The Mischief of Doppelgangers
by Amanda Robinson
Bobby wasn’t really crazy. Unfortunately, only a handful of people knew Bobby wasn’t crazy, and almost all of them were Bobby. Bobby’s only real problem was that he was an avid proponent of the works of Brian Greene, the theoretical physicist and string theorist. See, when you try to explain to people that everyone has doppelgangers- exact copies of themselves who exist in parallel realities- you tend to be labeled as crazy, or perhaps simply a little “out there”. Go on to explain that these doppelgangers can travel between any of infinite multiple universes, and so can you, and you’ll notice your listeners begin to back away from you slowly. Then complain to your remaining audience that your doppelgangers just aren’t very good at navigating the Einstein-Rosen bridges through time/space, which often results in several identical versions of yourself existing simultaneously within the same reality, and you’ll be locked away in a padded room. This is exactly how Bobby ended up at Cedar Hills Psychiatric Hospital. Dissociative Identity Disorder, Schizophrenia, Multiple Personality Disorder- these terms were applied to Bobby one by one to see which fit the best, as if they were pairs of shoes. What it really boiled down to was that Bobby’s doppelgangers were not especially adept at coordinating their quantum pocket-watches, so to speak, and often came into consciousness at very inconvenient times indeed. Bobby could do little to explain this, since applying too much thought to Greene’s theory of the multiverse and particle physics made his head ache. He could grasp enough to know that he was in the midst of some cosmic doppelganger dilemma, but not enough to make people understand that he didn’t need to be institutionalized. He wasn’t a danger to others after all, it was his doppelgangers. They all seemed to possess the same proclivity for trouble-making, which puzzled Bobby, since he himself always tried to escape notice whenever possible, except when it came to talking about quantum physics.
The ill-timed visits continued even when he was sent to live at Cedar Hills, although he didn’t see any doppelgangers for the first few weeks. Bobby assumed this was because he was too busy trying to convince everyone of his sanity to notice. He begged his doctors, his case manager, even his roommate, to read Brian Greene’s book ‘The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos’, but most often he was rebuffed before he’d gotten all the way through the lengthy title. His ardent ramblings soon earned him the reputation as the boy to be avoided at all cost. There was only one other person in this world who was convinced of the true nature of Bobby’s plight, and that was the lovely Claire. She was the nurse who administered the daily medications for Bobby’s ward, and it was her refreshingly open mind that was Bobby’s saving grace. She was familiar with Brian Greene too, or at least she’d watched his television special on NOVA. She could see that Bobby’s doppelgangers were going to show up and cause mayhem regardless of whether he took his pills. So instead of Olanzapine, Clozapine, Thiothixene, the lovely Claire filled Bobby’s little plastic cup with Skittles, a few Tic Tacs, and a Hot Tamale for good measure. He swallowed them whole, and it was their little secret. The Hot Tamale hurt like hell on the way down, but it was far better than the alternative.
At this point you may be wondering why Bobby didn’t simply reveal himself and one of his doppelgangers together, thus proving his innocence and dispelling his diagnosis of neurosis. “Look, here is my doppelganger and here am I! We are two! Please release me from this place, for you see I am not insane!” Bobby had thought about this scenario quite often, usually while hiding in his room as his doppelganger was committing some reprehensible act for which Bobby himself would soon be held responsible. The trouble came from Bobby’s lack of full understanding of quantum mechanics. In fact, Bobby just wasn’t sure how his actions would affect the greater pattern of the universe, given his unique situation. As limiting as it was to have everyone believe he was certifiably insane, it was better than risking the implications of upsetting the carefully-balanced laws of cosmology. Bobby preferred to keep the delicate fabric of his particular reality intact rather than become the catalyst for a total cosmic meltdown. As a result, Bobby was forced to keep himself out of the way when his doppelgangers were around, thus perpetuating his residence in the psych ward. He didn’t mind too terribly much; it really wasn’t so bad at Cedar Hills. He had the lovely Claire to look at, and his little plastic cup of candy to swallow every day, and Thor’s Hammer to play on the Xbox in the TV room. Every now and then his parents would even come to visit. His mother would fuss over him and hide her tears while his father paced about the room, inspecting the curtains or the structural integrity of the table but paying little attention to his son. Bobby had activities to keep him busy, and three square meals a day, plus an afternoon snack. He was even allowed to walk around in the courtyard outside, unless that privilege was under current revocation due to the mischief of one of his doppelgangers.
One roguish version of Bobby, for example, was a zealous supporter of the Portland Timbers, the Major League Soccer team. He caused a veritable riot whenever he showed up, running through the common area with his Timbers Army ‘No Pity’ scarf held high above his head, yelling “there’s No Pity in the Rose City!” like a proper hooligan. His other favorite chant was “go home, you bums- go home, you bums- go home, you bums- go hoooome!” which Bobby thought was rather cruel, considering none of these people could actually leave the building. His doppelganger would light things on fire (‘how on earth did he get his hands on a lighter?’ the orderlies would wonder), or dribble an item he found on the floor through an elaborate maze of invisible defenders. He would slide-tackle the other patients or fall to the ground, clutching at his face or his ankle, and pretend he had been mightily abused by a member of the opposing team. He caused as big a ruckus as he could manage before being put in a Crisis Intervention Prevention hold and removed from the room. The result was always the same. The doppelganger got to have all the fun and Bobby got to have electroshock therapy in the morning. When he complained of this fact to his doppelganger he was met with the enigmatic reply: “I am you and you are me, so it is you who’s having all the fun…”
There existed (so far as Bobby knew) only one doppelganger who Bobby truly detested. He called himself Robert, and he was a pretentious ass. A right prat, as Bobby the Hooligan would say. He complained constantly of Bobby’s living situation, everything from the food (“pure pigswill!”) to the deplorable lack of cleanliness in general (“for a sanitarium it certainly is unsanitary!”). He had a condescending chuckle he used whenever something struck him as especially droll, which dug under Bobby’s skin and festered like a parasitic worm. What bothered Bobby most was that Robert appeared to have designs on the lovely Claire. He would leer at her and flirt incessantly with her, confiding in Bobby that one of these days he was going to have his way with her in the public restrooms down the hall, vile and unclean as they were. On one occasion Robert spoke so lewdly about the angelic Claire that Bobby was forced to punch him right in the face, although it was still Bobby who awoke with a black eye the next day. Rather than dwell on the complex pathways through time/space that had lead to this outcome, thus suffering another headache, Bobby instead resolved to avoid physical contact with any of his doppelgangers in the future, lest he injure himself further.
Bobby’s favorite doppelganger was a referee for the local women’s roller derby league, The Rose City Rollers. His ref name was Colin Itoff, and he was by far the most enjoyable doppelganger Bobby had yet to encounter. He always brought Bobby delicious tales of grand adventures and hilarious escapades. All of Colin’s friends were skaters too, and went by their skater names, which were clever and witty and read like something you’d pick off the shelf of a comic book store: “…so Max Power and I are hanging out after the bout and Jessica Stabbit is like ‘I’m gonna shove my skate down your throat!’ cuz I called her for that back-block on Sissy Elliot…” His worst offense was taking off his shoes and skating in circles around the cafeteria, blowing his whistle and declaring old Mr. Fitch to be lead jammer (‘how’d he get a whistle?’ the poor orderlies would ask). He would never be hauled away in a CPI hold, rather he’d merely be sent back to his room, where he and Bobby would sit on the bed and discuss roller derby until Bobby fell asleep.
His was an unorthodox existence, but Bobby made the most of his time at Cedar Hills. He learned from his doppelgangers and he liked to think they learned from him, though he had little knowledge or wisdom to impart. Mostly he just listened to stories of what his life was like in other parallel universes. It was comforting to know there was a version of himself out there that attended Timbers matches, where he sat in the Timbers Army section and chanted for ninety straight minutes. Or that somewhere in the vastness of time/space there was a Bobby who could roller skate. He didn’t even mind the existence of Robert, since he was the one who knew how to talk to women. And he couldn’t really blame his doppelgangers for acting out; his present universe was not the most exciting combination of particles. Sleep, meals, Claire, candy, doppelgangers, and the occasional electro session- these were the simple elements of Bobby’s current reality.
Then the unthinkable happened. Bobby showed up at the window to receive his little plastic cup of confections, and the lovely Claire was gone. Upon inquiry he discovered that Claire, his angel, had been transferred to the chemical dependency wing of the hospital. Bobby thought this ironic, since she had spent the past year doling out prescription drugs to a multitude of dependent patients. But worse yet, he had little faith that Claire’s replacement would continue his current drug regimen of Skittles, a few Tic Tacs, and one Hot Tamale. He was correct in that regard- that same day he was back on the Olanzapine, the Clozapine, the Thiothixene. He redoubled his efforts in convincing anyone who would listen that he was not, in fact, schizophrenic, that he did not belong at Cedar Hills, and that it was not him, but his mischievous doppelgangers that were the root of all the trouble. His ranting only served to further cement his reputation in the psych ward as the boy to be avoided. He tried in vain to get in touch with the lovely Claire, his saving grace. It was through his repeated and desperate attempts to contact her that he at last learned the awful truth- that she hadn’t been transferred at all. She’d attempted to sneak out a doppelganger whom she believed to be Bobby (although, really, they were all Bobby) and the two of them accidentally set off the alarm during their escape. She’d been terminated immediately. Bobby was now alone at Cedar Hills, without a friend in this or any other universe. Not even his doppelgangers came to visit him anymore, although he’d begun to wonder if they ever really existed anyway. At this point, he had simply ceased to care. Maybe it was the Thiothixene. Maybe his doppelgangers had finally determined the correct process of quantum travel. Or maybe Bobby really was crazy after all.
© 2011 Amanda Robinson