Friday, July 20, 2007

Louisa Torrence: My story

I hope the others reading (and writing) this don't mind that I'm breaking up their "ex-boy's club". As you can see from my name, I started out a woman, but that doesn't mean that the change hasn't been a big adjustment. I won't presume to speak for any of the others who have stayed at the inn, but I should imagine that even if fate worked it so that you became your own twin sister, there would still be a fair amount of adjustment, and as much as some of these differences have been a pleasure, even those occasionally catch me off-guard.

Allow me to give you the short version of my life: I was born in Louisiana, long enough ago that I don't care to give you the exact year, somehow managed to stay out of trouble growing up, even though a number of my friends did not. I moved to Baton Rouge when my mother had to sell the house I grew up in; it was there that I met Frank, who would be my husband for almost twenty five years, before the cancer took him last fall. In the meantime, I have worked as a telephone operator, secretary, and, for the past ten years, as a high-school librarian. Frank and I never had children; I'm unsure whether it was him, me, or some combination of the two.

My friends and co-workers at the school booked the room at the Trading Post Inn for me, saying it would be good for me to get away during the summer months, when our small house would feel particularly empty. After waking up as someone else, I have occasionally wondered if any of them knew what was happening, and thought I could do with an entirely new start.

Whether or not they thought that, I have one regardless. My new name is Marie Desjardins, and I'm not even an American citizen anymore; Marie was born and grew up here in Montreal. She's got a nice little apartment here, and the people she knows down at the museum seem very nice as well. The problem, as people who have been reading for a while probably well know, is her boyfriend.

André Trudeau is older than I had been before changing, though not by that much. He's a gangster, though, and I knew enough people like them in my younger years not to want anything to do with him, no matter how legitimate he's made himself look or how sexy his Québèçois accent may be. I do not like him, although it gets worse if I am near him and a mirror at the same time. If I think of him acting possessive of me as I see myself in my own mind, that is unpleasant; when I see him attempting to use this girl, that is distasteful.

I should not even have to face it. The previous person living Marie's life, Elizabeth Lee, left me a note in which she laid the situation out for me, strongly suggesting I not go to Montreal. I had been intending to follow her advice, and was planning to head back to Louisiana and see if I could establish a life there underneath immigration's radar. I had all but booked a ticket when Marie's telephone rang. The woman on the other end had gone to school with Marie, and apparently still lived near Marie's mother. Madame Desjardins was in a bad state, she said - Marie's mother had collapsed earlier in the weekend, and the doctors couldn't figure out why...

I couldn't bring myself to say that it wasn't my mother; stranger though she may be, she deserved to have her family near her. By the time I returned, the doctors had found the blood clot and told me that it was in a very difficult position. They showed me records of the mini-strokes she was having to warn me before letting me visit her. She may not recognize you, they said. I told them that was fine.

She did recognize her daughter, but didn't seem to remember much of her recent life. This Claire Desjardins was about my actual age, and since I knew she wouldn't like the truth about André, I made stuff up. My bayou French sounds different from her Quebec dialect, so I let her believe that I had been doing volunteer work in New Orleans and picked up the accent there. She liked that much better than I imagine she would have liked the truth.

I liked her, and wish I got to know her better before the clot got worse, and the doctors had to operate. They told me it was a long-shot at that point, and she never did come out of her coma afterwards. She passed on the twelfth.

I handled the funeral arrangements, which were painfully familiar from last year. A lot of Mme. Desjardins's friends showed up, and some family. All expected me to recognize them, but crying kept me from having to call anybody by name.

I had a hard time believing it when a handsome young man leaned over and whispered that he wasn't who he appeared either, and we should talk. All of staying at the inn had learned through experience that people don't believe us when we say who we really are, but it was frightening to feel it myself. I just felt certain that he wasn't telling the truth, even though I had experienced something similar. I pushed through it, though, and we met for breakfast the next morning.

His name was Jean-Michel Therriot, though he'd originally been born Ashlyn Shelley. He says he's very sorry about the timing, and that Miss Lee's plan had been for me to be able to make a clean break. We make a little chit-chat - despite having the inn in common, we really don't have much to talk about. He recommends a lawyer to help me deal with the disposition of Marie's mother's assets - I have no need of a house in Montreal, and could use the money from its sale since the "clean break" plan left me with funeral expenses but no job. I rented some storage space, in case there's things that the real Marie would like to keep.

Not that it looks terribly easy to find out - Marie seems to have fallen into a hole and pulled it in after her, which doesn't seem like a bad idea - I might do the same, and André Trudeau has been fairly hands-off, owing to circumstances. But even if she has walked away from her old life, she deserves to know her mother is gone.

I've got a few documents left to sign here early next week, and then I think I'll head to Boston. If I'm going to find the real Marie, surely Elizabeth Lee is the first person to talk to.


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