Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Stranger With My Face

The first time it happened was when I started college. People kept waving at me and saying, “Hi, Inga,” as we passed on the street.

It was kind of a shock to me. I’d been raised in a small town, and nobody who lived there looked like me except me. Even my sister could easily be IDed as not me by her mahogany brown (not blond) hair and dark brown (not green) eyes. But now, on the brink of adulthood, I had to come to terms with the possibility that I was not unique—that I shared at least my appearance with a stranger I knew only as Inga.

But I was still the only me, right? Inga might look more like me than I do, but anyone who really knows me well would see in a second that she wasn’t me. After all, I am more than the sum of my features. I am a certain awkward way of moving, that abstracted expression that says I’m living in my own little world again, those favorite expressions only I am silly enough to repeat, the unmusical tone of my voice.

And I was secure in that fallacy a few more years. Then, on a trip back to my hometown, I went to visit a childhood friend at her parents’ home. She knew me about as well as anyone who wasn’t a member of my immediate family. She’d just finished nurse’s training at a hospital in St. Louis.

“You wouldn’t believe my roommate,” she said. “I was shocked enough when I first met her, and she looked just like you. But later, I realized she moved like you, she talked like you, and her voice even sounded like yours.”

I just chuckled. “Oh, surely not.”

She reached down into her purse and, pulling out her billfold, flipped it open to hand to me.

And there, instead of the stranger I expected to see staring back at me, was a photo of me I didn’t remember ever having had taken. It looked that much like me.

So, beware dear friends. I have finally had to accept that somewhere out there is at least one—and maybe two—doppelgangers of me. And one of them is bound to be my evil twin. Because, you know, I’m definitely the angelic one.