Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Will the real me please stand up?

I have an unusual maiden last name – so it was quite a shock to learn that there were two of me.

For the first twenty-four years of my life, I got used to my last name being misspelled and mispronounced wherever I went – unless one of my older sisters had been there before me, and paved the way. Oh, no, not another “T” sister, my teachers must have thought.

When I got married in 2000, I took my husband’s name and my place at the beginning of the alphabet, where I always felt I should be. But by that time I’d been writing for a newspaper for a few years, and it was my editor who suggested a more gentle transition to my byline. So I took my maiden name as my middle name and I’ve been writing under it ever since.

By best estimate, there are only a handful of us “Ts” living in the United States – all originating more or less from the same small town in Wisconsin, and before that, a small town in Germany. I collect information about the “Ts” outside my immediate family – this one is a photographer in Portland, that one is an orthodontist in Denver. We meet up in Wisconsin at increasingly rare intervals for fish fries and sauerkraut and stories. And it seems we’ve grown smaller, through attrition or marriage. My dad has two brothers and my generation numbers nine (including my three sisters and me); I have five first cousins on the “T” side, only two of whom are male.

You see? The name is dying out.

Or so I thought.

Last week, my sister Beth pointed out that there was another Paula T. on Facebook.

Curious – but the world is a big place, I reasoned. Some long-lost, far-flung Paula T. is out there, trying to re-connect.

Yes, added Rachel, a T-cousin in southern California. And the other Paula friend requested me.

What? It was time for some investigative work. Yes, there was indeed another Paula T., and she was friends with four of my relatives – and only those four. In fact, Paula T. had no other friends.

Curious, I fried requested the other Paula T., and was accepted. Her page was nearly blank, save for a 1986 birthdate and a hotmail address. No picture, no cutesy “about me” section, no links.

Hmm. I was beginning to feel uneasy about the whole situation. Could there really be two of us, within the same small circle? Nah — impossible.

I sent Paula T. a message: Hi! We have the same name and the same friends. Isn’t that weird?

No reply. Aha! I’d caught her and she knew it. The fraud! I sent the four relatives who had befriended Paula T. a message, letting them know that in fact Paula T. wasn’t me – just in case they wanted to guard their personal information.

Still no reply from Paula T. I started to stalk her, logging on at random hours to see if I could catch her in a chat. The situation was starting to feel bizarre. Was it just pure narcissism that led me to believe that out of billions of people in the world, there could only be one Paula T.? Or was some nefarious hoax at work, perpetrated perhaps by the person who stole my purse last December (and then attempted to make a $1500 purchase at Walmart) or the person who stole my laptop in June? Could someone really want to be me that badly, enough to collect my relatives as her own? I wondered what else she wanted to share – my husband, my pets, my bathroom with the six-lane ant highway? Perhaps my savings account and student loans and low metabolism, too? The zits I still get, even though I’m in my 30s? The tooth that needs a new crown? Come on – who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

I logged on again to Facebook and noticed that Paula T. had liked my status, the one that said “Paula is still taking antibiotics for strep throat, so does it make sense that I now think I have bronchitis?” Excuse me? How could anyone “like” that status? I was hoping to find out that the other Paula had good (similar to mine) taste, but instead she appeared to be evil, reveling in the tragic illnesses of her namesake.

It was time to excise the imposter Paula from my life once and for all. This was relatively painless – a click of the button and whoosh! we were out of each other’s lives. With only a few keystrokes, I had regained my identity. The world is a pretty small place when you get right down to it – not big enough for two of me, after all.


  1. I liked this. It made me laugh out loud. Not so much like a belly laugh, but a cheery chuckle. If you will.
    It's funny, cause I can totally hear you reading this. I knew it was you when you said "Aha! I'd caught her, and I knew it!". I could totally see your face. Well, not really, I mean, you were looking down at the paper as you read it (probably to block out the fact that you were being watched- it's easier that way) and your hair fell into your face a little bit.
    Anyways, you have a great voice- and it's very you. I always smile when I read your stuff.

  2. it's not wise to delete a stalker...particularly an impostalker

  3. Update: My sister Deb is keeping the other Paula T. as a friend, so she'll do my stalking for me. Also, as she pointed out after we had an argument the other night, the other Paula T. is nicer. Well, she's got me there.