A few years ago, I was playing the messages back on my answering machine justas my husband, Jeff, was coming into the apartment. He heard a familiar voice and ran for the answering machine.
"It's Phil!" he yelled, shrugging out of his coat. "Pick up the phone. Phil's calling."
Only it wasn't Phil. It was Phil's identical twin brother, Jeff.
"Oh, it's me," my husband said sheepishly. Sheepish in the sense of Dolly, the cloned sheep.
When I was first dating Jeff, the prospect of marrying an identical twin seemed magical. Jeff spoke of his brother as if he were talking about himself, almost as if he could bi-locate and live two contrasting yet mutually enriching lives. Jeff worked at a literary agency in Manhattan and loved boy fiction, thrillers, and horror novels, while Phil was overtly spiritual, editing a journal dedicated to the study of myth and tradition. When they were together they seemed to merge into one complex yet cohesive personality. They talked like hyper-bright little boys, each of them bringing equal heat and erudition to Stephen King and esoteric teachings, baseball, and the possibility of spiritual transformation. They argued--and still argue--like Trotsky and Lenin, desperate to define themselves as individuals, yet they define themselves against each other. Jeff and Phil love their wives and children, but they obey the orders they get from the mothership of their identical DNA.
My husband and his twin brother live by E.M. Forster's admonition, "Only connect " The pair e-mail each other at their respective offices two, four, even more times a day. A few weeks ago, Phil wrote Jeff that he was trying to decide his favorite 10 films of all time. He listed Journey to the Center of the Earth, Star Wars, seven other boy classics, and asked for Jeff's help thinking up a 10th.
"Phil and i decided that Jurassic Park is our favorite movie of all time," announced Jeff the other evening at dinner" In the course of dozens of soothing little dispatches Phil's movie list and Jeff's movie list had become one.
My marriage to Jeff has locked me into a triangle. The bond between these twins amazes and amuses me, yet it fills me with an unappeasable longing. After all, unlike Phil's wife, Carol, who is an only child, I was conditioned even before I was born to be with a twin. I am a fraternal twin, a girl born 10 minutes after a boy.
"What do you get out of being a twin?', I asked my husband the first day we had lunch. "What insight does it give you that's harder for single people to understand?"
"Trust," said my husband. "That pure physical trust that comes when you know someone loves and accepts you completely because they are just like you are."
I knew the primordial closeness he was talking about. As tiny premature babies, my brother Steve and I used to cuddle in the same crib holding hands. My earliest memory is of being lifted up high and feeling incredible joy as I gazed into my mother's vast, radiant face. I was put back down on a bIg bed. I remember sensing another baby lying next to me, my twin. His presence felt deeply familiar, and I know I had sensed him before we were born. For me, in the beginning there was the light but there was also the son. In addition to the vertical relationship I had with Mommy, I also had a lateral relationship, a constant pre-verbal reassurance that I had a peer. I was in it with somebody else. This feeling of extending in two directions, horizontal and vertical, made up the cross of my emotional life.
At the age of 3, I remember standing in the grass on a hot, bright day in El Paso, Texas, aware as never before that my brother was different from me, not just because he was smaller then and a boy, but because he was different inside. I loved him and felt protective towards him, as I would throughout my childhood, lout I also felt the first stirrings of rebellion, of wanting to go vertical in my identity, to make it clear to my parents and everybody else that I was not the same as Steve.
I began to relish the idea of not being completely knowable. I developed a serious underground life. At 8, I twinned myself with an invisible black panther I called Striker. At 10, I became a spy I made cryptic notes in a notebook. I had sinister passport photos taken. I had a plastic revolver I carried in a plastic attache case. You may call me one of the twins, I thought to myself, but I come from a foreign country that has malevolent designs on your own.
No one ever calls me and Steve "the twins" anymore, except as an artifact of childhood. I tend to think of my birth twin, who is now a Porsche mechanic and a big, outdoorsy guy who lives with his wife and two kids in a small town outside of Boston, as the brother who was with me when I was born, who shared space with me in the womb. I feel close to him not because we are exactly the same, but because I still have bedrock sensation and empathy for his life.
Jeff claimed that his knowledge of trust from being an identical let him know that I was the person he wanted to marry. He felt twinship towards me right from the start he said, and I wasn't surprised. Accustomed to being twins, my husband and I fell right into acting like twins. We co-authored a book and both edit at Publisher's Weekly, yet we sometimes argue over who gets to use the little study in our apartment as if our identities were at stake. Lately, I've noticed that when I feel dominated by Jeff I tend to yearn for a "real" twin, a twin who mirrors me so lovingly and acceptingly that I can let go and be myself without fear or explanation. A single person might escape by daydreaming about a perfect lover, but my fantasies of romantic enmeshment have always incorporated the twin.
Years ago in Manhattan I was invited to attend a ceremony for the Santeria religion's god of thunder, Shango, because Shango loves twins. On the way, a revered old Cuban santera told me that twins were sacred in Santeria and in the African mother religion of Yoruba because they reflect the intersection of spirit and matter. Girl and boy twins were especially fascinating, according to the santera. Most girls were killed by the boy energy, they believed. A girl had to be very strong to survive.
The moment I heard that I realized that being a twin has heightened the drama of my life. Human beings are twin double, pulled between the desire to merge with another yet emerge as an authentic self. Twins fascinate, I believe, because we are an externalized representation of an internal struggle everybody lives with all their lives. We cast the illusion of solving the unsolvable, though we're no closer than anyone else.