When you’re a kid, adults tell you you can be anything when you grow up – the president, an astronaut – you name it. “Even an ornithologist?” I’d ask them. And they’d say yes, though they thought it was strange, which you could tell by the way they’d raise their eyebrows and pause too long before replying, “Sure, you can be an ornithologist.”
Except they’d also chuckle a little. So you’d start to wonder if you really wanted to be an ornithologist; you’d look for signs that people who study birds are dumb or silly or have less status. (Not that you knew what status was, but you could see how janitors were treated.) And then you’d start to believe wholeheartedly in the utter stupidity of studying birds for a living. Dad would ask you one day, didn’t you want to be an ornithologist? And you’d kick the ground and say “naw.”
But then one June on a trip with your parents to see Grandma in Iowa, you’d pull over at a rest stop near Des Moines and let the dog go running in the unusually large pet exercise area and you’d see a bird limping and dragging its wing until your dog chased it and it flew away; Dad would explain to you that it was a killdeer and that it was faking the broken wing. And just like that, you’re in love again.
If you’re me, though, what happens next is you wake up after your 21st birthday and you have a hangover and you think to yourself, shit, if I’m going to be a fill-in-the-blank (president, ornithologist), I’ve gotta get crackin’. You might even make some lists. (1. Go back to college. 2. No more weed.) But your buddies show up around 2:00 and you sit around playing Super Mario Brothers for an hour and then you realize you haven’t eaten anything, so you go get a Donor Kebab and pretty soon it’s Monday, and then pretty soon it’s three years later and you’re twenty four and Maggie asks if you want to move to Portland.
I didn’t tell Maggie about Eric Two.
My delivery to the glass building was 30 minutes late, which meant I had to forfeit $15 per the 50-cent-per-minute fee reduction policy for late deliveries. I also had to face the wrath of Big Jasper, the trucker-cum-bike-messenger who ran Magpie Messengers. He assigned me to Beaverton for the rest of the afternoon, which had me running some ridiculously hilly routes to locations too far away to make hiring a bike messenger practical.
The long rides gave me plenty of opportunity to ponder whether to tell Maggie about the other me. But the farther I got from downtown, the less I trusted my senses. You ever hear those stories about little kids forgetting what their dead mothers look like? That was how I was beginning to think of Eric Two – like a dream deferred to the point that I questioned its existence.
So I didn’t tell Maggie.
Did he really, after all, look exactly like me?