My Dear Doppelgänger

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Anh Tuan To

“[…] two Popsicles are talking to each other. One accuses, ‘You’re more interested in fantasy than reality.’ The other responds, ‘I’m interested in the reality of my fantasy.’ Both of the Popsicles are melting off their sticks.”

–Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

A doppelgänger moved into the spare bedroom. Some icy thing that looked identical to you but couldn’t possibly be. Maybe a sophisticated android replaced you in the night, dropped into the apartment by an actor of some shadowy government-adjacent agency. It crept through the patio sliding door on silent foot, clasped a hand over your mouth, and left the robot in your place to spy on me. This machine creaked around softly on the carpeted floor, avoiding eye contact and keeping to the edges of every room, while constantly processing various data via Tik Toks on loop in its palm—trying to assimilate. Why? 

Or perhaps, it was your same physical body that had been overtaken by some entity, like a demon or a parasite or a previously unknown prion disease. This entity–whether spiritual or biological– allows you to go through your habitual routine, putting you on autopilot as it slowly wastes your brain, gnawing holes through the lobes. One day, you might suddenly collapse, and strange liquids would ooze from your orifices, causing you to choke and gasp like a mad dog, mouth gaping open and shut like a koi, as those around you looked on aghast. Surely, this is why there was no longer any light in your eyes when you glanced in my vague direction, plus a vast flatness in every syllable you uttered to me—a tiny monster was eating your brain!

Really, you just dumped me.

Okay, deep breath. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Some comic relief:

Wanna hear a joke? Okay, so, a girlfriend begs her boyfriend to go to therapy to improve their relationship because she feels that he has no communication skills, and she is not capable of teaching them. Men aren’t often socialized to talk about their feelings. The boyfriend rolls his eyes and nods but makes no plans for counseling. His family was skeptical too, crinkling their noses, an aunt even asks, “Can’t he just talk to us?” After many years of begging, the boyfriend finally acquiesced and booked his appointment. The girlfriend was so excited and relieved; she couldn’t wait to begin learning more about each other! Mine into deeper emotional layers! During his first session, the boyfriend talks with his new therapist about the best way to end this relationship. She was right after all: what an improvement to things! He was finally able to communicate that he wanted to leave her on the way out. 

There is a delusion called Capgras syndrome, where one can become convinced that someone familiar has been replaced by a double or has been altered in some way. Most often this delusion is seen with those suffering from various psychiatric disorders, brain damage caused by dementia, or other neurodegenerative diseases. Capgras is thought to be caused by a brain’s recent inability to properly characterize and recognize faces, a type of face-blindness. Some seriously complicated memory-processing-neuroscience at play.

But here, now, in this sense, I wasn’t actually deluded, because I knew you weren’t truly replaced by an android or possessed by a demon, but boy were you doing a good job at making me feel like you were. Suddenly, you seemed so different. I no longer recognized your body language, your shape in the dark, the sound of your footsteps, the particular light and warmth in your big eyes vanished. I couldn’t find the happy creases that usually flanked them. A dozen friends texted, asking, “Why is he doing this? I can’t believe he is acting like this.” Neither could I. But you’re not truly a doppelganger… right? Right?

When had you been replaced by a version that didn’t love me? Did this version have an agenda? An endgame? The hair stood up on my arms and my stomach dropped when I approached you sitting on the couch, texting your new favorite coworker while smiling at the screen, and told you, “Doppelgänger, it just doesn’t seem like you have any love for me anymore.” And you agreed and ended things. You gently cried, sniffling. And I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. 

My mom thinks you had been replaced much earlier than that, at least by the previous Spring. She claims she called you half a dozen times from the east coast in the two weeks before my birthday to plan something—a surprise, a cake—but you never called her back. However, your response was that you got me an iPad when I asked for one as a gift; who needs reciprocated love and affection when you can receive an iPad? You maintained that you received not a single one of her calls. 

According to you, doppelgänger you, you had been replaced much much earlier than that. I only learned this when I did the most “crazy girlfriend” thing I have ever done and read your texts after your strange behavior. I have to admit, the optics aren’t great for me here; I’d become a misogynistic trope incarnate. Crazy emotional ex-girlfriend going through your texts. I apologized for that, but it doesn’t make it okay behavior on my behalf–

I would also like to acknowledge that I was far from a perfect partner, and I struggled greatly with mental health. I am sure that I hurt you in a thousand ways, and I wish you would’ve told me more often when I did. I am so sorry for that. I was and continue to be a young and dumb bitch. I am sorry for hurting you. I hope you believe that I was constantly trying to be a better girlfriend for you. My therapists can vouch for me, at least in that small way–

—However, reading these texts did expose a number of lies that you had told about me and the intimate details you shared about me to your coworker who you would start fucking. According to you, when speaking with this coworker:

“I should’ve ended this relationship
a long time ago. I was unhappy at home with her,
with family, always at work to distract myself. I
basically threw a dart at the indeed (sic) job
wall and just mass applied and found Kansas
City. I came here to start over and learn how to
not suck.”

So why did you ask me to leave my home for you and your job? You seemed to understand that you needed personal growth when you said that you “want to learn how to not suck.” That text also suggested that you wanted to wash your hands of your old life months before moving, over a year before the breakup. Perhaps you also thought it was a Hail Mary pass for our relationship. But it seems like it was just more convenient for this version of you who no longer loved me. Afterall, you don’t need to love someone to have her help you move, clean the apartment, schedule training and vet appointments for your dog, or cum inside her even when she was kinda tired.

 Because people are complicated, it was probably both your need for convenience and because you were hoping it would make things better between us. Regardless, it still was much more selfish than leaving me in Jersey. 

My limbs shook with adrenaline while I read your texts to her. I read them aloud to you, voice buckling under pressing sobs. You needed to acknowledge how you betrayed me, disparaged my struggles with mental health, and made fun of petty things like my driving. I screamed at you in some Hyatt or Comfort Inn or Marriott in Indiana about how you betrayed me, and then you started kissing me and initiating sex. “Let me do this. Please,” you purred while removing my pants. 

This wouldn’t be the last time after our breakup you would say in my ear: “You always know what to do.”

 It was only after I stopped wanting to kiss you and asked you to wear a condom that you stopped initiating–a week later, a month later?–and the cool distance between us became something more sinister and hostile. 

In the morning, we had to finish driving home and tell our families it was over between us. With all the lights off in the hotel room, I couldn’t see you super well. I heard our lips and your breath; I smelled the hotel-sheet starch and air-conditioning and your body. I wondered that night, did I ever even know another version of you? Perhaps, it was always only this one, this stranger insisting and cajoling with his eyes flashing a strange light in the dark. 

Kansas City, Missouri