It was at the end of a trip to an apple orchard. Chris had to pick apples for us, and I had to sit it out and worry about his back and his knees and the bees. I was tired and he was tired and we didn’t linger long after he came back with his harvest. As we walked to the car, I watched a motorcycle pass in the next parking aisle.
“It’s open,” Chris said, of the car door. I was watching the motorcyclist, a familiar head held just so. I leaned and ducked, trying to get a better look as it passed out of sight. “It’s open, Sweetie,” Chris said again. I opened the door, watching over the roof of the car for the motorcycle. It must have parked, I thought, and then I saw it come around the corner, headed to a parking spot two spaces away. I just stood and stared and Chris asked again if I was o.k., but I didn’t have a reasonable answer to the question, so I just stood and stared at the motorcyclist as he parked and got off and helped his companion alight, all the while unaware that the woman two spaces away couldn’t fill her eyes with enough of him because he looked, moved, seemed so much like her dead son that it was like having him back again . . . almost.
I watched him walk away. His companion turned and stared at me for a second, and I was afraid she would break the spell by saying something, so I turned away. I looked back as they moved through the crowd. He walked with more of a swagger than my son would have, but he was wearing heavy boots; he looked back at the motorcycle and our eyes met for the briefest of intervals. I just wanted to keep staring at the shape of his jaw, at the way he held his head, at any other similarity that offered a few more moments of the relief, comfort, and thrill I felt when I first glimpsed him. Chris, mystified, waited for me by the car. I was shaken, my voice wobbly, teary.
“That guy, did you see that guy with the motorcycle? He looked just like Ozzie.” Chris hadn’t seen him, hadn’t noticed the direction I was looking. “I should have told you to look,” I was immediately sorry. I had been afraid to break the spell, to bring reality to my few seconds of fantasy, afraid to hear “No, I don’t think he looks at all like him,” which, of course, Chris would never say. Thus, I had denied him the same eerie, sweet experience I had just had.
It’s happened before, that glimpse of my son in a stranger. A few weeks after he died, I followed a car for miles because the back of the driver’s head looked just like my Ozzie. Months later, I couldn’t tear my eyes from a young man who was waiting in line at a brat stand, one arm crossed to hold the elbow of the other, another familiar Ozzie stance. Psychic medium Theresa Caputo says that when a memory of a loved one is triggered like that, through a song, a photograph, a scene in a movie, or someone who resembles them, they are with us in that moment; letting us know that’s how close they are, just a thought, a memory, a sensation away. I can believe that. I can imagine Ozzie telling me “Get a load of this guy, Mom.” For future sightings, so that Chris doesn’t have to miss it, we developed the code word “doppelganger”, which is a German word for someone who looks like someone else (it can also mean a ghostly counterpart to a living person). Sunday afternoon, I saw Ozzie’s motorcyclist doppelganger–I wonder if he ever glimpses his musician counterpart . . .