“Why didn’t you tell me?”
I’ve been getting this question a lot, since our circles have begun overlapping. Accompanied by bewilderment or curiosity, the asker often conveys a sense of betrayal, as if they were somehow misled.
So, I’ve decided it’s time to come out in the open:
I’m a twin. As in identical twin.
No, we don’t feel each other’s injuries or read each other’s minds or have our own language (though my brother swears we did), but we look enough alike to be confused for one another.
“I told you I had a sister,” I reply when people wonder why I didn’t divulge this secret.
“But not that you have a twin sister.”
To which I sometimes reply, “But what difference does that make?” And since the one asking doesn’t know what it’s like to be a twin and I don’t know what it’s like not to be, the conversation doesn’t go too much further.
But it does make a difference. I am lucky to have a sister who is phenomenally talented at making things and supporting people. And because we are twins, I have a sister who was the same age as me during the crazy times and fun times and hard times. This probably gives us a unique understanding of each other … maybe closer than most sisters, but I wouldn’t know.
What I do know is that being a twin steals a little of who I am. It makes me feel a little more invisible than I otherwise might. Because people see me in relation to someone else. No matter that we weren’t raised with rhyming names or matching clothes (thank you Mom!). We look enough alike that different haircuts or the fact that I’ve always been bigger than her doesn’t erase our similarities. So people ask:
“Which one is more social?”
“Which one got in trouble more?”
“Which one …?”
You get the picture. These questions seem to imply that we are each half of a balanced whole. One is good the other is bad. One is quiet the other is loud. But answering that we are both ambiverts or that we were both good students also doesn’t tell a complete story. Being identified as half of a pair of twins is like being identified as “So-and-so’s wife.”
Oddly, the person who most threatened my holistic identity was me. Growing up with a sculptor (twin) sister and a painter brother, I felt I was impinging on their territory if I painted or made three dimensional art. Even though I love art. It was as if I could only do those things that were deemed mine, instead of do what I loved even if someone else also did those things. It took me a long time to realize I got to decide what I wanted to do and be and make, and it didn’t matter whether my sister or brother were also doing it.
So, no, we never traded places in school. And though I love matching footsteps to those I walk beside, I make an effort to walk out of synch with her. I am hyper-aware when we say the same thing or wear the same color. And I worry my boyfriends will fall in love with her. She is edgier than me, after all. Still, I wouldn’t trade her for the world. I love my sister.
People often look at me with recognition in her neighborhood or in downtown LA. I know the look. They see me and think they know me and I have no memory of meeting them. I smile and give a little nod, and if they greet me I say, “Hi, you must think I’m Julia.” I don’t want to offend them.
She might not do the same. So if you’re walking down the sidewalk and see me, and I don’t smile at you or seem to recognize you, or I give you a cold stare, just remember it might not be me. It’s probably just my evil twin.