I think it was five or six years ago when I first met him.

No, it was five. At the airport. O’Hare, in fact.

The nausea was unbelievable, there were so many people. So many different people; families, men and women in business suits, brightly-uniformed kiost workers on break, and so on. So many people going so many directions that I thought my mind would explode and I’d forget everyone I ever met. That’s not what happened, though.

What happened was: I saw Alberto.

There he was, plain as anything, standing right in front of me. Three paces and I could’ve tapped him on the shoulder or shaken his hand.

What I first noticed was his wristwatch–a shabby, beaten Rolex that at one time was probably gold and shiny, and that undoubtedly used to tell the proper time. And the watch was on his left arm, but there was a thin band of lighter-colored skin around his right wrist, as if he’d been wearing the watch there all summer. He had on ragged corduroy trousers that had seen better days, a black t-shirt, and muddy brown tennis shoes.

None of those details in and of themselves troubled me particularly much.

What troubled me was that I was Alberto.

And yet, there he was, standing in front of me. Not a reflection, not a drug-induced hallucination, not even a lively resemblance. There, standing right in front of me, was me.

Alberto stood there, his mouth hanging slightly open, his eyes blinking in disbelief, and said nothing.

Like a bad dream, we both looked around to see if anyone else was catching this.

Needless to say, they were not.

It occurred to me much later that it would have been a spectacular idea to have captured the meeting on film, video or otherwise, as I realized that no one would ever believe me if I told them. Not to mention anything of lost trust. What most struck me afterwards, however, was how little I looked like I thought I looked. Which was what first threw me off–and what took me by surprise when I discovered the truth. Now, as I think back, I envy the brilliant opportunity I had, something most people can only dream of.

But as I was standing there looking at him, him looking at me, we suddenly went our separate ways, I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you whether he or I was the first to walk away; who knows; maybe we parted in a mirror image. I suppose that might make sense. But we were there, and then we weren’t.

If that wasn’t anticlimactic enough, I then boarded the plane and went home. It was six months before I could think about the meeting and not think I was crazy. Which is not to say, of course, whether or not I was. Maybe six months is how long it takes someone crazy to convince themselves they’re sane. After six months had passed, I found my thoughts wandering back to Alberto, to me. I wrote a song about it, in fact, but you’re probably not interested in hearing it. I’m not that great of a song-writer anyway.

For my thirty-forth birthday I got a check in the mail from an aunt of mine in Idaho. That and a number of other largely insignificant things.

So I used the money to hire a private investigator–a private detective to find me. It was quite a large gift, from my aunt, so I could afford a top-of-the-line gumshoe. The best of the best.

You’ll probably laugh at me when I tell you what he told me, several months later: he told me that I didn’t exist.

Naturally, I was skeptical, and thus I went to the public library. And then I went to the town hall. And then I went to the bank, to look through a safe deposit box where I thought I’d kept important sorts of papers.

No matter where I looked, though, I couldn’t turn up any proof that I existed. No deeds to my house, no birth certificate, no social security card, no papers of any kind, nothing. Returning home, I found that I had no home, and that there was a large junkyard where my house used to be, if indeed I ever had one.

I started to retrace my steps, to visit every place I’ve ever lived, hoping, I suppose, that someone might recognize me. As was becoming painfully apparent, no one did; everyone was a stranger, every place less and less familiar.

And then something strange happened: I found a place that I recognized, where I recognized people. It’s probably painfully obvious to you, but as I stood there in my only pair of pants, a battered pair of brown corduroys, wearing a black t-shirt, I chanced to see someone who looked strangely unfamiliar, a younger man whom I knew had to be Alberto. The people all around didn’t care about us; they were too busy rushing to catch flights to meet relatives, friends, lovers, and didn’t care about us, much less notice us standing there across from one another. A puzzled expression sat on his face, his mouth gaping, eyes wide in disbelief.

I turned and walked away in disgust.