I just put the sheets in the dryer. I was going to wait until after to wash linens again, but I figured if I did it today the bed would still feel fresh when I return. And there are few things more comforting than coming home and sleeping in clean bedding.
He's having surgery Thursday you know. Did you know? About the surgery? About the cancer? I'm assuming you're up on everything that's happening with him even if you haven't said anything to me. Unless it's been one of those times. Like when he broke his hip. You were on a journey of "self-discovery." India, I think it was. He had to detox before they could operate and I slept in the chair beside his hospital bed, his arms tied to the side rails to control the thrashing and a fifty-pound weight attached to his right foot to keep the hip still, for three nights. But, hey. What a comfort it was to have learned later that you did get my email and had been sending healing energy during your sunrise meditations.
Not that I was surprised. You always manage to be somewhere else — unreachable, unavailable — when shit goes down. Travelling with your boyfriend's family the summer of the intervention. Working a prestigious internship in New York during the divorce. In the critical stage of triathlon training when we uncovered the financial disaster. But you were good at making perfectly timed phone calls and delivering messages. "Anything you need. Just ask." The answer was always the same: "Everything's under control now. But you are so kind to offer."
You always played it impeccably.
Sometimes I allow myself to imagine what it would have been like to grow up as you. I picture myself walking down the high-school hallways in tight jeans and blue eyeliner and holding court in front of the southeast bank of lockers. I watch the less-confident girls working up the nerve to make eye contact. They know what signs to watch for: a wry smile means they're in; a flick of feathered hair over the shoulder means they're out. The thought of arriving at school every day dressed in authority rather than trying to cloak insecurity is nothing short of revelatory.
I envision going on dates and being kissed in the back row of movie theatres, slyly undoing the top button of my jeans as invitation for a hand to snake its way in and fingers to slide beneath my underwear to find me slick and eager. I marvel at the idea of never having to doubt being asked to the prom or to the year-end sports banquet or weekend parties. I bask in the notion of never questioning my beauty or worth.
I luxuriate in the fantasy of never worrying about how things will turn out. Instead of planning carefully I just careen from experience to experience, trusting I'll land somewhere that makes sense and everything I need to make my way in life will be there in abundance. Holy fuck is it amazing, this unburdened way of living. Is this how it felt — how it feels — to be you?
You always landed on your feet.
And there's no question about your prowess in adulthood. You're the one who's given them what they wanted. I was sitting next to our favourite uncle at a holiday dinner one year while you were regaling the table with anecdotes about your work travel. He looked at me and cocked his head — almost a quizzical gesture. "We always thought you were going to be the one with a corner office and a Bimmer," he said. A respectable career and a generous heart don't seem to have much traction these days.
As for men, well. You actually know how to do it. How to spread your legs while keeping everything else closed. It lets you stride, impervious and oh so very sated, through the world. Then there's me, with my supremely skilled hands and an endless supply of batteries for my vibrator. Sometimes when I'm crying out in the sweat-soaked moment of orgasm, fingers buried deeply inside myself, I forget for just a split second that I'm actually alone in the bed. When I come to, wistfulness sets in until I remember that when I'm not alone, I'm usually picking up my broken pieces afterwards. I asked you once, though, if there was even a small part of you that longed for something more than fucking without strings attached. You raised an eyebrow over the rim of your wine glass, its edge carrying a perfect red imprint of your lips. What was it you called me? Quaint?
I suppose I am. Quaint, that is. I look after them. I always have. I parented one and played surrogate spouse to the other as addiction pummelled their relationship and any semblance of a happy youth. But it also means I was there to see him get sober, finally, and forge a bond with her that can weather just about anything. It's that same dogged commitment and belief in possibility that makes me naïve about men, I guess. I've always believed that if you show your heart and all the love it contains, someone will choose that. Won't they? I can hear you laughing — shut up.
So where does this leave us, dear Doppelgänger? Where it always does, I suppose. Me, slogging it out here in reality while you live the life I had always wanted for myself. Or parts of it, anyway. The freedom. The success. The adoration.
I'm on the 6am bus Thursday morning. His check-in at the hospital is at noon. The surgery is at two. Maybe we'll see you there. But probably not. Just remember that I washed the sheets. The linen is clean. Keep it that way and make the bed before you leave. And I'll be fine, so don't worry about me.
You never do.
[The idea for this series was inspired by a chance encounter with the song "Troublemaker Doppelgänger" by American singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus.]