My last essay was on German compound words. I forgot one of the better ones until my own Doppelgänger showed up to haunt me. You may ask what a Doppelgänger is. It literally means “double goer,” in essence, one’s twin or double. It goes back to ancient Egypt. Ka is a spirit double of you. There are a series of apparitions in other cultures that are similar. Euripides conjured up a look-alike Helen of Troy in his play Helen. The look-alike manages to mislead Paris, Helen’s abductor, to end the Trojan war. Göthe, the German poet and author, describes meeting himself on horseback on a dark and stormy night, riding in the opposite direction, in his work Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth). Izaak Walton writes what he swears is the truth that his contemporary author and friend, John Donne, met his wife’s double on the streets of Paris the night that she delivered their stillborn daughter.
The concept that we all have a Doppelgänger has been used often in literature. George Gordon, Lord Byron used the idea to show the good and evil duality of our own personality. The Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a whole novel, The Double, about a man whose Doppelgänger exploits the man’s character flaws to take over his life. Steven King in The Outsider has his protagonist copy individuals’ DNA to become near perfect copies of them. Even Disney films use the motif. Donald Duck is imitated in “Donald’s Double Trouble” by a duck that has no “duck accent,” speaking perfect English and acting the perfect gentleman. And even Madonna used the Doppelgänger theme in her music video “Die Another Day” where she battles her evil self in a duel.
I am not much of a believer in the occult phenomenon, but recently I experienced something that makes me wonder if I need to re-assess.
To comprehend the situation, you should know how I came by my first name, Gösta. For reasons that are totally unknown to me, my mother gave me a Swedish first name. I am not Swedish; no one in my family is or was Swedish. The name originates with a Swedish author who wrote a novel, The Saga of Gösta Berling. It was made into a Hollywood blockbuster silent movie in 1924, starring Greta Garbo and Lars Hanson. My mother saw the film at the height of World War II right before I was born, in Hinterstoder, the town my father was assigned by the Nazi High Command to replace the doctor who was drafted into the Wehrmacht (but that is another story). In the movie, Gösta was a defrocked vicar because of his alcoholism and womanizing, but eventually was redeemed by a woman’s love, played by Greta Garbo. Why on earth, my dear mother would name me after an alcoholic skirt-chasing priest is above my paygrade to comprehend much less explain.
Back to my Doppelgänger. Two decades ago, I opened a brokerage account with Vanguard. I signed up for the account with my full name, Gösta Iwasiuk, but Vanguard, for some reason, decided I should be G. Iwasiuk. Perhaps the clerk that created the document thought the name was complicated enough, so he just put down the first initial and last name, thinking that would be adequate. They have faithfully sent me monthly statements for twenty years with that name. (I might add that S&P 500 stocks have done quite well for me.) I recently changed banks and needed to delete my old bank account and link my new bank account to Vanguard. My new bank account was under my full name, Gösta Iwasiuk. This is where my Doppelgänger, G. Iwasiuk, comes in. Vanguard assumed that “Gösta” Iwasiuk, despite being the good twin, was attempting to usurp my evil twin, “George” Iwasiuk’s account and steal all his assets. Another factor that made Vanguard doubt my identity was that I failed the secret identification question Vanguard had set up to positively identify me twenty years ago. The secret question was, “What is your favorite hobby?” I recounted my top five favorites, but none of them were the correct ones. In twenty years favorite hobbies do change. But George would have known. It became quite clear to me that George was a real person in their records, who happened to live at the same address as I, with the last four numbers of our social security card being the same. They wanted a notarized statement that G. Iwasiuk and Gösta Iwasiuk were the same person. I needed to find a document that showed G. Iwasiuk’s social security number was the same as Gösta Iwasiuk. Of course, George had cleverly destroyed that document, and I was unable to prove my identity. No notary would vouch for me. My own bank also balked because I could not produce the proof that George was not a real person. After a week of debate and exchange of various documents, I finally convinced them that George did not exist.
I almost blew it, though. The Vanguard agent that had seen me through all this, as a parting gesture, asked me the obligatory question, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I could not resist, I said yes. He said, “What?” I said, “I will need help in burying George’s body, because I had to murder him, to get rid of him!” Silence at the other end of the line. I broke the silence by saying, “ I am kidding!!
After a perfunctory faked laugh, he hung up.