"It's like The Two Orphans, the nineteenth-century serial by Adolphe d'Ennery!" he exclaims, making one of his usual esoteric references. "They are looking to unravel the mystery of their origin."
On our second beer, I move my ashtray and lay the letter out on the wooden table so we can go over it together.
"It says that my, um, our birth mother -- it's strange to say 'our'! -- was 'very intelligent with a high IQ who earned excellent grades in an elite high school,' " I read aloud as Jean-Claude and I pore over the letter together.
"She was very intelligent!" Jean-Claude says excitedly. "That's not a surprise!"
"''She entered college on a merit scholarship but emotional problems interrupted her attendance,'" I continue. "'She had a history of voluntary hospitalizations for emotional problems.'"
"Emotional problems?" Jean-Claude asks, "Like depression?"
"'Secondary sources noted that your mother's diagnosis was schizophrenia, mixed type, which was successfully treated with medication.'"
I look to Jean-Claude for consolation and he answers my silent question by saying "But you are okay," and takes my hand in his. The letter claims that my birth mother's schizophrenia was suc- cessfully treated. But, since my brother continues to struggle with the disease, I know there is no miracle cure for schizophrenia -- and there certainly wasn't one in 1968 -- so I am reluctant to accept her diagnosis. Mixed-type schizophrenia would probably be more accurately diagnosed today as bipolar disorder or manic depression.
Even if she is a mad genius, I would still like to find her. I wonder about the hereditary factors in mental illness and how they have affected my own emotional stability. Debilitated by depression my junior year of college, I could barely make it out of bed and considered dropping out. Had my twin sister suffered from this illness? And if my twin had indeed succumbed to madness, could I tolerate seeing a deranged, exaggerated version of myself? I fear if I confronted a bleary-eyed stranger with my features. I could not face seeing the life I had barely managed to escape.
Jean-Claude and I ruminate over these possible scenarios. What if my twin is dead? I almost died when I had an extreme allergic reaction to the antibiotic Bactrum, a sulfa drug, when I was fourteen. What if she hadn't survived after having a similar reaction to the drug? Or what if looking at her was like looking at myself, but without the mild, raised scars from the resulting chemical burn that have become so familiar to me? What if I find her, as I am driven to do, only to be rejected by a spoiled Jewish American Princess who frowns upon my years of wandering bohemia?
The vision that scares me the most is that she has conquered her solitude and has settled down with a soul mate and a child. If I witness her domestic bliss, will I regret having opted for a liberated but solitary existence? Considering these possibilities sometimes leads Jean-Claude and me to pensive silences. We also celebrate my enlightenment about the facts of my life. Though I anticipate that finding my twin will be a long and arduous journey, I am tranquil knowing at last that the loneliness I have always felt is not of the usual existential kind; it has a name now. "C'est le début d'une nouvelle vie," Jean Claude says. It is indeed the beginning of a new life. And yet, I feel the knowledge that I have a twin had always been underneath the surface of things.