Way back in 1993, I moved out of my parents' house and into my first apartment in Cosmopolis with a roommate, C, who was in hairdressing school. She had a friend that she met in school, to whom I will refer as Whacknut, and the three of us hung out occasionally, smoking cigarettes, wishing we had cable television, and fending off the feral kitten I had thought was so cute and cuddly at its hippy owners' house until I brought it home and the kitten came down off its pot high.
I knew that Whacknut was a little strange from the start. There was something overly stiff about her. She was terribly thin, and her muscles seemed bound around her bones in such a way that she was all hard angles. Normally she kept her hands in her lap or gripping something so that her constant tremor would not be so noticeable, but as soon as she raised her hands, they would shake just slightly and rapidly enough to make you do a double-take. At first, I just thought I was having a difficult time focusing my eyes.
The tremors worried her. They were apparently the result of a neurological disorder that could possibly become much worse over time, which meant that the hairdressing thing might not pan out for her in the end. Some customers at the school had already questioned her competence when they saw her hands vibrating around their heads in the mirror.
It was always C, Whacknut, and me, but after a couple of months, Whacknut asked if she could have drinks with me alone. I knew that this was the friendship equivalent of dating, and I was touched that she wanted to be better friends.
We went out to a pub that was popular with the university crowd and sat at a small, elevated table that was pressed to the wall at the back of the bar. It was body on body in there that night, but she leaned in and spoke incessantly to me as though there were no one else in the room. She was on a mission to tell me her life story, and she made damn sure that I did not miss a second of it.
Are you listening? she asked.
Yes, of course, I said.
No. Are you really listening? she asked.
I'm not listening to anything else, I said, and I was not. Her life was a Russian novel.
She told me horrible stories of family neglect, how she lost her virginity at knifepoint after a party when she was fourteen, how she was struggling with nymphomania. I just nodded along. There is not much I could have said. It was the listening that seemed most important to her, anyway.
Shortly after that night, she seemed to disappear from both C's life and mine. Whacknut was there, and then she was gone, and that was all there was to it. It is funny how that happens so often in our lives. I thought of her off and on for the next thirteen or fourteen years. I wondered how her tremors were, if she had found help to deal with her past, how many men she might have slept with by that point. I asked around occasionally, but no one seemed to know where she was. I hoped that she was okay.
* * * * * * *
Ten years later in 2003, I was married and managing a small shop in Cityville, when who walked in but Whacknut. I could not believe it. No one had known what had become of here, and there she was. She looked really good, which I was glad to see, but her presence really threw me.
I was in the middle of being platonically stalked by a religious freak, and my sense of safety and confidence had hit an all-time low, so when Whacknut handed me her business card and told me to call her for coffee, I smiled and assured her I would, knowing full well that I was never going to make that call. My hands were full just trying to stay under my stalker's radar.
* * * * * * *
About nine months ago in early 2007, I saw Whacknut walk into a pub I frequent. I smiled at her from across the room, but she just looked at me disapprovingly as though she did not recognize me. I approached her while she was ordering drinks at the bar and reintroduced myself.
Hi, Whacknut. It's been a long time since we last saw each other, I said.
I'm sorry, but I don't know who you are, she replied.
I'm Schmutzie. You know, from Cosmopolis. You and I met when you were in hairdressing school, I said.
You must think that I'm my sister, Whacknut. She was my twin.
Oh, sorry about that. How's Whacknut doing?
She has leukemia. Well, had leukemia. She died last November.
Oh gawd, I'm so sorry. Wow. I didn't know. I felt awful. How much more foot-in-mouth could I be?
That's okay. She and I weren't very close, so it's just strange, she said. Don't worry about it. It doesn't happen that often.
I wrapped that disconcertingly awkward conversation up as quickly as possible and went outside to tremble through a cigarette in the rain. I was nearly crying out there and feeling rather pathetic about Whacknut's death and the stupid way I had to find out about it. I hoped that I had not upset her sister too much. For the next week, I kept a running track of how awful I must have sounded to Whacknut's sister: Oh, you must be Whacknut! You're not Whacknut! What? Whacknut just died a few months ago? But you look just like her! It is always a great confidence-builder to find out that you have just trampled on the grieving.
* * * * * * *
Two days ago, I was standing outside that same pub with a group of friends when I saw Whacknut's twin hanging out with a friend of mine. I felt like I had just been body-slammed with reality, because as soon as I saw her, I had the sudden and solid realization that this was not Whacknut's grieving twin sister. THIS WAS WHACKNUT. I am not sure what made me so certain, but it was like the tumblers in the lock had just clicked into place.
And Whacknut was blind drunk.
What I am going to write next may make me seem like a nasty, unethical opportunist, because I will tell you how I abused a drunk woman's vulnerability to trick her out of personal information, but damn it if I was going to accept how horrible she had made me feel earlier in the year.
Hello! I said. Remember me? I used to be a friend of Whacknut's.
Oh, yeah. How are you?
Fine, fine. What was your name again?
Cami, she replied.
Oh, I thought is was something else, like Chris or Pam, I said. Actually, I had completely forgotten the name she had given me earlier in the year.
Chris, Pam, Whacknut, whatever, she said. I get called a lot of things.
I'm sure you do, I said. How's that hand tremor of yours? I remember it being really bad back in 1993. I pulled a quick switch and began talking about our past together in which she was Whacknut, hoping that she would get confused in her state of intoxication. She did.
Yeah, but it's not as bad now. See? She held out her hands to show me how her tremor and gotten better.
That's good to see. I was worried about you.
Oh. Oh! You think I'm Whacknut again. She looked defensive. No. This is a genetic condition, and, uh, we share it. I swear, she said, catching herself.
Yeah, right. Sorry about that, Whacknut, I lied. She responded like that was her actual name. Imagine that.
Look, I've got to run. Talk to you later! she called as she stumbled back into the pub to get away from me.
Nice talking to you Whacknut! I called back.
Yep, it was nice, she replied. She was getting slurry. And she had just responded to being called Whacknut again. Again.
The mutual friend she had been talking to turned to me. All he could say was Wow, she's really bad at keeping her cover story straight.
It turned out that he had known Whacknut since 1993, as well, and being a terrible impostor was her latest thing.
* * * * * * *
I am still not sure how to feel about it. I will put it this way: I just had an old friend re-enter my life, she is pretending that she is dead and that she is her own twin sister, and she is trying to live her life under this poorly assumed identity even in front of people who already know her. What the hell am I supposed to feel about that?
I feel angry that she made me feel so horrible about Whacknut's tragic death by cancer when that was not the case. I am more than a little annoyed that she is continuing with the charade, and I find it even more annoying that she is so bad at it. (Mental note: when starting a career as an impostor, do not get blind drunk and blow your own cover.) I am sad that she is in such a state of affairs that she would even feel the need to pretend such a thing. It is awful to see someone you once knew so far down from the already low place you met them in.
Frankly, her whole deal is so pathetic that it is hard to keep up wanting to drive my fist into her teeth. All I can say is that a) I hope that she can find the help she needs, and that b) I never have to see those lifeless eyes of hers again.
It is like I just stumbled onto the set of some B-level soap opera. I am expecting to find out that we were gay married in a secret ceremony during a period of my life which memory was swallowed by an episode of amnesia, and I really do not want to know.