Anya Groner | Longreads | June 2017 | 20 minutes (5,065 words)
I’m stopped at a red light in Twinsburg, Ohio, when I spot my first pair riding in the Jeep behind me. Matching blond hair, bug-eye sunglasses, and pink chins fill the rearview mirror of my rental car. I glance and glance again before texting my sister. “It’s begun,” I type. “They’re here and you’re not.” I erase the last three words and press send. No point in guilting her for a decision she can’t reverse.
When the light turns green, I press the gas, heading to the local high school where a wiener picnic and silent auction will kick-off the 41st annual Twins Days festival. An identical twin myself, I’ll be eating my hot dog alone tonight. My sister, a marine biologist, has opted not to join me, instead signing up for a dive certification class the same weekend. Though she apologized for the timing, she didn’t offer to reschedule. Twins Days doesn’t interest her much.
I’m not sure what to expect or even why I’ve decided to come. The website tells me the three-day fete is patriotic and sweet, a massive show-and-tell where the attendees are also the main attraction. Last year, 2,053 sets of twins, triplets, and quads journeyed here from as far away as South Korea and Australia. The revelry includes competitive cornhole, look-alike and un-lookalike contests, talent shows, and a research plaza where scientists collect data from volunteers. My surface excuse for flying out is that I’m a writer, trying my hand at journalism, but even a rookie like me knows the event is far too personal for objectivity. I’ve known about the fest for as long as I can remember, and for most of those years I wouldn’t even consider attending. Lying on stacked bunks in our childhood bedroom well before our age reached double digits, my sister and I put Twins Days somewhere on the continuum between obnoxious and offensive, a gathering of voyeurs looking to celebrate sameness, the facet of our identity that frustrated us most. The best parts of twinhood we knew to be exclusive, shaped by our two unique personalities, shareable only with each other. For us, the festival held no appeal.
More recently, though, I’ve been writing fiction about twins — first short stories, then a novel — and I’ve begun to wonder about experiences far different from my own: why some twins dress alike into adulthood, why some choose to live together while others insist on living far apart. In his article “Same But Different,” the science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee observes: “It is easy to think of twins as comedies of nature. The rhyming names, the matching sailor suits, the tomfoolery of mistaken identities, the two-places-at-the-same-time movie plot — genetics for gags. But twins often experience parts of their lives as tragedies of nature.”
As children, to counterbalance the perception that we were duplicates, my sister and I constantly emphasized our differences. She played piano. I played violin. She had pierced ears. I wore glasses.
His assessment of the comedy and tragedy of twinhood rings true to my experience. In a society that values “self-actualization,” the discovery of one’s “true self,” identical twins are something of a cultural snag, a contradiction to the way we think selfhood works. It’s not that twins aren’t individuals. Of course, we are. But popular culture portrays twins as exactly the same, souls assembled from the same base parts according to the same DNA blueprint. In contrast, individuality is about uniqueness, a quality that identical siblings aren’t always granted. Nancy Segal, director of the Twin Studies Center at California State University and author of Born Together, Reared Apart, describes the problem this way: “In our Western culture, we value individual strengths and talents. . . . Twins, especially identical ones . . . run counter to the way we think things should work.”
As children, to counterbalance the perception that we were duplicates, my sister and I constantly emphasized our differences. She played piano. I played violin. She had pierced ears. I wore glasses. Together, we were hyper-visible, but as individuals we felt unseen, our personalities reduced to hobbies and traits recited like résumés. Even relatives who’d known us since birth struggled to distinguish who was whom and chastised us both when one of us cut her hair and ruined their shorthand for telling us apart. It wasn’t their errors we objected to. We knew we looked alike. What hurt was that they didn’t consider their mistake important.
On the other hand, the companionship of twins understandably evokes jealousy. A twin seems like the perfect antidote to loneliness. Growing up, friends were dismayed when I complained about mix-ups. They’d tell me how jealous they were that my sister and I had each other. “You always have someone to play with,” they’d say. “You were born with your other half.”
Our reality was more complicated. Like other siblings, my sister and I competed for attention; though we didn’t like being competitive, we couldn’t help it. Our playing field was uncannily even. Not only were we the same age, we had parallel skills and the same opportunities. Our rivalry could be cutthroat. It didn’t help that we were constantly compared. The follow-up question for grades, mile times, party invitations was always the same: But how did your sister do?
Despite all this, cliché as it sounds, my sister is my best friend. Even during childhood fights, we were inseparable, checking in on each other between insults and rug burns. Loving her didn’t stop me from resenting my friends’ envy. For me, the idea that my sister was my “other half” had a darker implication I couldn’t shake, that my sister and I were each but half a person, incomplete on our own, lacking in some fundamental, unnamable way.
Friday’s registration in Twinsburg takes place in the cafeteria. Behind me in line, eight-year-old twin boys wait with their family. I introduce myself and they tell me about switching classes at their elementary school, trading outfits in the bathroom, exchanging one brother’s signature orange T-shirt for the other’s favorite polo. The boys flash toothy grins. “Our teachers fell for it the first time,” they brag. “The second time, they suspected.”
“My sister and I played that prank,” I tell the boys. “On April Fools’ Day, but not every year. If you do it too often, people suspect.”
The boys nod knowingly. They’ve arrived at the same conclusion. Budding comedians, they’re learning a basic tenet of humor: overuse kills a good joke.
I laugh but find the gag bittersweet. While it thrilled me to fool teachers, I hated how often classmates didn’t register that my sister and I had swapped. Their obliviousness to our differences confirmed my deepest fear, that, outside of my family and a few close friends, my sister and I were exchangeable.
“I wish I had a twin,” the boys’ towheaded sister interrupts. She starts to tell me why but then trails off, distracted by the swelling crowd. Nearby, three sets pose for a photo. “A’s on the right,” instructs a mother with a camera. “B’s on the left.” The letters refer to birth order. A’s are older, though age difference is often a matter of minutes.
The siblings all arrange themselves symmetrically, like the members of a wedding. As per festival tradition, each pair’s outfits match. I spot complementary hats, dresses, handbags, hairdos, tattoos, and wheelchairs. Unlike my sister and I, who begrudged the visual slapstick of matching bodies and refused to dress alike, these twins camp it up, doing everything they can to be even more identical than they naturally are. They’re proud of their resemblance, and I can’t help but be charmed and even a bit jealous. Determined to assert our individuality, my sister and I rarely celebrated our sameness. How would our relationship be different, I wonder, if we’d embraced our similarities?
For me, the idea that my sister was my “other half” had a darker implication I couldn’t shake, that my sister and I were each but half a person, incomplete on our own, lacking in some fundamental, unnamable way.
The mother counts down to cheese, but before anyone can disperse, more twins join and I step out of line to take a photo. A father positions back-to-back toddlers. Clad in T-shirts that anticipate errors, “I’m not Jared” stands beside “I’m not Ben.” Twin babies are passed off to twin grandpas. The siblings grin until their lips twitch. Across the cafeteria, the scene repeats, kaleidoscopically, as twins arrange and rearrange for cameras.
“Do you have ESP?” someone asks.
“If I pinch her, can you feel it?”
“Do you dream the same?”
“Do you speak in unison?”
“How do you tell yourselves apart?”
The twins around me seem to enjoy the attention and happily answer questions, but I’m relieved to be behind a camera instead of in front of one, safe from the nosy barrage.
At the front of the line, I flash a copy of my sister’s driver’s license to prove to the registrar I’m legit, and pick up my festival packet. The cafeteria is getting crowded and, with twins all around, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m standing inside an optical illusion, as though a looking glass grew porous and the reflections stepped through. With my official badge pinned to my chest, I wander the room, introducing myself to attendees.
Mossy beards dangle from the chins of Dave and Don Wolf. “It’s our 18th year at the fest,” Dave says. “We tell our friends not to schedule weddings or reunions on this weekend. It’s the one time of year when we know for sure we’ll be busy.”
Don tells me they share a house in Fenton, MI, and Dave adds that they’re truckers so they spend most of their time on the road, taking turns driving, listening to gospel stations on satellite radio, munching on pepperoni, apples, and mild cheddar cheese.
“We’ve done 100,000 miles already this year —”
“ — in our shared cab — ”
“ — and that includes a month off for repairs.”
I ask if either of them is married, and Don says he’s not opposed to idea, but at the moment, they’re both single.
I tell the brothers that my sister and I left home, and each other, when we graduated high school. The choice wasn’t a commentary on our relationship with each other; we simply wanted to free ourselves from the nuisance of being regarded as oddities. We longed, desperately, to be treated as separate people, not two halves of a strange whole.
Though they nod along with my story, mix-ups don’t seem to bother Don and Dave. A few years back, they swept three Twins Days contests — look-alike, beard, and celebrity look-alike. “ZZ Top,” Don says. “We look like ZZ Top.”
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Director of the Twin Studies Center, Dr. Segal says she believes, “Twins [have] two identities: the one they share with their twin, and the one they keep to themselves.” In raising twins, parents often have to decide which of these identities to emphasize, if it’s more important to focus on siblinghood or individuality. This question is echoed in every decision. Do the twins get similar names? Do they attend the same classes in school? Or, are they separated during the day and encouraged to pursue unique hobbies and find different friends? Don and Dave strike me as twins raised to rely on one another and take refuge in their similar outlooks and experience. I wonder, but don’t ask, if one is more dominant than the other, making decisions for them both. When it comes to closeness, twins don’t necessarily want the same thing. A friend of mine has twin brothers about to start college. One wants to live on his own. The other wants them to room together and cries inconsolably when his brother refuses.
Across the cafeteria, Donna wears a yellow ball cap over her tight red curls and keeps a miniature poodle tucked beneath her right arm. When I introduce myself, she tells me she’s here without her twin.
“I’m alone, too,” I tell Donna. “My twin couldn’t make it. She got sick.”
My lie surprises me. I miss my sister, but we’ve lived apart for as long as we lived together. It’s not strange to be without her. Not until later do I realize why I say it. At a festival honoring twins, I don’t want to be perceived as abandoned, unloved by my womb-mate, a failure at twinhood. I also don’t want to be seen as an outsider. If I’m a voyeur, I’m not ready to admit it.
“I got married two years ago and my sister didn’t like it,” Donna goes on. “She got jealous. She broke into my house and stole my wedding photos. She took the divorce papers from my first marriage and used my old name. She went around pretending she was me!”
In raising twins, parents often have to decide if it’s more important to focus on siblinghood or individuality.
Donna’s story is extreme, but it doesn’t surprise me that wedlock could be challenging for a twin. We’re born into friendship and rivalry. The old cliché that marriage is one long conversation applies doubly to us. But unlike with marriage, twins don’t choose their partners. Jealousy comes easy. So does codependence. My sister welcomed my husband into our family, but I can understand how a twin could view an in-law as a threat, a replacement, not an ally.
“Last year my husband walked in the parade with me,” Donna says, pausing to wipe sweat off her brow with a rumpled paper towel. “He can be my twin. I don’t care.” The pain on her face is obvious, but instead of expounding on her loneliness, she concerns herself with mine. “I know it’s hard to be here without your sister,” she says. “If you want, you can join me and my husband for the parade.”
“Thanks,” I tell her, genuinely moved. “I just might do that.”
The following morning, the Double Take Parade commences in the town center, a green patch of grass with a stage, picnic tables, and a scattering of monuments. Two centuries ago, twin brothers Moses and Aaron Wilcox donated six acres to the town of Millsville to make this public square and build a local school. In exchange, residents renamed their hamlet Twinsburg. Today, the log cabin school has been torn down and public land has shrunk to half its original size, but the town logo still features the two silhouettes of the Wilcox brothers.
Without a costume, I’ve decided to watch rather than join Donna in the parade and I position myself at the halfway mark, a mile into the two-mile spectacle, on a bridge above a neighborhood creek not far from downtown. Led by veterans in uniform, fire trucks carrying Dalmatians, and the Twinsburg high school band, the procession is a frenzy of small-town pride. The sky is dotted with clouds so fluffy and white they look like a child’s drawing. The mood strikes me as wistful. Flags ruffle from poles. Twinsburg town cops wear clownish striped prison onesies and pass out donuts. Kids in wagons lob bubble gum at spectators. Their effort outmatches their aim. Candy thumps the pavement.
The designated Grand Marshals, boy-girl fraternal teens, ride atop a cherry red convertible. Behind them, this year’s royal court — four riding sets aboard what looks like a giant silver pickle — wave at onlookers. The queens, Marlene Graham Wolf and Darlene Graham Mason, sit in the front. At last night’s coronation, I learned that during Marlene’s first pregnancy Darlene developed morning sickness, a claim I can neither fully believe nor completely dismiss.
A rolling organ plays Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and the walkers arrive. “Twinfinity and Beyond” is this year’s theme. “We are in pursuit of a rare form of inhabitant,” the souvenir program explains. “They birth in pairs and appear to transport to this one chosen location the first weekend in the month of August.” In the street, I spot pairs of Martians, Jetsons, Jedis, and Coneheads. Double “Miss Universes” sashay, swinging the styrofoam planets strung to their skirts. Bite-size astronauts glide past, harnessed to a float titled “Twinternational Space Station.” Retrofitted with cardboard, strollers have been magicked into spaceships.
Despite myself, I scan the crowd for corresponding faces, a pursuit that feels like a real-time variation on Where’s Waldo, the similarities so abundant they throw minute differences into stark relief. It’s not the costumes that blow me away. Anyone can coordinate clothes. I’m floored by the likenesses. Identical twins match beneath their clothes — the gait of their strides, the swing of their arms, and the wrinkles on their brows.
Gray-haired men garbed in white bathrobes and angel wings descend the hill. When they raise their plastic bugles to their lips, I feel it, too, the power of companionship that begins before birth. Who, but a twin, could dial so precisely into the same campy wavelength? Who but a twin could envision your vision and amplify it with their own human body?
The Research Plaza spreads across several tennis courts. Beneath white and blue tents, technicians run experiments. Proctor & Gamble has a booth devoted to aging. The Monell Chemical Senses Center is conducting experiments on taste and smell. University professors study acne, facial expressions, and personality.
The end of the parade marks the beginning of the carnival. Beyond the midway’s pendulous ships and elliptical coasters rise the white spires of the talent show tent. Here, siblings with alliterative names demonstrate skills. Some throw batons. Others tap dance, recite poetry, or sing music selections — adapted love songs — that blur the line between saccharine and sweet. Ukulele-strumming girls croon, “I’m Peanut Butter and you are Jelly.” Adult twins warble, “Better Off Together.” Sexagenarians chant an original rap that is somehow also a complex math problem.
During a comedy routine, adolescents riff on “Twin Problems.”
“When someone asks if you’re twins — ”
“ — and you say, no, the hospital was having a buy one get one free sale.”
“When you find a photo of yourselves as toddlers — ”
“ — and can’t tell who is who.”
“When you get the same gift — ”
“ — but in different colors.”
The crowd laughs appreciatively, even after the girls’ routine takes a bigoted turn and they joke about deporting Mexicans. “Juan here and Juan here,” they say, as if counting.
A few acts later, nine-year-old girls mount the stage. Metal blares from the speakers and one of the twins invites the audience to step closer. “Our talent takes place on the floor,” she explains. “It might be hard to see in the back.” She faces her sister and, simultaneously, they lunge. For the five glorious minutes, the sisters wrestle and writhe, transforming into a muppety tangle of curls and limbs, a WWE-style brawl. The surprised MC looks on in horror, but this is the most relatable performance I’ve seen yet, an honest break from canned sentiments and hokey humor.
As kids, my sister and I fought almost as hard as we played, hitting, biting, and name-calling. Punished for each other’s mistakes and rewarded for each other’s achievements, we couldn’t help but quarrel. Like all children, our lives felt frustratingly beyond our control. I bit my sister until she bled. At school, she slapped me for “looking ugly.” In retaliation, I sprinkled crushed saltines onto her bed sheets.
In the wake of the morning’s relentless cheer, a choreographed fight strikes me as brilliant commentary. The girls are performing for themselves as much as for the crowd, and I respect their refusal to schmaltz it up for a public hungry for cutie-pies. When the pummeling ends, the girls bow to each other before acknowledging the crowd. Standing in a shadow just outside the tent, I scream my appreciation.
The Research Plaza spreads across several tennis courts. Beneath white and blue tents, technicians run experiments. Proctor & Gamble has a booth devoted to aging. The Monell Chemical Senses Center is conducting experiments on taste and smell. University professors study acne, facial expressions, and personality. Some of the first recorded twin experiments took place during World War II at Auschwitz under the cruel direction of Nazi scientist Dr. Josef Mengele. Records show that as many as 1500 pairs of twins, many of whom were children, were subjected to “testing,” which included organ removal, injections of contagious bacteria, and sewing siblings together in an attempt to make conjoined twins. About 200 of his subjects, less than a tenth of them overall, survived. More recently, twin studies have been conducted according to the ethical guidelines of professional review boards and with the informed consent of participants. Since the 1980s, twin studies have been crucial for untangling the roles of genetics and environment (nature and nurture) in the development of personalities, behavior, and health. Identical or monozygotic twins originate from a single fertilized egg that splits. Matching DNA makes them ideal for testing hypotheses; one sibling can be the control (taking a placebo, for instance, in a medical experiment), while the other functions as an intervention (receiving trial medication). Conversely, fraternal twins, conceived from separate eggs and separate sperm, provide scientists the opportunity to observe siblings with distinct genetic codes but similar upbringings.
Long before I knew the shape of a double helix or what DNA was, I too pondered the mechanics of individuality. Where do the boundaries of personality lie? Are dispositions coded inside us or is there something more mystical at work? I was born into those questions.
The growing discipline of epigenetics, which looks at how environmental factors activate and suppress genetic codes, is the newest field to rely heavily on twin studies. While nurture/nature debates tend to argue for the importance of inheritance or environment, epigeneticists like Siddhartha Mukherjee believe individuality is “suspended between genome and epigenome.”
Despite having the same DNA, identical twins’ behavior and appearance diverge over time, a phenomenon many scientists now attribute to epigenetics. During fetal development, chemical triggers called epigenomes cause cells to differentiate, so that some become muscle and others become bone, nerves, skin, or tissue. After birth, environmental influences — diet, exercise, exposure to toxins, and stress — create new epigenetic tags. While eye color and reading ability are considered relatively fixed, epigenetics impact more mutable traits like arthritis and schizophrenia that develop later in life. “The genome is not a passive blueprint,” writes Mukherjee. “The selective activation or repression of genes allows an individual cell to acquire its identity and to perform its function.”
Long before I knew the shape of a double helix or what DNA was, I too pondered the mechanics of individuality. Where do the boundaries of personality lie? Are dispositions coded inside us or is there something more mystical at work? I was born into those questions. Even when we haven’t seen each other for months, I’ll sit beside my twin sister at dinner and notice our shoulders slouched and elbows bent at precisely the same angles. When an expression flickers across her face, I recognize its meaning before she speaks. I’m not telepathic. These gestures — motions without thought — are imbedded in me, too, as if our muscles share memory. The effect is unsettling. What does it mean if your essence is a function of coding? If your selfhood is a coincidence of genes and timing?
The most high profile twin study currently underway involves Scott Kelly, the astronaut who spent most of 2015 year aboard the International Space Station, and his identical twin brother, Mark, also an astronaut who spent that same year on earth. Scott returned to Earth two inches taller and five milliseconds younger, with a smaller heart than Mark. The brothers donated their biometrics to NASA so scientists could better understand the biological impact of space travel. Researchers at ten universities are scrutinizing the brothers’ data to see whether microgravity altered Scott’s DNA, inaugurating a field some researchers call “space genomics.”
Crowded with twins costumed as aliens and robots, outer space, or at least one version of it, has descended upon the Twins Days Research Plaza. Despite the playful costumes, the scientists here are working hard, collecting data from volunteers. A white bandana pulls back Dr. Joleen Loucks Greenwood’s dark hair. Chair of anthropology and sociology at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, she’s conducting the only study at the festival concerned with the psychology of multiples. “I’m identical myself,” she says, pointing farther back in the tent to where her sister, a social worker, is assisting her with an interview. “People always ask us why we aren’t more alike. I don’t have an answer. My previous research was on adult siblings so this project is an extension of that. I want to understand how the identical twin relationship differs from other sibling relationships. I’m a sociologist, so I want data.”
In exchange for an interview, she offers me a $10 Amazon gift card.
If the rest of the fest is about spectacle, Dr Greenwood’s research is the opposite, focused on what can’t be seen. She asks me about childhood, romances, friendships, and family.
Outside the research plaza, twins and their families mill about, but my sister, the person I most want to talk to, isn’t here.
“Independence might be our biggest shared trait,” I say. “I’m a writer and my sister’s a biologist. We learned early that we’re happiest when we aren’t competing, when we give each other space.” I confess my belief that being a twin makes me a better spouse. “I’ve spent my whole life in partnership,” I observe. “I’ve had a lifetime of practice. Sharing was a survival strategy.”
I tell Dr. Greenwood how when my sister and I went to separate colleges we had to adjust to life apart. It helped that we liked school and made friends quickly, but each of us, separately, panicked about the other’s well-being. We weren’t mind readers, but we did have phone cards, and we used them often, dialing the other’s dorm rooms to confirm that the uncertain feeling we’d woken up with in the night wasn’t some kind of twin magic, kicking ominously into gear. The relief when the other picked up the phone sparked a simpler revelation. We missed each other, but we were also doing fine. In our separate communities, it was a joy to be called by the right name and remembered accurately for our own behavior, to have our own friends who didn’t pick favorites. To be recognized as oneself is a privilege we marveled at together. In Poughkeepsie, I majored in anthropology. Three hours away, my sister studied geology and later biology. Our interests were no longer points of comparison. They were simply pursuits that we chose, like any other student.
Rather than diluting our bond, time apart strengthened the roles my sister and I played in each other’s lives. No longer could we take the other for granted. Alone, we learned to value the ease with which we found insight in one another’s experience. Outside of phone conversations and weekend visits, our lives were at last separate, leaving us forced us to imagine what life would be like if we were truly alone.
“The grief that twins experience as they drift apart in life is unique,” writes Mukherjee, “but it abuts a general grief: if eternal sameness will not guarantee eternal closeness, then what hope is there for siblings, or parents, or lovers?” This observation suggests that twins are propped up as standard bearers when it comes to human affection, and, though twins can be very lucky, holding sibling love to such a high standard erases the rivalry, angst, and competition that twins, like all groups of siblings, must navigate. For my sister and me, living apart wasn’t a failure. It was a healthy choice. At last we had the opportunity to grow, independently.
After the interview ends, Dr. Greenwood tells me that she found adolescence especially difficult. “At an age when most kids develop their identities, we were vying for the same spot on our swim team. We resented being seen as a unit.” She wonders aloud if doing interviews at Twins Days will introduce bias to her research. “I’ve met a lot of people who really value twinship as part of their identity. I mean, so many of the siblings here live together. You wouldn’t believe how many, actually. But not everyone likes being a twin, and those twins would never come here.”
I tell her about my long-standing skepticism regarding the festival. “There’s so much pressure to celebrate companionship but there’s not much space to explore what’s hard about being a twin,” I say. “Still, it’s been sweeter than I expected. I like seeing how much siblings appreciate each other. Every pair I’ve talked to navigates their relationship differently.”
“Do you think you’ll come back?” she asks.
“Maybe,” I say. “But not without my sister.”
To be honest, I doubt I’ll return. When we next travel together, I suspect my twin and I will go someplace where we can enjoy each other’s company without participating in a spectacle. We’ll probably hike, an activity we both enjoy, while we talk about whatever interests us that day. My sister will point out wildlife. I’ll pause to take photos.
Beyond the tennis courts, an elderly woman pushes her twin’s wheelchair. “I’d like to talk to them,” Dr. Greenwood muses. “They’ve had so much experience. I wonder if they’re thinking about mortality. What will happen when one of them dies?”
Outside the research plaza, twins and their families mill about, but my sister, the person I most want to talk to, isn’t here. I want to know how she would answer Dr. Greenwood’s questions, what she would think of the talent show acts and the pressure the twins are under to demonstrate their affection, why she thinks some siblings embrace similarities and others push them away, why some compete and others collaborate. Instead of returning to the contest tent or watching kids pose at the mirror image photo booth, I wander toward the exit, where my rental car is waiting.
Growing up, my identity as a twin was inescapable. Our matching faces and bodies were the first thing people noticed and the quality they remembered us by. As an adult living far from my sister, our relationship is no longer visible. Now, being a twin is a part of my identity I choose to share, a relationship that’s shaped me and continues to do so. The frustration that accompanied mix-ups and nosy questions has diminished and in its place gratitude grows. My sister and I are in constant communication. By phone, email, mail, and text message, I listen equally to the details of her love life and her scientific research and she knows by heart the struggles and triumphs I encounter as a writer and teacher. We’re neither interchangeable nor replaceable. Our friendship is the product of biology, effort, and extraordinary luck.
In the parking lot, I spot girls in Doublemint costumes and stop to take a photo. I’ve learned more than I expected about what it is to witness twins, the delight and surprise of glimpsing matching faces, but I also know what the camera can’t capture. Hidden beneath their cardboard signboards are two unique humans with distinct fears and joys and a complex relationship that will take a lifetime to unravel. I click my camera, wondering how much a picture conceals of another’s experience. As much as my twin looks like me, there’s always been just one voice in my head: my own.
When I reach my car, I pull out my phone and dial my sister. I have so much to tell her, so much to discuss.
“I was just about to call,” she says when she answers.
* * *
Anya Groner’s writing can be found in The New York Times’ Modern Love column, The Atlantic, The Oxford American, Guernica, and other venues. She teaches high school at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
Editor: Sari Botton