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I used to have this recurring nightmare, so I wasn’t surprised that death wore my face. I would wander the halls of a carnival fun-house while eerie accordion music kept perfect time with my pounding heartbeat. I was surrounded by mirrors, my own wide-eyed face watched me from every possible angle. I’d turn and—there!—I’d be looking back at me, and I was never quite sure if it was really me or my death, watching me, waiting for her chance to strike.
When it first started, I didn’t take the dream as anything more than a representation of my childhood fear of carnivals, sprung from an incident when I was small. I had gotten lost in the maze of mirrors, unable to find Mary or my parents. We had been playing tag, and Mary had given me the slip. I wandered the hall for what felt like hours, fighting with all of my young strength to keep from crying—Mary wouldn’t cry if she were in my place, so I wouldn’t either—I tried to find my way out, but the mirrors bewildered me and soon I simply curled into a ball and went to sleep, with a four-year-old’s conviction that I would be home when I woke up.
I got lost many times in my younger years, always trying to keep up with Mary in some game or another and always failing miserably. By the time I was six, I began to suspect that the many incidents were no accidents, and that my sister was purposely trying to lose me.
“She would never do that! She’s your sister!”
I was punished of course; my parents would not tolerate lying. I didn’t understand it then, and I believed that my parents must be right, and that it just had to be my own runaway imagination making me think that Mary was out to get me.
When we were older, maybe ten, maybe eleven, our parents told us the story of our birth. We had suffered from a disease that had nearly killed me and Mary. She stole my blood from me, and grew so large as to all but eclipse me within our mother’s womb. Just as she was becoming a real threat to my existence and a threat to her own health, we were taken from the womb, three and a half months early. I was born a tiny, repulsive thing. Crinkled and purple, smaller by far then the angelic Mary.
From our birth, she had always been the better twin: the stronger twin, the prettier twin, the sweeter twin. Mary was the paragon of what our DNA could be, and, in most eyes, should be. We were identical, but Mary belonged to our features in a way that I never did. The long limbs that served her well through our High School years and beyond only managed to make me awkward and gangly. Her blonde was of the honey colored variety that made many sigh with envy, while mine tended to look as if mustard and cheap paint had gotten into a fight and lost.
Growing up, Mary was forever being embarrassed by me. I would trip over my own feet or say the worst thing at the worst possible time, but, unlike many siblings, she could no more deny the relationship between us than she could deny that the grass was green, the sky was blue, and that the sun rose in the east, except on Venus. Our faces were mirrors of one another, perfect copies, painstakingly etched by Mother Nature.
Mary always resented that.
For her, it seemed as if I had stolen the glory meant for her, and her alone. Despite my social awkwardness, I had many friends, people that sought my company and my opinions, and some who, for unfathomable reasons, preferred me to Mary. That I couldn’t entirely be written off has her uglier half, existing for the sole purpose of making her look better, always irritated Mary. “Share with your sister,” was the catchphrase of our existence, and the bane of hers. She hated that we had but one room between the two of us, one closet, and, later, one car. I never minded the sharing, and despite her wish to have nothing to do with me, I often sought her company. I loved my sister, strange as it may seem now. I tried to be there for her, to help her in whatever way I could, but she wanted none of it. My attempted kindnesses were brushed off, ignored, insulted. Mary was the star, and she was determined to stand alone.
We grew up. I moved on, she didn’t. I left town and went to a small college on scholarship. I worked as a waitress and then as a manager at a local diner, serving pancakes while studying for my Bar exam. By the time I graduated, I had enough money to buy a small apartment in a nearby city. It wasn’t much, but it was my own home and something I shared with no one. A true novelty. Mary lived in our house while attending the Community College. Our old room, with its two beds, served as a constant reminder that she had another half and that someone else was wandering around wearing her face. When she graduated, she drifted for awhile, going from job to job, renting apartments with roommates she never liked. Her whole being was focused on the single act of hating me, leaving nothing of her for anything else.
It was our twenty-seventh birthday before we knew it, I had a good job in a small firm and Mary was working decent paying desk job at a large corporation. To celebrate, my friends dragged me out of my apartment to a nice restaurant. The waiter, Sean, spilled the desert tray on me. While he helped clean up the mess, he somehow managed to ask me out, promising that he wouldn’t spill crÃ¨me-brÃ»lée or tiramisu on me. It amazed me that I agreed to that date, even more so when I agreed to a second, and a third, and a fourth. What’s worse is that I married him.
Mary was the maid of honor. How could she not be? My beloved twin sister was right beside me every step of the way. I know she tried to outshine me; the blue we chose for my bridesmaids’ gowns complimented her eyes in the most stunning way, but I forgave her that. Everyone says that it’s hard for an older sister to watch her younger sister get married before her, even if she was older by a lone minute, two at best.
Sean and I stayed in my apartment for a year or two, but, in the end, we decided to move. Though it had been spacious enough for us, it just did not have the space to accommodate four.
It was right around the time that we started house hunting that Mary moved nearby. She missed me, she said, and she wanted to be closer to us, even more so because of the imminent arrival of her nieces or nephews. I wasn’t at all sure that I trusted her to live so near to me, to Sean, and to our children, but I couldn’t very well tell my sister that. So, even though I disliked it, I showed up on move-in day smiling and ready to help arrange the décor of Mary’s new apartment, only a few blocks from where Sean and I lived.
It was odd. I had been fine without my sister, thriving without her, but now that she was so close, I couldn’t keep myself away from her. We went shopping, we talked, and we shared everything: from my husband’s habit of singing Frank Zappa songs while in the shower to her latest beau’s penchant for stamp collecting. It felt, for the first time, like we were, in truth, sisters. There was no glass wall between us, no bitterness, no hatred. It seemed as if Mary, at last, loved me the way I had always loved her. I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think that maybe it was all an act.
Two months passed and I found myself screaming in pain, breaking Sean’s hand, and cursing him to oblivion with words I hadn’t used since my days as a college waitress. I don’t know why I chose to have a natural birth, but I did take the painkillers. It would be a cold, cold day in hell before I shoved two watermelon-sized human beings out of me without being severely doped up on epidurals. It still hurt. I think I passed out at some point, but I woke up again as soon as the next wave of contractions hit me.
At the end of the day, sweaty, exhausted, and still excessively irritable, I watched as they took my baby girls off to the room where they would be monitored. It was a premature birth, a month ahead of schedule. Like mother, like daughter, in some ways, but my children were much healthier than I had been, stronger. I felt a weak smile spread over my face as Sean followed after the babies. Mary stayed.
I dozed for awhile, lingering in the place between sleep and wakefulness, but when a hand wrapped around my throat, I was brought jerked back into reality. Mary hovered above me, and I felt a horrible, choking pressure at my throat. It was difficult to breath, almost impossible. She smiled at me, mocking me, finally victorious, finally acting upon hatred that had festered our entire lives, as I choked and sputtered, fighting for my life.
It’s a horrible thing, to be proved right.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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