The cover of the New York Times Magazine Sunday (5-29-11) is a poignant photograph of two smiling four-year old girls joined at the scalp. They share a thalamus so there’s no possibility of their being separated. Amazingly, it seems that what one sees or tastes is transmitted to the senses of the other. In some ways, they’re separate identical twins and in some ways they’re one person.
I saw this cover just before my birthday, today, when I turn the same age my father was when he died.
When I saw the photo of the twins in their twisted position, I immediately thought of my relationship to my sister, my only sibling, who’s three and a half years older than I am. I think of this scene often: our little beige bodies taking a bath together when I was 2 and she was 5, seen from a corner near the ceiling. I remember having argued about which of us got the faucet end of the bathtub, my mother scrubbing us and pulling us out to dry us off, and sweet soap smells. That scene must represent to me the innocent days of how I felt about her.
At that age, I idolized her. She and my parents were my whole world. But she was like a twin, one of me; they weren’t. I thought I knew her well, maybe like these joined twins know each other. We were made out of exactly the same stuff and our parents weren’t. Maybe it was narcissism on my part, but I preferred her. She did kid things and played with toys and they lived in the world of grownups, which I didn’t relate to at that age.
It began to slowly dawn on me in the next year or two that revering her as a wonderful sister, who could do everything I hoped I’d learn how to do, wasn’t anything like the way she felt about me. And after I finally accepted that she actually disliked me, I began to dislike her back. So we limped and crashed our ways through our childhoods and our adulthoods and after our parents died that was the end of it. Our twisted relationship ended in a kind of death.
The little joined girls, who sometimes refer to themselves as stuck, have an accepting family. The article about them said they’re closest to their positive and loving grandmother, who lives with them. They have supportive parents, other relatives, and a medical system as well.
I wish I knew what really happened in my family and what might have happened had my parents sought professional help for us. Was our sisterhood doomed before it began? Could it have been saved?
I’m happy that my two daughters grew up being fond of each other. All four of my children have good feelings about one another.
So today on my birthday I’m thinking of all of my family, all of my friends, and two little girls I don’t know. To the birthday messages waiting for me, I want to say Happy Birthday back.