Double double's toils and troubles

Twins on Twins
By CAROLINE KNAPP  |  August 6, 2010

This story was originally published in the June 16, 1989, issue of the Boston Phoenix.

She got married last month, at the house we grew up in together. For months beforehand, I wished I felt all the appropriate things: the excitement, the glee. The truth of the matter is that except for an objective kind of happiness (she's great, the guy she married is great, it's all great), I didn't feel much at all, which struck me as strange. When my brother got married a few years ago, I really looked forward to the wedding, felt genuinely excited for him. I wasn't particularly close to him at the time, and I'm much closer to my sister. Why such detachment?

A friend said I was being crazy. "You two are very different. You've gone in different directions. You're not as close as you used to be. Why should you have these big, powerful feelings?"

My response was, "Because we're twins." That's all I could say.

* * *

Twins. This is the stuff people always want to know about us: she's older by seven minutes. We're not identical. She is three inches taller and 10 pounds lighter than me, and has smaller facial features and different bone structure. She has long brown hair; mine is blonder, cut short. She wears no make-up and is pretty in an outdoors-y way; I am more urban, more concerned with appearances.

I was born just before midnight, so we almost had different birthdays (and we always thought that would have been enormously cool). We had the same birthday parties growing up but we always got different cakes. Our parents, mercifully, never gave us cute, matching outfits. Or names.

We are alike politically, not alike in lifestyle or profession. I smoke and drink, she doesn't. I like cities, she wants to settle somewhere rural. Sometimes the roles get reversed. Growing up, I was sure I'd be a doctor (a psychiatrist); she was sure she'd be an artist. She just graduated from medical school and plans to do her residency in child psychiatry; I've been writing since I got out of college.

She's this, I'm that, she's that, I'm this. The comparisons drive you nuts. We got so sick of people asking us if we were identical (when we're clearly not) that we started answering, "We used to be&ldots;(pause for effect)&ldots;until the accident."

The comparing is especially relentless when you're small. People say, "Oh, you're the older one," or "You're the one who plays the flute," or "You're the one who rides horses." I understand the compulsion to differentiate, but it's confusing to a kid —you sit there and think: well, which one am I? Who am I? The lines get blurred.

So you grow up wanting to be accepted on your own terms in a fierce way, and feeling hypersensitive to the way people measure you. This is my worst twin story: at a family dinner party about a year ago, a relative came up to my mother and me and said, "I hear two wonderful things about your daughter. I hear that she's a very special person and I hear that she's in love." Then she looked straight at me and said, "I mean the other one."

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