Something I’ve had my entire life is a twin sister. We met for the first time in the womb, not post-womb as most siblings do. We rolled around together as tiny alien-looking humans in a sack of amniotic fluid, keeping each other company as our due date approached. Our lives began from the exact same place; one egg split into two separate entities. Two identical looking parts designed for entirely different realities, little did we know, when we were that small…
From a young age my twin sister and I spent each waking moment together doing all the familiar, cliche things people expect you to do when you’re a twin. We liked the same foods, dressed similarly, played the same games. We developed a sign language of our own where we used our hands to spell out the words we wished to communicate. We made up dance routines (L’Shem Shirley Temple), sang Aly & AJ songs, and watched Lizzie McGuire and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody together. We were always in the same classes in elementary school, doing the same math problems, and eating the same tuna salad with gherkin pickles from the same icky plastic Tupperware containers.
We spent the majority of our lives in the same friend groups, often sharing a best friend or two between us. We shared our childhood and we moved to New York together.
In the presence of regular mortals, twins stand out. My sister and I have spent much of our time meeting new people answering the same repetitive questions, over and over.
“Do you read each other’s mind?”
“Do you have your own language?”
“If I punch her, will you feel it?”
“Do people mix you up a lot?”
“Have you ever dated the same person?”
“Do you have the same friends?”
“Do you do everything together?”
“Are you best friends?”
“So what’s it like being a twin?”
Having a twin sister means sharing your life from the moment G-d determined He was going to bring you into fruition. It means knowing her better than she knows herself and accepting the notion that another person’s existence will define your identity forever and beyond, for better or for worse. Someone will always be there criticizing you, questioning your every movement and inconsistency, expecting you to hold up your side of the coin. Naturally, you are the spokesperson for all twins. You can make any general twin statement you choose to declare and the masses will take you seriously (it’s fun, all twins should try this).
A by product of all this togetherness was the slow and gradual struggle to create a unique identity that was only mine and not my sister’s. This was something I never noticed I lacked until my gap year in Israel.
When my sister and I were deciding which seminary to spend our gap year in, we ended up choosing the same one. This was not because we wanted to be together, in fact, we purposefully wanted to go to separate schools. For some reason, we both genuinely felt a connection to the place we chose and saw clearly what it had to offer us. We were excited to go to Israel together, even if that meant coming in as “the twins.”
However, it’s quite unfortunate that most people don’t know how to act upon encountering twins for the first time. They tend to point enthusiastically and skip through various areas of small talk in order to engage in a large game of “spot the differences between the two images.” Upon arriving at our seminary my sister and I were baffled at the difficult time the other girls had telling us apart.
Many people claimed to be “freaked out” by our “twinness” as if they’d never seen two similar looking human beings before. Behavior like this only made my sister and I closer. We couldn’t help but cling together in order to hide from the chattering voices that couldn’t seem to see past our oddly similar looking faces (we don’t even look that similar anymore). The irony of the situation is how different our personalities are — it just takes time and a little bit of patience to learn this.
Naturally, we’ve spent our entire lives getting confused for one another, being called the wrong name, and by default, subconsciously internalizing each other as integral parts of our identities. While we each found very different paths in college and our careers, we still identify as the most familiar part of each other’s lives, and whether we like it or not, we’re biologically two halves of a whole and maybe even a soul.
But what happens when your other half decides to join someone else’s whole?
When my sister got engaged there were a few things that didn’t register right away, and on some level, still haven’t.
The first is that she’d actually be getting married, the second is that she’d be leaving. These were things I was certain were not real. I was happy for her, thrilled to see her so full of sparkly light, but part of me sat in dark and dingy, stone-cold denial.
There’s no way she’s actually going to leave.
And when I say leave, I mean leave New York to start a new life in Los Angeles with a person who wasn’t me in a house I’d never live in.
As we prepped for her wedding over the summer and early fall, it still didn’t hit me. We booked a hall, found a dress, and did all the necessary crying and things, despite how fake it all felt.
Even after my sister found a job in Los Angeles and signed the lease to her new apartment, I refused to hear it.
She wasn’t leaving.
Of course she wasn’t.
Around 1 am the night before her wedding we sat in her bed holding hands and crying. This was odd for us as despite our close relationship, we were both pretty closed emotionally and didn’t really hold each other’s hands (they felt too much like our own). As the tears fell the truth started to sink in just a few, tolerable inches at a time.
Through muffled voices and oceans of tears, my sister and I verbalized what we had both been thinking for months.
How could Hashem be doing this to us?
We’re supposed to be together.
Our kids were supposed to be neighbors.
We were supposed to be present in each other’s lives.
I wasn’t supposed to need a plane ticket to see the human being I had spent my entire existence with. The only person who has known me from birth, the one who shared a childhood with me, as well as the same memories and experiences from day one.
And still, reality took its time. It played it cool as we packed up the car and drove to the hall. It remained discreet as my sister donned her gown and began posing for photographs. Reality remained distant and suspicious as my sister walked down the aisle, sparkling like the snow queen from the chronicles of Narnia without her villainous nuances.
Reality showed its face in broad daylight as my sister began to circle around the man she was moments away from marrying. With each circle the truth encroached upon the present. I wished she would turn around, rewind the cassette.
Who said you could leave anyway?
With each circle I reached out my hand and held on to hers (we were doing that hand-holding thing again). The physical reality of my sister journeying on to the next part of her life without me suddenly became so tangible. There were no words, only tears and little smiles with the perfect lip to teeth ratio.
I promise I was happy for her. I promise I am everyday. But I’ll never forget those circles.
I’ll never forget the moment my twin sister promised herself to another human who wasn’t and would never be me.
The first few days after she moved away are something of a blur. I went back to my life as if nothing ever happened. The whole thing felt like a dream — the blurry kind where you wake up with a headache, confused as to whether you’ve prophesied an integral part of your future, or if you’ve re-lived an old truth of someone else’s.
There she goes, all grown up and ready to fly. I trust her, I love her, and I know she knows what’s best for herself. My only question was — where does my sister’s new life and identity leave me?
Twinless, single, and for what felt like the first time in my life, alone.
The morning after my sister left was the first day of the rest of life.
Anyone I meet in New York will now only know me as an individual. Anyone new will know me only outside of the realms of my identical twin sister. They’ll know me for my personality, my job, my hobbies, my writing, my music…
They won’t begin by trying to tell the difference between myself and my twin. They won’t waste time trying to develop quick ways to differentiate between the two of us. We can skip the “twin chat,” the little jokes, and the games, and get to know each other as two individuals as opposed to three. And then, when I’m good and ready, I can introduce the fact that yes, I do have a twin sister, on my own time; and you’d better believe I have pictures available.
There’s something liberating about the ability to explore your identity outside of the realms of another person — the ability to look at yourself as an individual and choose your own path. Making decisions alone, checking over your own resume, and searching out like-minded people on similar journeys. It’s difficult to explore when there’s another person so firmly planted in the picture; it’s difficult enough as it is.
Being without my sister has taught me to live for myself — whether that’s a good thing or not. Children without siblings close in age will never understand the extra level of difficulty that comes with hunting for your identity. Someone always wants more of you, someone is always frowning at the person you’re seeing, saying, “you can do better.” Someone who loves you too much, whether a close friend, a parent, a sibling, or a twin, will always try to tell you what’s best for you. My sister is two minutes older than me and for some reason, seen as more mature, more capable, and more of an adult. Embracing life in her absence has showed me how much I am all of these things as well, despite constant comparisons that whether we like it or not, are forever.
One night during my year in Israel I had gone into town alone to meet a friend, or maybe he was more than that. I did not tell my sister where I was going as we had both made separate plans for the night. I don’t remember much about that evening other than traveling home by myself, deeply upset by something — the type of upset you shouldn’t be alone for. I chose to walk home to Har Nof from the Tachana Merkazeit in Jerusalem where I often spent my time sitting under the bridge that’s shaped like a harp. As I ventured home my phone began to ring. It was my sister. This was strange because she never called me as we spent so much time in the same space. I had been crying and I didn’t want to pick up the phone.
But just in case, I answered and squished my phone to my ear.
“Hello,” I said as coherently as I could.
“What’s wrong,” she demanded immediately.
“How do you know something’s wrong?” I questioned.
“I had a really strong feeling,” she said.
“How did you know?” I asked again.
“I just did, now come home.” and with that, I hung up and jumped on the next bus.
Since this moment I never felt bad for telling people that my sister and I can read each other’s minds — because the answer is quite clear, we can.
In the absence of my sister I’ve traveled to a new country alone, found a new community, and started a new job.
I started looking at myself as an individual, instead of as the other half of something greater. Does this mean that our loved ones enable us? I’d say so. Does it mean that keeping them at bay is healthier than it seems? Again, I think so.
I also know that I love my sister more than most things in the entire world, and no matter where life takes us, I have to trust that we’re winning. I have to trust that when God decided it was time for my sister to find her husband, it was time for me to find myself.
Thank you Lexi for allowing me to share our story,
Thank you Rachel Kann for the title.