake can only be convinced otherwise through persistence and patience. To an insecure person, being told once that “you are just fine as you are” just isn’t enough, even in Lady Aberlin’s confident voice. It doesn’t square with available evidence; it feels like a lie meant only to comfort; it’s difficult to remember; and it feels as if at any second it’s possible the person who said it might have changed their mind, or that they would if they knew better.
No wonder I can’t get “Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake” out of my head. Daniel and Lady Aberlin might as well be characters up there, as their dialogue is one that takes place eternally between my own insecure self and the grown, confident woman trying to get her to shut up already so I can think about something more interesting.
But whereas my dialogue sounds, at turns, angry and panicked, theirs sounds sweet and measured despite the tortured nature of Daniel Striped Tiger’s confessions. If, by singing and humming the song to myself, I can get my inner dialogue to sound a little more harmonious, then my dark thoughts, while still there, will feel a little less dark and a little less heavy.
After all, as the song proves, I’m not the only one who’s ever felt like she’s “not like anyone else.”