I Wish I Was A Twin
And other things said by people who are not twins.
You may not believe it, but I remember sitting on those steps next to those rocks. I remember plunking those rocks into a puddle of water and my mother having to fish them out because that puddle of water was in the middle of the road in a little residential neighborhood in Poteet, Texas, about 45 minutes southwest of San Antonio.
My great-grandfather kept his house there while his daughter and second son-in-law took ownership of the property out in Rossville, the location of our family seat. 200 hundred years of Langstons, Myers, and Taberers are buried in the small plot behind the community center, my great-aunt and my uncle lately among them in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
It was in this arid country that my twin and I made ourselves the talk of Atascosa County, and it was from the diapered seat on those steps that--I dare say--two legends rose.
Twins are not the rare breed they used to be, but I still find twins and multiples are expected to live up to a very unrealistic reputation that "singletons" are usually rudely disillusioned of. If you've found yourself wondering what it would be like to be statistically as likely to be convicted of a crime your sibling committed, then read on.
"Omg you must be so close."
It cannot be denied that the relationship between multiples is very different from those of what I have heard some folks lovingly refer to "Singletons"--really just someone whose sibling is not their multiple. We multiples have some different experiences than Singletons. We grew up with our permanent playmate. There was no age gap between us. We came out on the same day. We have the same birthday parties as kids. We were in some ways our own best friends--to a point. We probably shared a crib. We were the first person we looked at in the morning and the last person we saw at night. For myself, this is largely because the McFry people scared my sister, and we shared a bed back then. The 80s were a strange, wonderful time to be alive.
What a lot of people don't understand is how quickly twins can introduce the crow bar between them. Because we are so crammed together literally from the moment of conception until we are close to graduating high school, my sister and I fought like crazy over the phone, over space, over clothes, over who was prettier (which is really funny if you think about it). My mother's constant lament that we were sisters, that we were supposed to love each other, probably broke our ability to show each other affection. My therapist reassured me that what we encountered in our teenage and young adult years was the normal reaction to being confined to each other and our desperation for individuation. This is damaging to any siblings, but for multiples, it can be much more shaming as the expectations of how twins should be among more integrated twins, parents, elders, and friends are slowly violated. To the individuating twin, your sibling could be annoying, clingy, overbearing, starved for attention, too passive, too aggressive, bossy, quiet, a clown, or depressed--all the things any normal sibling might be.
For myself and my twin, we were actually closer as adults. We were rather competitive as children, and could still be if we took a mind to it. We lived together while we were divorcing our husbands, and have discovered, quite like we did as children, that we do well when we're apart and are closer when we cannot be near each other. We are too different to be crammed together, but we're also happier now that we can articulate the nuances of our relationship.
"Are you fraternal or identical twins?"
As a supposed identical twin, I have asked this and have been asked this a lot. Fraternal twins are multiples, but instead of the egg splitting to form the two embryos, two eggs are fertilized at conception instead of one. However, fraternal twins don't get the same reception as identical twins because they typically don't look the same. They are genetically different people that happen to be born on the same day where identical twins share the exact same genetic makeup. I could be mistaken for my sister in a DNA test. Fraternals get relegated to, "Oh, okay," in a slightly disappointed tone. I've caught myself doing it, and it's hurtful. It's hard for people to grasp that twins are two different people on the inside by personality and look the same on the outside due to genetics. Fraternal twins have almost the exact same experience as identical twins after birth. They shared the same womb, came out on the same day (though admittedly for multiples this isn't always true), have the same birthday (statistically), kept each other company, and those two never had to worry about who they were going to play with. But a special kind of "daaaaww" is paid to identical twins because of the charm of looking exactly the same.
Parents are quick to capitalize on this. My mother, proudly bearing forth the fruit of the womb that almost killed her, dressed us the same until we were in fifth grade. It's a tradition that I hoped modernity would destroy, but I was at Whole Foods shopping for hemp soap and saw that not only had a father dressed his darling little twins in the same outfit, their slightly older sister wore it too. I thought it wonderful that this father was making sure not to leave his oldest child out of the relationship she shared with her twin siblings by differentiating her from them. They were almost the same size, and I mistook them for triplets. Their father beamed, and stood up a little straighter. Yes, he heard that all the time. No, they weren't triplets. We laughed and I told him the children were beautiful. He thanked me and we went on our way. One thing that is true is that you'd be hard pressed to find a twin that isn't happy to see other twins. I'm not saying this is universally true, but twins are charming to even other twins.
To answer the question, though: our status was always up in the air because of our differences in size. However, there is an explanation for that. My twin was starving and crushing me in utero. My mom had to lay on her left side on bed rest to give me room to grow. As a result, I remained several inches shorter than my twin and about 20 pounds lighter as adults. It often leads people to assume we are fraternal. We were also six weeks premature, which stunted our growth, mine in particular. Evidence to suggest being identical, though, is that she had her umbilical cord around my neck. This indicates we shared a sack, which fraternal twins do not. We are mirror image: she is right handed, and I am left handed. If our life chances had been equal, we would look more similar in height and weight. Even still, at the age of 36 relatives have a hard time telling us apart.
"Why can't you be more like the other one?" or "What happened to you?"
Time to revisit the subject of being the same. Twins are a novelty. Despite an increase in the birth of twins since the 1980s, twins are still everyone's idea of the most fun a family could have. They make the same faces, have similar voices, and you can dress them the same. For my mom, we were the quintessential perfect pair. We were tiny and adorable when we took a mind to be. The assumption that gets made is that this perfect pair are essentially the same person.
This. Could not. Be further from the truth.
Identical twins have identical appearances, but that is where "identical" comes to a screeching halt. Everyone around you wants to know why you're not like the other one, especially if you are vastly different. If one twin excels and the other lags behind, people want to know why. If one conforms to societal standards and the other doesn't, then one of them must be broken. The more different you are as a twin, the more upsetting it is.
And vastly different I was. If we'd had a word for it back then, I would have been "gender neutral" or "gender non-binary". We did not have those words. We had "tom boy", or "freak", or "shemale" in less civilized circles. My mother vented her not inconsiderable frustration on my lack of interest in girl's clothes, girl's shoes, anything that a normal little girl would find cute and amusing. I was neither impressed or amused with any of it. I was born with "McGee" feet. My toes are...shall we say...interesting. Most children's shoes are cheaply made (even now), and when one's feet are shaped oddly, a shoe that fits one foot may not fit the other. Literally. I discovered very early on that boy's shoes had wider toe boxes and were more comfortable. My mother and I fought multiple times a year, when it was time to buys shoes for school or for a family event. There was no compromise. My sister and I would be dressed the same. That included shoes and scratchy lacey socks.
In the discovery that boy's shoes were more comfortable, I discovered jeans and pants and t-shirts were also more comfortable. I remember not liking how my body looked in girl's clothes. I remembered being ashamed of how scrawny I was, and I was self conscious of my skin even as young as six or seven. I developed an aversion to being touched, made so much more convenient by my parents' and siblings' difficulty showing affection that was not forced. To this day, my twin--who I am very, very close to--and I do not hug unless it's really warranted. One time, she had an ovarian cyst burst, and her husband made her climb the front steps without help. I hugged her while he stood on the driveway marveling at the beauty of sisterly affection. What an ass.
Our education was equally frustrating. I relied on my sister's presence while she put distance between us. The signals, I admit, were a little mixed. On the one hand, we were dragged into countless parent-teacher conferences because I wasn't living up to the expectations my sister was setting. At the same time, my sister wanted to be as far away from me as possible. If grown-ups could have read the collapses in my body language when I was berated for not being as smart, not looking as good, or behaving as well as my twin, and if they contained a shred of compassion at all, they would be mortified. As it was, they were angered, and they were angry all the time.
I wasn't the only one not being allowed to be myself. My sister admits these days to being high maintenance, bossy, and preppy as a child. My mother says she sometimes had trouble liking her as a teenager. Her twin lifestyle didn't suit her. She wanted expensive clothes and shoes, and wanted to run with the popular crowd. I was a goth kid with a brooding and moody aesthetic with very few friends. I was an albatross around her neck. I didn't hang with her friends or to sit with them at lunch. It was a chore for me to get rides from my sister, who insisted on having a car, though I didn't drive until I graduated high school. She worked, and I was terrified to get a job. I didn't realize that I didn't need her, or anyone really, until I was in college.
Twins have a very close relationship, and it's close whether they want to be or not. Growing up, we were one of three sets of identical twins in our high school. We were part of a cabal of twins. Teachers would brag about which ones they had in the set, like trading cards. What was strange about us is that we didn't fit the stereotypical twin mold as we neared adulthood, but it was clear the other twins did. I thought it particularly heart-breaking. We argued openly. We were not our own best friends. We dressed differently in almost every respect. We did break Twin Day once by dressing in my most Gothic pants and matching David Bowie t-shirts. Even the other twins were flabbergasted. We even switched seats and let our Economics teacher do the guessing. Fun fact, she was a twin too!
The point of this is that in a set of siblings, there will be competition, there will be a rising star while one lags behind a little. There will be rapid achievements from one while one remains a slow starter. One will always be put up on the pedestal and the other held up for polite ridicule. No one could have related harder than me when Mrs. Bennett told Lizzy, "You'll never be as pretty as your sister, Jane, but I daresay you look very well indeed." But imagine you look exactly the same. You have the exact same amount of wit and intelligence, and you have the exact same physicality. The only difference is that the people trying to shove you forward to meet the expectation of the other are actually holding you back, crushing you down. You are expected to the be the same, and the reaction of those who believe this is not compassion for your position, but contempt and anger. There is nothing wrong with the twin; everything that's wrong is with the people who can't wrap their minds around how different twins really are.
"I wish I was a twin."
My best friend, and honorary brother, rolled his eyes when I told him I have heard people say this.
"Well, the grass is always greener, isn't it?"
It's easy to see how siblings who are not close, or not as close as they'd like to be, might envy the relationship of twins, but this presupposes two things: 1) that twins share this magical, inseparable relationship, and 2) that other siblings do not inherently have this. I have noticed that among close siblings, this jealousy isn't present. I can assure you, being a twin doesn't solve problems of closeness or build a closer bonds between siblings. That relationship still has to be cultivated and both sides still have to be willing to try.
I sort of feel for my younger sister. As much as she was coddled as the youngest child, there is a lot that she didn't get to experience as a sibling. As far as her upbringing was concerned, she didn't have two older sisters: she had one single older sibling with two heads. She was up against two people that not only didn't understand her presence, but didn't need it, and were only too aware that they were making her feel it. There was a lot of separation between her and us; our little sister was the odd man out. She had no permanent playmate, no one that read the same books or had matching Halloween costumes. Our relationship with her was furthered hampered by a wide age gap. We are six years older than her. It's a relationship that has only recently started to recover.
Twins, like other siblings, fight. And my twin and I fought like hell. We kept most of that a secret until our 30s. But like most siblings, when the chips are down, and your back is to the wooden fence, that other is also an extension of you. You would be shocked, shocked, at how quickly that sibling rivalry can be consolidated and turned on an external threat. Close siblings, like my niece and nephew, have demonstrated this, but in twins, this dichotomy that can be turned on and off like a switch has prompted fantasy authors to imbue twins with heightened power. We are not just bound by blood, but by the shared metaphysical experience of sharing a womb. For myself and my sister, we have cosmic power as well, since we were born under the Gemini. We are also daughters of our paternal bloodline, which makes us very hard to keep down in times of hardship. Though we were not best friends throughout childhood, as adults, we have come to realize that if we only have each other, then that's fine.
"Just like Mary-Kate and Ashley!": Conclusion
Full House put twins on the map with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson, and the fact that I shared a name with one of them made the comparison seemingly all the more apt. Twins enjoyed a certain amount of celebrity thanks to those two in the late 80s and early 90s. These days no one really knows who they are, even with Fuller House. Did one of them put out a makeup line? Or was it a clothing line? *Shrug* I dunno.
You might think being a twin would be a cute, fun life-long experience, and while my twin and I share a special bond that we have tested repeatedly, we don't possess any magical twin powers. Our relationship looks no different than that of Singleton siblings. We are having a fun, life-long experience, but being smushed together like we are the same person has definitely had an affect on us, and not all of it was positive growing up. People ask us what it's like being a twin. I always find it hard to explain. I do know what's it's like to have a Singleton sibling. But one thing I don't know, and I never want to know, is what it's like not having a twin.