I am not an individual. True, I think in singular, learn in singular, speak in singular and do in singular. But I am not an individual. No, to the outside world I am a part of a whole. For the first eighteen years of my life I existed only in conjunction with my other half, my twin brother. He came into the world four minutes before me (a fact that feels more significant than perhaps it should) and our shared acclimation to the world and to our family has given rise to one of the most complex relationships I have yet to experience. He’s both the person I’m most connected to and the bane of my existence. But aren’t those just two sides of the same coin?
Granted, after high-school the fact that I’m a fraternal twin is mostly just that, a fun fact I can use during the requisite ‘first day' icebreaker. In my day to day, my fraternal twin is no different than any sibling. But it’s those early years that are and were most formative. That’s when a fraternal twin relationship really matters, when it sinks its teeth into your psyche and never lets up. Two youngins developing into people, simultaneously; Figuring out their individual identities; concurrently. Navigating their family dynamic, combatively; Auditioning for roles on the world’s stage, competitively. Sometimes we competed for the same part, and sometimes only one of us got it.
Growing up, and growing up with siblings, is complicated under any circumstance, but having a twin there at every juncture is something akin to having a film crew following you wherever you go, watching, listening; they probably won’t use the footage, but knowing there’s a twin-shaped fly on every wall during my most self-conscious teenage years necessarily changed my perception, behavior, and cognition, profoundly and consciously.
My twin brother and I experienced the same exact schooling, summer camps, social gatherings and family events up until age 18, which is to say, our 'nurture' has been identical. I can’t help but attach more meaning to our resultant personalities, family relationships, emotional maturity and intellect. I am extremely close to our older and younger brothers, 28 and 21 years old respectively, but I didn't have to be.
I see similarities between myself and them, like often happens with people you're close to, but my recognition of common quirks and tendencies in them don't feel like looking into a mirror – I usually chalk it up to an expression or habit we picked up from one another. But when one of our friends comments that a particular mannerism is "so Jordan," I am acutely aware that it's all nature, our nature. More than anything else, having a fraternal twin has made me more acutely aware of my disposition because I have a built-in control group in Jordan. So whether or not my twinhood (twinness? twinship? twinosity?) plays a role in my daily life, it will never be less pivotal in my sense of self. For all intents and purposes, I still and forever exist as one half of a twin set: Jordan and Rachel. Rachel and Jordan. The Twins.
The one a place I could have expected complete and utter objectivity was in school. I don’t mean socially (that would be ludicrous) or disciplinarily (he was a troublemaker) but purely academically. As similar as Jordan and I are in many ways, we’ve always displayed disparate strengths and weakness when it comes to intellectual pursuits; in fact, we got the exact same net score on both the SAT and ACT exam but with opposite math-verbal breakdowns (the former being his strong suit and the latter being mine).
There would, or should, have been no rational reason why any teacher would compare us. And yet I distinctly recall the unsettling reports from our parents about parent-teacher conferences. Our mutual teachers (and in our small school, there were many) invariably spoke of Jordan in terms of my abilities or deficiencies and vice versa. I once had a teacher tell me privately that I have an A- test average, only to continue that my brother has an A. After giving a presentation in Spanish once, Señor (for whom Jordan caused some good-natured mischief) commented that mine had been better than my brother’s. I did poorly once on a history pop quiz, and my professor emphasized that my brother had gotten the highest mark in the class-as if that would somehow motivate me to do better next time. It only pissed me off.
Years later, these micro-injustices no longer irk me the way they once did, but the fact that they occurred has implanted into my worldview in a way that I can’t overlook. Strengths in one of us magnified a weakness in the other, intimately and in real-time. The purpose of quantitative measurement is defeated when well-meaning onlookers constantly attach subjective meaning to them.
I couldn't write about what it's like to be a twin without talking about the obvious perks. When we were younger, Jordan and I would play matchmaker for our male and female peers who wanted to "hang out" with the opposite sex away from their parents' prying eyes. Many a preteen couple spent Saturday afternoons with us, and with one another, each one pretending not to have come over for that very purpose (Oh, you're here too? I had no clue). This dynamic didn't change as we got older, we continued to take advantage of our same-aged, multi-gendered household.
But things got weird when he started dating my best friend, who I'll call Fran.
Things started normally enough. As my best friend, Fran was over all the time. Jordan was friends with her, too, and it seemed innocent enough to find them hanging out in the living room or lingering in the kitchen for a few moments after dinner. But a few stolen moments turned into a few stolen hours in Jordan's room, an accidental nodding off in the wee hours of the night (Accidental? Please). Soon enough they a were full-blown couple, which lasted for the next year. No longer was I the cool sister who let Fran hang out with my brother while I did my own thing. I was the third wheel. Or maybe I wasn't even a wheel at all. Maybe I was just her boyfriend's twin sister...and yet given that we were still in that pre-college cocoon where coed sleepovers were taboo, I was the gatekeeper to females who wanted to spend the night. Needed, necessary, but not wanted.
Yin and Yang
And now for the burning question: is my twin brother my best friend?
It’s a loaded question, and one usually met with a slew of others. I'll get those out of the way:
- We're not identical. He's a boy, I'm a girl. 'nuff said.
We don't feel each others pain. I used to joke that the only pain I feel from Jordan is the kind he inflicts on me (having three brothers meant I was subjected to my fair share of roughhousing and the occasional anger-induced dead arm.)
- We don't have ESP. I can't read his mind. He can't read mind. And yet...
But it's something else too. Our personalities are different, but interconnected in that the qualities that are most distinct in either of us are the ones we each took and ran with. Jordan had always been the troublemaker, always putting his foot in his mouth or taking jokes a step too far. I was the 'goody two shoes' by default. To this day, I hold onto that label and avoid fucking up at all costs. I wonder if I've evolved to be overly cautious to keep in line with my family dynamic. By the same token, I am able to act as a liaison between him and my parents in a way others can't. When Jordan says the wrong thing, well meaning but in 'Jordan-speak' I understand him and can communicate the sentiment behind his oft-misguided delivery.
When it comes to fraternal twins, most people call our similarities genetics and our differences 'nurture.' But that's not quite it. My personality developed parallel to and in conjunction with his, so our differences are just as meaningful and twin-based as our similarities, if not genetically, then developmentally. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and mine and Jordan's most distinct personality traits are correlated in this quest for familial balance.
So no, Jordan is not my best friend. I don't think of him in those terms like I do with my other siblings. I chose to be friends with them, but I'm stuck with Jordan. I can't cut him out of my life if something happens. It's a bond so strong I sometimes don't notice it's there at all. But there are certain times when my wombmate and I display our sameness in full force. We do a bit where we pretend that we're twins about to be born; we hug each other, jump around and chant 'we're going to the world, we're going to the world." When he comes across a beautiful song and sends it to me, since he knows that I'm the one who will understand precisely why it resonated with him in the specific the way it did. When something I say, or the way I say it, is met with a resounding "That's so Jordan." When something terrible happens, and we naturally gravitate toward each other for a certain type of comfort that only nine months of pre-natal familiarity can provide.
It's a complicated relationship, but not one that's good or bad. It just is.