This terrific piece popped up a few months ago in my Google Alerts page. The author is Isabel Sakarin, a lovely young woman who just finished her freshman year at Vassar College. With her permission, I am sharing this beautiful homage to her twinship.
She and her twin brother, Ben, attend different colleges. This article integrates her love for her brother and for science. I trust you will be enlightened and entertained by Ms. Sakarin’s keen sense of humor and insight.
Twinning 200 Miles Apart: Sharing a Womb, Finding Ourselves, and Looking for the Right Metaphor
I’ve always been fascinated by mitotic spindle—cellular microtubules that push and pull apart during cell division. I’ve used the metaphor of how the spindle fibers always seem to find each other at the cell meridian, even after long periods of division, to describe the cyclic growing apart and growing together of some of my longest friendships. So, when my twin brother, Ben, and I moved from our across-the-hall rooms to our across-the-state dorms, I was expecting us to grow distant then close, distant then close. And that would have been okay. I trust biology, and I was ready for our bond to shrink and grow, shrink and grow, like two mirrored sine curves—up and down, together and not, between Thanksgiving break and winter vacation. I was prepared, because I knew we would always find each other.
But that’s not at all what happened. The metaphor is so wrong. But I’m glad it doesn’t fit (partly because Ben was never that into bio), but mainly, because the reality is so much better than some poetic diminishing of our twin bond.
Let me try to explain with some chemistry, and make our lovely high school chemistry teacher, the divine Dr. Nancy Hazan, proud:
Though it would have been possible to go to school with Ben, I decided to come to Vassar on my own. To force myself to be independent. To do everything for me; to join every club and attend every event because I want to. And I have grown independent in that sense. I can function in the big, scary world without needing a partner to lean on. I’m capable of making confident decisions about my future without asking for a second opinion, though sometimes it’s nice to have one.
Though I’m more autonomous than ever, by no means have I lost my identity as being half of a two-part unit. Ben will always be my sidekick, always ready to support me, to laugh at my jokes, to swoop in with a comeback. The twin chemistry is still there. Our last name is Sakarin, and our friend cleverly came up with the nickname “The Disaccharides” for us, which I love more and more the more I think about it. A disaccharide is a carbohydrate formed by two monosaccharides, bonded to form wonderful things like sucrose and maltose and lactose (which many people like myself are intolerant of, but that’s okay). Though I was concerned that our twin bond, our glycosidic bond, would break as we moved apart, it’s been one whole semester with no evidence of some hydrolytic split. Our bond is as strong and constant as ever.
Though the chem metaphor has the extra punch of being punny, it’s no more accurate than the mitotic spindle one. Because of course I wasn’t expecting the dramatic split of a hydrolysis reaction. And the one-unit metaphor conveys the closeness without the independence.
Ben’s an engineering major, so of course a physics metaphor would be the right one to describe our quirky (and quarky) relationship. Because there’s no biological cycle or chemical bond as permanent as what we have. No matter the distance, Ben cheers me up when I feel down. His strange charm never fails to make me smile. He is on the top of my list, in the bottom of my heart.
A lot has changed around us over this past couple months, but nothing has changed between us. He is still my Ben, and the force between us is as strong as ever. I don’t need to hear from him all the time to know that we still have each other. Like quarks, those fundamental constituents of matter, I don’t need to see him to know that he is there. His presence is with me, because it always has been. Nothing is lost in those miles, because our closeness is intrinsic. I know that I can call him any time to talk about movies or physics or whether or not it’s okay to pee in the shower.
Quarks, which include Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Top, and Bottom, have never been studied on their own. Like quarks, Ben and I are never really on our own. There has not been a moment when I have doubted whether or not he was there for me. I’ve never known a world without Ben’s existence, and he’s never known one without mine. Our existences are tangled up together with the strength of gluons, and that will never change.