ELYSE: "I feel like I've lost a twin," I had often said to friends, after film school, out in San Francisco, whenever I faced a particularly difficult bout of depression. I had always assumed that my profound loneliness stemmed from the early death of my mother and the loss, in some sense, of my older brother to schizophrenia. My friends thought it was just the potent Humboldt County weed speaking. But my stoned suspicions had been right?literally. Those other later losses echoed a first and most dramatic separation from a twin sister.
I am grappling not only with the realization that I have been separated from my twin, but also with the fact that I was, as the letter clearly stated, adopted at six months rather than shortly after birth, as I had always thought. My parents had lovingly recounted the story of my adoption without ever getting into the exact details. It didn't help that my mom was no longer around to repeat the story, and my dad's memory is rather spotty.
In fact, I had assumed that my brother's late adoption, at six months, had contributed to his schizophrenia. The knowledge that I had also languished in parentless limbo for months makes me pity the orphaned infant I once was. My vision of the past is slowly shifting, this new fact making the others fall like dominoes.
Since I received the letter, my mind has been so consumed with the discovery of my twin that thoughts of finding my birth mother have been relegated to the back burner. Back in 1988, when returning to Long Island for college, not far from where I had been adopted, I wondered if without even knowing it I might someday pass the woman who gave birth to me. I wished for a sign, hoping that some imaginary spectators would call out to alert me, "That's her!"
Like the baby bird in the children's book, I cracked out of my shell in front of every kind woman wondering, "Are you my mother?" "'Yes, I know who you are,' said the baby bird. 'You are a bird and you are my mother.'"
Or would I instinctively know her by her bushy hair and doelike eyes? The concept of kin eluded me. Do people related by blood recognize each other on some basic primal level?
Returning home now to my small flat on boulevard Raspail, I stare at myself in the mirror and try to imagine that somewhere out in the world I have a sister who resembles me. In constantly looking at my own reflection, have I been inadvertently looking for her -- my doppelgänger?
The notion of the double had always fascinated me. At college, I had taken an entire class centered on self-reflexivity in cinema. It was this class that motivated me to become a director. Watching Ingmar Bergman's Persona, in which a mute actress and her nurse fuse identities at a secluded seaside town, I was mesmerized. My emotions were mirrored in the nurse's question "Is it possible to be two people at the same time?"
Now that the concept of the doppelgänger has become strangely relevant, I start to read whatever I can find at the local library. Doppelgänger comes from the German words doppel, meaning "double," and gänger, "goer" or "walker," but is commonly rendered in English as "double" or "look-alike." I remembered reading Freud's 1919 essay, "The Uncanny," in which he describes the phenomenon of the double as encountering something very familiar that becomes frightening.