Seeing one's double is often construed as a bad omen, which portends death. In fact, the poet Percy Shelley drowned in a river shortly after seeing his doppelgänger appear on his balcony. In folklore, doppelgängers are similar to vampires in that they cast no shadow and have no reflection in a mirror or in water. They provide advice to the person they shadow, which can be misleading or malicious. In many cases, once someone has viewed his or her own doppelgänger she is doomed to be haunted by images of that ghostly counterpart. In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "William Wilson," written in 1839, the eponymous protagonist encounters a classmate who eerily shares his name and birth date. Tormented by his double, whom he believes to be a saboteur, Wilson kills him in a climactic duel. Likewise, in Dostoyevsky's novella The Double, the protagonist's doppelgänger threatens to ruin his good name and usurp his position in society.
As I daydream about my newfound twin somewhere out in the world, I wonder why the idea of twinship has such a dark cultural legacy. Finding out I have a mysterious lost twin only exponentially increases the gothic overtones.
Just last month, my friend Laurent had chanced upon a sculpture that, he felt, bore an uncanny resemblance to me. While he was wandering through a small museum in Montparnasse, the sculpture The Polish Woman, who appeared to be one of my ancestors, had startled him out of his Sunday reverie. On Laurent's insistence, I visited her at the Bourdelle Museum the following Sunday. Expecting to see her at every turn, I walked with anticipation through the stately museum. As I passed through a gathering of monumental Greek gods, she came into view. Though she was just a small bust made of clay, the resemblance was remarkable; we had the same mane of thick hair and the same mischievous smile.
Until now, I had based my life on a fallacy: that I had been born alone. Rocking myself to sleep at night, the stuffed bear I bought myself the first day of college nestled against my chest, I repeated like a mantra, "I am alone. We are all born alone." I could no longer be lulled by that lie, though I would never be able to truly replace what I had lost. Was my twin the "we of me" that I had been unconsciously searching for all my life?
PAULA: Even after they learn the basics of how babies are made, most children remain incredulous that such an unseemly physical act could have been responsible for their arrival into the world. Eventually, they come to terms with the fact that their parents must have had sex at least once in order to procreate. But since I was adopted, I had no proof that my parents had ever had intercourse. Perhaps, I reasoned as a child, they had adopted my brother and me because they were leading a celibate life and therefore were unable to produce children of their own.