Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Doppleganger

You know that old saying "everyone has a twin?" Well, okay, my grandmother used it. She didn't know DNA from RNA or about Father Mendel. She reacted only to seeing people in her community who were (to her knowledge) unrelated, yet who resembled one another. Given that her community consisted of Southern Italians who had emigrated from the same town, there were some large numbers of twins, and triplets, and so on. A town filled with brown-haired, brown-eyed, mid-size people. Then a precious few started marrying the Irish (their bosses in the mines). Same size, blue-eyed, fair-skinned. We used to think we were unique, we children of Aran and the Mediterranean. Though there were family resemblances, we fair-skinned light-eyed Mediterraneans looked different from one another, and from the surrounding groups who tended to marry one another only (the Slavs, the Polish, the Ukranians).

When I went to college, I met a guy with my rather unusual (for this part of the country) Irish last name. We looked nothing alike, but people assumed we were siblings. He was much hotter than my brother, but almost as dumb. But I did meet people with whom there were deeper connections.

One of the people I sometimes partied with, V., had a friend in the class behind us, M. We met at parties, at bars, the usual places. V and M were nice enough, smart enough, and we liked each other though we weren't in the same circles. We all graduated and went our separate ways, and I had no idea what either of them were doing.

3 years later, all 3 of us ended up working at the same large Philadelphia law firm 200 miles away from the college where we last met. V was a lawyer also, who'd gone to another law school, and M. was a paralegal in the Corporate Department. We had a joyful reunion and started hanging out together.

For what I thought was no good reason, people confused me with M. We were about the same size (though I weighed a lot less than she did at the time) and had the same hair color, cut similarly. Our names are similar, and we both had the Italian thing (but not, in her case, the Irish thing) going on. The differences ended there. She had brown eyes, I have blue-green-grey. I generally wore high heels and short skirts, she favored preppy long skirts and ballet flats. Anyway, I was routinely chased down the halls by people shouting her name. At the time, I assumed women were so scarce in law firms they thought we were all paralegals. It irritated me. But then she told me that people who knew her before they knew me called her by my name. She thought it was weird, but we chalked it up to the superficiality of the human race, scanning just a few pieces of information and finding an identical answer.

After about 5 years, due to the firm's financial deterioriation, we all went our separate ways. V. and I stayed close, because we'd bonded over lost and unrequited loves, the pack of birth control pills and the $20 bill we borrowed liberally from one another. M.'s crowd was mostly society wannabes, and though we always liked each other, we were just in different worlds. She moved to the other side of the City, and I didn't see her again for years, though our mutual good will was passed through V.

5 years after that, I ran into her again. She was shopping for maternity clothes. So was I. We laughed and hugged about the coincidence. I had heard she'd married a very devout Jew and converted. I'd married an athiest Jew in a civil ceremony. Both our husbands were older by at least a decade. We laughed about that too. After our babies were born (both girls, 2 weeks apart), we had lunch with V. We traded stories, all very similar. We chalked that up to baby developmental issues with which we were both then obsessed.

I didn't see her much after that. We ran into each other at the Orchestra once about 6 years later, where she and her husband sat in front of us. He had just run unsuccessfully for judge (we elect them in this burg.) He seemed sweet. I noticed that her husband and mine were about the same size, with the same coloring. They were both lawyers. I chalked it up to fate.

She'd had two other children since I'd last seen her. We shared genuine joy and talked about getting together. We never did. They lived downtown with 3 boisterous kids and we lived in Chestnut Hill. We all worked impossible schedules and had babysitting issues.

Then last summer, 6 years after our last run-in, I was sitting at our tennis and pool club watching my daughter swim. And she walked in with a bunch of kids. We greeted each other warmly. They had just moved a few blocks away and had joined. Our kids bonded in minutes and headed off to the pool together. Her younger daughter, 7, upon being introduced to me said "You look like my mommy." We freaked a little, but ignored it. If anything, we thought we looked less alike now. We chalked it up to kids' talk.

We started to catch up. Before they bought the house near the club, they had looked at the house across the street from us. My street has 4 houses on it. It is obscure, even to people who have lived in the neighborhood their whole lives. This was getting odder. During our conversation I looked down at her hand. Her engagement ring is a square Emerald with diamonds on each side. I grabbed her hand and pointed to mine. Two years ago, my husband bought me a ring, because I never really had an engagement ring. It's a square Emerald with diamonds on each side. The stones are about the same size on both rings. We say, simultaneously, "Oh My God!" and hit our heads with our hands.

Now we give ourselves over to whatever this string is between us. We start talking about our summer vacations. I told her generally we were going to Martha's Vineyard in August. Her husband talks about how he used to go there and what a great idea. I give him a website address to look for houses, but point out it's pretty late to look (it's now late June).

The following week I saw them at a swim meet (by now, the girls were both on the team). She thanked me for the website and told me they had booked a place. Turns out it's in the same town. And they are going the same week. And we have reservations on the same ferries back and forth.

Of course we run into them there, let the kids run around, play, ride the horses, have dinner. Everyone has a great time and we promise to get together again soon. We haven't. But then again, it seems we don't need to.

I can't say what this connection is exactly. It seems cosmic, that she and I should be tied in so many ways despite the passage of so many years, despite so many differences in background and approach. After our last meeting, we've stayed in closer touch. The relationship is easy. We talk freely and without any pretense. It's like having the sister who lives on the other side of the world who won't judge you. I admit to loving it.