Have you ever been told that there’s someone else out there, someone in Buffalo or Tulsa or Paris, France, who looks like you? Just like you?

 

I once read that we all have a twin somewhere. An exact duplicate of ourselves, someone we’ve not met, but who would knock our socks off if we ever passed on the street. I always wanted a twin. Someone just my age, just my size, just my frame of mind. Someone I could pin the blame on when I got in trouble, someone who would never question the obvious – that I am funny and smart and pretty- someone who’d know just what I was going to say and save me the trouble of having to say it if I didn’t feel like talking. A person who would fill up the space between the rest of the world and me, protect me from being alone. They say twins have a secret language. I believe it.

 

Tanya and Tenaya don’t ever say much in my presence. They hardly say anything intelligible to one another, but Tanya seems to know when Tenaya wants to play, and Tenaya sure seems to know when Tanya has told a joke, because they start laughing at the same time, right on cue, at a punch line I never even had a chance of hearing, much less understanding. Martha and Mary seem to use language as way of completing each other. Martha always knows just what’s about to come out of Mary’s mouth, because she is forever able to expertly pick up where Martha ends (in the middle) and finish the sentence or question for her. Mary gets it right each time. I’ve never seen them argue over how a sentence did eventually end, what turn a question took, or even, the way an opinion was expressed. I asked Atticus and Alexander’s mom if Alexander is more closed and guarded than his twin. In the photograph I made of them, Alexander’s hands are pulled up inside his sleeves, his knees are locked tight, his body is saying, “stay away from me!” Atticus appears, on the other hand, open and relaxed. Their mom told me that if I had waited to take the picture the next day, or even, the next hour, they would have switched, and it would have been Atticus protecting himself, Alexander the free and easy one.

 

I am no expert on twins. I have, however, learned these facts: Identical twins result from the splitting of a fertilized egg. They share 100% of their DNA. They are the same sex. They have similar hand and footprints, but different fingerprints and teeth marks. Twenty-five percent of twins are mirror twins – one is right handed, the other left-handed, and the whorls in their hair go in different directions. One in 250 births results in identical twins. No one knows why the egg splits.

 

Lots of twins I’ve met claim to have the same lucky number, drive the same make and color car, pick out the same clothes when shopping even if the other twin is half way across the country. One set I know of even broke the same arm, one on a Saturday night, the other, the following Sunday morning.

 

The thing about identical twins that really gets me, though, is how different they are. At first glance, it’s true, they are amazingly the same. But after spending a couple of extra minutes investigating, we can get caught up in the differences… the slightly lopsided mouth of one, the narrowing of the eyes of the other... the air of self confidence of one, the shyness of the other. It seems that just when we think there is no space between twins, a notion that feels safe and warm and secure, we notice it – and that distance somehow looms larger and is more clearly defined than it might be with two people who don’t look a thing alike.

 

It’s that space that interests me. The space between us is the place where we feel alone, sad, angry, frustrated. It’s comforting to think of someone always being there to act as a buffer to those feelings. Perhaps it’s more realistic to think of that space as the thing that defines us, that makes each of us who we are.