Doppelgänger

I saw my son’s non-autistic twin on a Friday, just before New Year’s Eve. Funny, I’d just been reading the January National Geographic article about twins, and how they can teach us so much about expressions of the human genome. About ourselves. About who we could be. About who we are. And therein lies the lesson of the New Year’s Doppelganger.

We were at a laid-back family-friendly resort in southern Wisconsin with my in-laws and the boys.  This place is built in a wide circle with great views of a small lake on three sides. There are hallways that connect one dark wood lounge to the next. All are covered in creepy, Shining-esque carpets and silence.  My husband ran down these hallways as a child, slunk through them as a teenager, and we strolled through them when we first fell in love. Now, my children spend days racing through them, licking the walls (in Liam’s case), and enjoying the fireplace, game room, and pool at this place.

So, on this Friday night, after a particularly exhausting day of swimming, Liam was passed out in our room with Adam, but Eliot, my sister-in-law and I were strolling the halls. Eliot was wide awake and toddling by the huge fireplace and lounge near the pool.

That’s when I saw him.

A short, blonde, preschooler, wearing a neon-blue-and-green lizard-covered bathing suit. He looked so much like Liam that I had stop and make sure my son hadn’t gotten up, dressed himself for the pool, and raced out of the room (something he was more than capable of, since he knows how to open the door and had escaped several times already).

“Oh,” I said stupidly to this boy’s bunch of adults. “My son has that same bathing suit.”

(And looks just like your son. And has that same blonde hair and cute smile and toddler tummy. But your boy is talking and mine isn’t. Your boy knows that you’re watching him, and mine doesn’t. Your boy looks exactly like the boy I thought I would bring to this place four years ago when my husband and I decided to try to get pregnant).

The boy’s mother smiled at me. “Liam! Liam,” she said to her son. “Get over here!”

I gripped my sister-in-laws arm and held Eliot closer.

No. This boy’s name wasn’t Liam too. Was it? How could it be?

Hot tears in my eyes. Dammit. I was going to cry.

“Oh,” I repeated, grimacing more than grinning. “That’s my son’s name too.”

Fake laugh and then walk down the hall as fast as possible.

My sister-in-law was crying too.

“Why?” I asked, furious and sad all at once. “Why just like him, but not? It’s like Liam exactly, minus the autism. Same hair, same bathing suit, same goddamn name.”

“You’ve been given this boy for a reason,” my sister-in-law assured me.

I didn’t know about that.

“Let’s go have a drink,” she said. “I’ve got New Year’s champagne in my room.”

I did know about that.

“Good idea,” I choked out. “Just let me go say hi to Adam.”

“Eliot can come play in my room with my I-phone,” she offered.

Sweet Eliot was laughing happily and I handed him off to her and let myself into my room. Adam and I had been fussing at each other about something-who-knows-what before I’d left, but I fell into his arms, sobbing. Liam slept through it all and Adam was sad with me, steady for me, and we endured it as best we could.

“His same name! His same bathing suit! His same look, but talking!” I blubbered, unable to say more. “Why, why, why?”

Adam just held me, and that’s all we can do sometimes.

I don’t know why this child crossed my path beyond sheer, inexorable, cruel coincidence, but I do know that Liam slept through the night that night and woke up refreshed. He was happy all aday and we had a great time playing in the pool the next day (yes, I did dress him in the same bathing suit that his doppelganger had on, just to show the universe that I knew what was up). Liam loves water and he giggled delightedly, independently bobbed around the pool, and jumped off the side like a pro.

And so, here’s the lesson I suppose: I spend a lot of time thinking about the boy I thought I had, or should have had, or wanted to have, but the simple truth of it all is that I fiercely love the boy I do have. I want him to talk so much, but I don’t want to trade him in. Not for all the gabby, precocious doppelganger Liam’s in the world.

But, still, universe, a bit more subtlety next time, please?

I’m begging you.