Finding Space to Cultivate Mutual Respect

The young woman who wrote this essay chooses to remain anonymous. I deeply appreciate her willingness to share her emotional journey through a painful yet poignant separation from her identical twin sister.

Then and Now: A Personal Essay on Coping with Twin Estrangement

Long ago, my identical twin sister and I began to assume opposing posts. One donned blue, the other pink. One was a bookworm, the other seemed to educate herself out of her own inner brilliance. Yet we both played the cello, vying for first chair from week to week. We both engaged in some light PETA activism at our local Kentucky Fried Chicken after getting home from school. How I have longed for a reality where we as adults could be reminiscing about those middle-school days, finding humorous and hopeful the recent reality of swarms of people lining up at KFC doors, ready to try their buckets of vegan fried chicken. There was an unspoken leader in our cello phase, and certainly in the more aggressive tones of the KFC picketing phase as well. But unspoken it was. And as things kept unspoken tend to do, it choked us of the experience of grace and space to cultivate mutual respect—for one another as well as for ourselves. Growing up, I never yearned to be anything but half of us, while she always seemed to have surgical tools in hand ready to cut away at our conjoined condition.

Yet as night fell each day, conjoined we were. We would find repose by pushing our beds together and positioning ourselves so that our backs would touch. Sister’s back seemingly supporting sister’s back no matter the dramas that unfolded throughout the day. I am sure we spent many nights in our own beds, a healthy distance from one another. I am sure there were times where we neglected to even mutter a good night. Those memories fade, however, against a backdrop of the rituals we created. For instance, the Morse code–like twitching of my/her spine as if to let the other know, “I am still awake. Are you?”

I have learned time and time again that we are separate individuals. Well, the lessons have been dealt. One year I was ill and hospitalized for months and homeschooled the rest of that middle-school year. We lived completely separate and startlingly complete lives apart from one another during our college years. Yet it was as if each of us retained the right to intrude and interlude at will with the honor bestowed upon us by twinship. There was no favor, no sacrifice, no lapse in courtesy too great. Intermittent dependence was the theme for over a decade.

Our dynamic had long become unbalanced, illuminating a blinding light on a teetering seesaw. It was as if her life was in me, inside of my being, my thoughts, my hopes and fears, and yet she was not in mine. Now living within a few hours of driving distance from one another, for every 30 visits I made to see her, she would come to my world once. Fierce sisterly love had no chance at victory in battles of petty jealousy or antics of screaming wildly for attention. We behaved like detectives, frantic for proof that at the end of the day we were still, in fact, somehow assuming the position of back supporting back. In putting the neglected parts of myself together to create some whole person able to withstand abandonment, I realized I had never really learned to be my own self. Not until this twin marriage finally surrendered to divorce did I really learn my lesson. How uncanny that the splitting dance of embryonic twins continues to clone itself through life’s phases. The splitting in the womb gave us individual lives. Parting ways as adults may have also done just that. Although for quite some time, it felt like death. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that there comes a time when it’s vital to “give up,” so to speak, without feeling as if it’s letting go or betraying kin.

I love my sister. I love to know she is herself, and that I can be myself also. I don’t know what will come of our sisterhood or our friendship, but I do know that because I love her, this space between us is as connected as it gets. Drifted apart only to become whole—our own versions of whole. These words become a prayer to me. For I am grateful and hopeful and feel blessed to have my particular lens from which to view myself and others. May such shared experiences be a lesson to those who mourn the loss of relationships or connections that have disappointed, injured, and made us feel disjointed. A lesson to all those who have felt denied, cast away, or alone. A push for loving who you are and also acknowledging the great universe of beings of which you are a single, tiny, mighty part.

Image courtesy of Boris Thaser (CC BY 2.0)

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