When my 16mm short film, Je Vole Le Bonheur (I Steal Happiness), was received with acclaim and accepted to the Telluride Film Festival in 1996, I felt my choice had been vindicated. I was as satisfied as a proud mother, having given birth to the creation inside me. But the satisfaction was not complete.
Though I espoused my theory of sacrifice, inwardly I longed for a partner and a child. I also suspected that even if I never conceived, someday a wayward and abandoned child would somehow enter my life. I imagined that my gay best friend, John, would help me raise it.
In 1968, my birth mother was obviously unprepared to raise a child. No matter what noble intentions she may have had in providing me with nurturing parents, my birth mother gave me up. The letter was proof that she was clearly not looking for me now. I resign myself to the fact that even such basic characteristics as her height, weight, and eye color would always remain a mystery.
I am shocked to arrive home one wintry day in February, six months after the adoption agency had been asked to provide me with information, to find a certified letter from Louise Wise Services. Is there some new revelation they suddenly want to share? Is my birth mother looking for me? Wanting to linger over the moment, I pour myself a drink and light a cigarette while staring at the envelope. I savor the last minutes of expectation and then delicately open the letter. Impatiently scanning it, I immediately zero in on the third sentence, the words "You were born at 12:51 p.m. as the 'younger' of twin girls born to a 28-year-old Jewish single woman."
The sentence seems totally unreal, yet at the same time confirms my deepest suspicions. It is as if past and present converge and resonate with meaning. Elation buzzes through my body.
Breathless, I grab for the phone to call a close friend to meet. My first instinct is to share the news. I want to show Jean-Claude the letter to confirm that I am not dreaming.
Over a beer at our local Belgian pub on Boulevard Montparnasse, empty the middle of this winter afternoon, Jean-Claude, a fifty-five-year-old literary aficionado, shares my amazement at the novelistic elements of my discovery. Though we usually drink wine together on evenings after I tutor him in English, he is equally at ease at the pub, overdressed in an elegant suit, guzzling down a pint of rich Belgian amber. His eyes widen in childlike wonderment as I describe the details of the letter to him.
My twin dwells in the abstract. There are still so many questions to be answered: Are we fraternal or identical twins? What would it be like to look at myself? Is that why I have always gazed at my reflection in mirrors and shop windows? Jean-Claude and I laugh at the prospect of her living a parallel life, just down the street from me in Paris, perfecting French, just like me. How many times have we crossed each other's path? I am reminded of one of my favorite films, Krzysztof Kieslowski's La Double Vie de Véronique, where, on a visit to Poland, a young French woman coincidentally encounters her double.
"Why were we separated?" I ask rhetorically. The particularly vibrant winter afternoon light illuminates Jean-Claude's puzzled expression. He looks at me as if this is a riddle he cannot fathom, a philosophical conundrum he is left to ponder.