Something a bit different from the usual fare, to end off the year…
Over the last week or so, a handful of people have drawn my attention to a recent episode of The Current (a current affairs program on CBC Radio here in Canada) that talked about twins. Most readers of this blog will know why this program would have been deemed to be of interest to me. I am myself an identical twin, and am the father of fraternal thirteen-year-old twins. This morning, the day after my twin brother and his family departed after a Christmas visit, I finally sat down and listened to the podcast. And now I find myself reflecting on twinhood (Twindom? Twinitude?) on this, the last day of 2014.
As I expected, the radio program talked about twins in a bit more, for lack of a better word, mystical terms than would be reflected by my experience. There was talk of “soul mates” and feeling like you were “incomplete” without your twin and feeling like only half a person when apart. There were references to dressing the same and doing the same things and never spending more than a few hours apart over decades of life together and having unique insight into the thoughts and dreams of your twin. There were also interviews with twins who couldn’t stand each other, but for the most part, the program focused on the deep, deep bonds that often exist between identical twins.
My earliest memory as a twin, on the other hand, was of desperately wanting to be seen as different from my brother. I think I speak for both of us when I say that we have always been profoundly grateful to my parents for not giving us similar names (“Darren” and Darrel” or something like that), for not dressing us the same, even for putting us in different classes throughout school. I think my parents wanted to make sure that we were seen as individuals and not just “the twins” and we certainly embraced these sentiments!
We did everything we could to look different. If my brother had long hair, I would cut mine short (and vice versa). We wore different clothes (my sense of style more frequently veered toward the outlandishly stupid, as I recall—and as my wife is rather eager to remind me!). I got my ear pierced as a teenager. On and on it went. We (or at least I) needed to be seen as unique. Despite our best efforts, however, we were still regularly mistaken for one another. I can’t count the number of times in our earlier years when interactions with others would begin with some variation of the question, “Now, which one are you again?” To this day, it is highly amusing to observe the reactions of people who only know one of us when they first see us together.
Not only did my brother and I try desperately to be different, we sometimes fought like animals. My parents recall seeing us attacking each other with hockey sticks on the lawn, or throwing ping-pong paddles at each other after another game ended badly, or of fists swinging and legs kicking after who knows what minor incident set us off. We spent a lot of time together and were (are) both extremely competitive. This inevitably, led to violent warfare. I recall one winter afternoon when I, with great malice in my heart, swung my fist at my brother only to have him dodge at the last minute which led to my knuckles being introduced to the side of the vacuum cleaner with great force. My hand got so swollen that I couldn’t fit it into my hockey glove for our game later that day, which made me even angrier at my brother for having the audacity to move! It was, naturally, entirely his fault that I wouldn’t be able to play hockey that night!
So much for some kind of romantic spiritual bond between twins! 🙂
Having said all this, I must also say that there is something unquestionably unique and precious about the twin relationship. It is simultaneously a little eerie and utterly remarkable that there is another human being walking around out there with the exact same DNA as I have. There is a bond that exists between my brother and I that does not exist in any other human relationship. We text or message each other pretty much daily. Even though we have not lived in the same place for any great length of time since we were in our twenties, there is nobody who understands me—the way I think, the way I process things, the things that make me afraid, the things that fill me with hope and gladness—in quite the same way as my brother. This is not to denigrate other important relationships in my life in any way. It is simply to say that this is a relationship like no other.
I have seen this in my own kids as well. They will fight like sworn enemies, at times, and will give every indication that there is no human being on earth that they would less like to find themselves in frequent proximity to. And then, mere minutes later they will be giggling and playing and whispering in conspiratorial tones as if nothing ever happened. However they might fight, it is more often delightfully evident that they are the very best of friends. They will defend each other like no one else. They will find each other in a crowded room. They will rely on the other in unfamiliar social contexts. They would, it seems on many days, be lost without each other.
And perhaps this is the greatest gift of being a twin. You have the rare privilege of walking through life with a constant reference point, a companion you don’t have to explain yourself to, a best friend who understands you simply because they are, in some strange way, already a part of you.
I was recently given a copy of the image above from a childhood friend who I continue to play hockey with. It is taken from a newspaper article from 1986 after our youth hockey team won a tournament in a neighbouring town. My brother and I are the two blonde kids in the middle row, I on the left, Gil on the right.