Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Long Read: Twin Destinies

This week's Sunday Long Read is the story of two pairs of identical twins, mixed up at birth in Bogota, raised as two separate pairs of fraternal twins, and how they discovered each other.

They were two pretty young women in search of pork ribs for a barbecue later that day, a Saturday in the summer of 2013. Janeth Páez suggested that they stop by a grocery store not far from where her friend Laura Vega Garzón lived in northern Bogotá. Janeth’s boyfriend’s cousin, William, a sweet young man with a thick country accent, worked behind the butcher counter there, expertly filleting beef and cutting pigs’ feet that his customers liked to boil with beans. Janeth was sure he would give her and Laura a cut rate on the ribs.

As Laura walked into the grocery store, catching up with Janeth, she was surprised to spot someone she knew. Behind the butcher counter was a colleague from her job at Strycon, an engineering firm. She gave him a big wave. He hardly acknowledged her. ‘‘That’s Jorge!’’ she told Janeth. ‘‘He works in my office.’’ He was a well-­liked 24-year-old who worked a few floors up from her, designing pipes for oil transport, so she was surprised to see him waiting on customers in the shop.

‘‘Oh, no, that’s William,’’ Janeth said. William was a hard worker and rarely left that butcher counter, except to sleep. He definitely did not work at Strycon.

‘‘No, it’s Jorge — I know him,’’ Laura said. But he was not smiling back at her, which was strange. A few minutes later, he came out from behind the counter to say a quick hello, embracing Janeth. Janeth introduced him to Laura as William.

Laura was baffled: Why was Jorge pretending to be someone else? Maybe, she thought, he was embarrassed to be seen moonlighting this way — the bloodied apron, the white cap. Janeth insisted she was mistaken, but Laura was not convinced. It was almost easier for her to believe that Jorge was playacting as someone else, rather than that there could be two people who looked so much alike. It was not just their similar coloring or the high cheekbones. It was their frame, the texture of their hair, the set of their mouth and dozens of other details that Laura could not have readily identified but that she knew all added up to a rare likeness.

The following Monday at Strycon, Laura told Jorge about her funny misunderstanding with his double at the butcher counter. Jorge laughed and told her that he did have a twin, named Carlos, but that they looked nothing like each other.

At that moment, Jorge had before him sufficient evidence to suggest that his life was not what he thought it was, that his family was not what he thought it was. But there is a saying that Carlos, a man of many sayings, sometimes applied to Jorge: ‘‘The blindest man is the one who does not want to see.’’

Having been adopted myself at birth (along with two of my three siblings, who were adopted at ages 4 and 6) this story is fascinating to me.  I've always wondered if I ever had any biological brothers or sisters, and who they are.

A month later, Laura told Janeth that there was an opening in the drafting department at Strycon, and Janeth landed the job. Soon after, she saw Jorge for the first time and immediately understood Laura’s confusion at the butcher counter. The two men had the same soft brown eyes. Same bouncy, feet-­splayed walk. Same bright, flashy smile. She didn’t feel as though she knew Jorge well enough to bring the resemblance up with him, but she did show William a photo of Jorge; William laughed and showed it around the butcher shop but chalked it up to coincidence.

After six months, Janeth left Strycon for another job, but even then, whenever she and her boyfriend ran into William, she wondered if she should have told Jorge about his double. That question tugged at her until finally, on Sept. 9, 2014, a slow day at her new job, Janeth texted Laura an image of William to show Jorge.

Laura went upstairs to piping to get Jorge’s reaction to the photo. Jorge, smiling, took a look at her phone. He swore. ‘‘That’s me!’’ he said. He stared at the image.

William was wearing a yellow Colombian soccer jersey, practically a national uniform on the day of big matches. Jorge often wore one just like it, which made it all the more apparent just how thoroughly the young man in the photo looked like him. A friend was walking by Jorge’s desk, and Jorge flagged him down for a second opinion.

‘‘Tell me what you think of this photo,’’ he told his friend, handing him the phone.

You look fine, the friend said.

‘‘Except it’s not me,’’ Jorge said. He could not stop staring at Laura’s phone.

Jorge gave up on getting any work done. He sat down with Laura in the office kitchen so they could talk. Maybe his father, who was never more than an occasional visitor to their home, had another child he never mentioned. Jorge started flipping through more of William’s Facebook images, now on his own phone. Uneasily, he noted one of William in a butcher’s smock, looking just the way Jorge did on the rare days he had to wear a lab coat. He glanced at a picture of William holding a shot glass, a friend by his side.

Jorge moved to his desktop computer so he could see the images more closely. He clicked once more on the photo of William and the friend holding shot glasses. Now that the image was large, he could examine what he had failed, incredibly, to notice when he looked at the photo on his phone. He leaned in close, his nose practically touching the screen. The man’s hair was slicked up like a rooster’s crown, and the shirt was all wrong. But there was the full lower lip and thick brown hair that Jorge knew well. The buttons on the man’s shirt were straining slightly at the hint of a potbelly, in a way that was intimately familiar. Jorge felt a rush of confusion, and then his stomach dropped. The friend sitting next to his double had a face that Jorge knew better than his own: It was the face of his fraternal twin brother, Carlos.

This is an amazing story, so set some time aside for this one.  It's well worth it.

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