I’ve recently started following The Misfortune of Knowing, on WordPress. The first time I visited the blog I discovered, while reading the ‘about’ page, that the woman who writes it has young twin daughters (3 kids in all, though). In fact, she has a picture of them on the blog, as well. Adorable, identical red heads. I commented that my mother was an identical twin, and that she and my aunt had the kind of relationship you couldn’t really understand unless you were a twin, yourself. They were that close. Two peas in a pod.
The author responded, and told me that her girls were so close, they had to be separated in pre-school because they only played with each other. That was exactly the way my mother and aunt were. My mother told me, that when they were very young children, they shared a bedroom. But instead of sleeping in their own beds, they’d share one, and always fell asleep holding hands.
In those days, they didn’t separate twins in school. Of course, twins were much more of a rarity back then. But my mother and aunt always got the exact same marks on exams. They’d get the same wrong answers and the same right ones. So their teachers were convinced they were cheating and had them put in different classes. They still got the same marks, and they still answered the same questions, the same way. It’s just the way identical twins brains are wired.
As young women, if one of them had two dates and the other had none, they’d accept both. My mother would pretend to be my aunt, and she’d go on one of the dates; and vice versa. The poor, unsuspecting males never figured it out. Until my aunt was first engaged. As a joke, they decided that when her fiancé, Sam, came to pick her up the next time my mother, dressed in my aunt’s clothes, would answer the door. He twigged immediately, and before my mother had even closed the door behind him he said, “You’re not Annette. You’re Roslyn. Where is she?”
But years and years and years later my parents, who were going to a movie, were stopped by a man while they were walking from the parking lot, to the theatre. The guy started telling my mother how much he’d enjoyed the evening they’d spent together a few nights earlier, and how much he was looking forward to the next time. My mother, full of righteous indignation, insisted he was confusing her with someone else. My father was getting ready to deck him. The guy insisted, and finally said to my mother, “Stop kidding around, Annette. You know we went out to dinner last Thursday night.” By then, my aunt was a widow and had recently started to date again.
Because I’m an only child, I sometimes have trouble understanding and relating to regular sibling relationships. I don’t know what it’s like to resent your older sister because she always got the new clothes, and you always got to wear her hand-me-downs. I don’t know what it’s like to have an older brother, who teaches you how to ride a bike, or drive a car, or can always be counted on to come and hang your pictures, every time you move. I don’t know what it’s like to know that, despite your petty jealousies, differences and silly fights, you will always be there for each other, no matter what.
So you can imagine how foreign my mother and aunt’s relationship was to me.
When my mother went into labour with me, my aunt was out of town. She called my grandmother and told her that my mother was in the hospital, in labour. She knew without anyone calling to tell her. They’d show up at a party dressed in the same outfit, even though neither one of them had discussed what they were even thinking of wearing. Day after day after day after day, my mother would say to my father and to me: “Oh, I forgot to tell Annette about such and such, or so and so.” And the minute the words were out of her mouth, the phone would ring. It would be my aunt, calling to tell her the same thing. It happened all the time. Every day. Multiple times every day. My father, who was one of three children, couldn’t even figure it out.
My mother had a polyp on her gall bladder. It wasn’t serious, would never really cause any problems, and nothing was ever done about it. Years after it was discovered, my aunt started experiencing gall bladder pain. The doctor sent her for tests and x-rays. When he got the x-rays back, he saw a polyp on her gall bladder. The same size, and in the same place, where my mother’s was. Thinking his nurse had made a mistake, and given him my mother’s file in error, he asked her for the right one. She told him this was the right one — it’s what had been sent over from the clinic where my aunt had been.
He assumed they’d made a mistake, so he sent my poor aunt for tests again. The same thing happened. Pissed off, this time he called the clinic himself. They insisted it was the right patient’s x-ray. So he went to the clinic, personally, to check all the x-rays; and sure enough. In total disbelief, he asked my mother and aunt if they’d be willing to both go for x-rays, just to be absolutely sure. Unbelievable as it may be, both my mother and my aunt each had a polyp that was the identical size, in exactly the same spot on their gall bladders. It’s downright spooky.
I guess the best explanation of the special relationship between identical twins came when my aunt died. My mother was absolutely devastated. My parents had a wonderful marriage; and as grief-stricken as my mother was when my father died, it didn’t even come close to how she was affected by my aunt’s death. I mentioned it to her one day, a year or so later.
Without evening thinking about it, she said to me: “You don’t understand. When Auntie Annette died, I felt like half of me was amputated.”
In a sense, that’s true because scientifically here’s what happens: In the case of identical twins, one sperm fertilizes one egg. That egg then ‘splits’ into two fetuses. They both share one placenta.
You can’t get much closer than that.