Friday, September 12, 2008

Which One Are You Again?

When I was in high school, there was a certain boy in my life--a certain boy I liked quite a bit, even though I probably shouldn't have because my loving him brought about enough drama to saturate my life for the next six years--and that certain boy was a twin.

I have never ever, never once, met his twin, which is probably a good thing. Every time there was a possibility I might run into this boy when he was with his brother, I was seized by a panic that clutched me at the back of my throat. Would I be able to tell them apart? Would I say something stupid to the boy who wasn't the boy I loved? And what if I ran into them when they weren't together? That would be even worse. Would I see the twin and confuse him with my boy? Would I be snubbed and get angry for no reason? Would I whisper one of our inside joke on my way by and be rebuffed? Would I stop and carry on a conversation with him for five minutes only to find out I was talking to someone who thought I was a lunatic, a crazy girl who was trying to hit on him in the produce aisle of the grocery store?

It made me very, very nervous, and I dreaded getting mixed up in an incident with the twin. I had nightmares about the twin. I dreamt that I was accidentally kissing the twin when I wanted to be kissing my boy or that I was lost in a foreign country--so lost I was panicked and crying and certain I was two seconds from being abducted and locked in some windowless cell, where I would be tortured by political rebels who were bored and antsy and looking for someone to poke with a stick--and then the I saw a familiar face across the crowded bazaar. I started screaming the boy's name, but he wouldn't turn around. And when I got up in his face and started yelling at him, telling him, Please! You've got to help me! I'm so glad to see you! I'm so glad to see a familiar face! the twin just stared at me blankly, eventually walking away and leaving me alone and a target for torture.

I'm not going to lie: I occasionally still have those dreams. I might have had one this week.

But I know why. I know why I'm suddenly being haunted by the twin again. It's easy to understand, of course. It's simple.

I've got twins in one of my classes this semester.

I didn't recognize this immediately. On the first day, I made it through almost the entire class period without seeing two identical faces staring up at me. It wasn't until I was matching my roster up with the attendance list I'd circulated that I realized I had two guys with the same last name. "Hey, do I have brothers in this class?" I asked. All the students were busy preparing a self-reflection about their writing, and so when I looked up, the only two students looking up at me were the two I was speaking about. And that's when I realized it. Twins. Twins staring back at me, smiling.

"We're twins!" one of them said.

"Oh God," I said. "I am so screwed."

The class laughed, but I widened my eyes and examined their faces for something--anything that stood out as a difference. Nothing.

"No, really," I said. "I'm bad at names at the beginning of a semester anyway. With you guys, I'm thinking it might be a mess pretty much all semester."

"It's okay," one of them said. "Our mother gets us confused all the time."

Well, yeah. It wouldn't be hard to do that. The parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided to do that cutesy thing parents of twins have the habit of doing: they named them both with very similar names that start with the same letter. I guarantee that when those boys were little they worse matching sailor outfits. I'd bet anything on it.

And it turns out that they're not that far removed from wearing matching outfits these days either. The last time class met, the twins showed up to class and sat in their usual seats--they have the decency to sit with a friend in between them, so it's not twin overload--and I was all set and ready to make a conscious effort to learn one from the other, but my attempts were thwarted by the fact that both boys were wearing the exact same shirt.

One came up to ask me something before class started, and I needed to look something up on the syllabus in order to answer him, so he went back to his desk while I flipped through for the information I needed. When I looked back up and in his direction, I realized I had no idea which one had been standing in front of me a few seconds before. I looked at their faces--sweet, round, expectant--and sighed. "Guys, I'm sorry, but I have no idea which one of you was just up here," I said.

That night I went home and fell asleep to dream about my old boy and his twin, about me making a fool out of myself in front of nearly everyone in the world--which, of course, is what worries me the most about twins. I hate to appear stupid or slow or confused. I like to appear to have all the answers--every last one--at every minute, every hour, every day. I realize this is silly, that of course no one has all the answers every minute, every hour, every day, but these twins and their matching faces and shirts are seriously going to cramp the anal retentive must-appear-to-be-in-the-know-no-matter-what thing that has hung over me since my first twins, since the first time I dreamed of the twins, a dream where I was pregnant and picking out a loaf of French bread and my father dragged one of the boys over to me--the wrong one, as it turns out--and said, "ARE YOU THE BASTARD WHO IMPREGNATED MY DAUGHTER?" and the poor twin looked at my father like he was crazy and said, "I have no idea who your daughter even is." And you can bet my father gave me quite the talking-to then.

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