I’ve been a human specimen going on
twenty years now, ever since my sister and I were twelve, when my parents
enrolled us in California State University’s Twin Study. Every four years the two
of us, along with several hundred other pairs of identical twins from
California, meet in the same depressing chain hotelin Fresno to be tested, prodded, and poked. “YOU
ARE SPECIAL!!!” begins the notice for every one of these meetings. Whoopee. I’m
special. Not because of anything I’ve done, no, of course not. I’m special
because I’m genetically identical to another person, a person I haven’t seen in
four years, since the last meeting of the California Twin Study.
Shall I enumerate the
many hates associated with this event? First, I hate the hotel. In particular,
I can’t stand the central atrium; it gives me a bad eighties feeling—of
wine bars, terrycloth sweatbands, neon flamingos. It reminds me of that
horrible era (between the first and second meetings) when Samantha and I were
in our early teens and it was first becoming clear that we were not the same.
Of course, we were identical genetically; what’s more, we shared a placenta;
but inside, in our brains, souls, and hearts, we weren’t the same. This became
apparent slowly, even though I knew what Samantha was going to say before she
said it, and I knew which boys she’d like before she met them, and we always
got up at the same time in the night to pee, among other uncanny similarities.
Second, I hate the rooms, with their big smoked-glass windows overlooking the swimming
pool. The glass heats up in the sun and then ticks all night as it cools. I
hate the bar, tucked in a dark hole under the escalator, smelling of smoke,
though smoking is forbidden in California bars. That’s third. Fourth, I hate Fresno, a sad, crumbling town, surrounded on all sides by endless rows of crops, like an island in a vegetable
sea. I hate the twin researchers, who for the most part are cheerful and kind,
dorky in the way of tenured academics—ten years behind in fashion—and
who do not have dark doubles, I’m sure of it. But most of all, what are we on,
six? Yes, I hate seeing Samantha, my twin sister, once every four years.
“Then don’t go.” This advice
comes from Ivan, my new husband. “If you dread seeing your sister, don’t
torture yourself. Stay home.”
“That’s a good idea,” I reply with conviction,
though I’ve already bought our plane tickets and reserved a suite in the
horrible hotel. “What about the money?”
“They can shove it,” says Ivan.
He’s older than me by fifteen years, solid and rich from practicing contract
law all day long in a high-rise building. Every morning he shaves his mostly
bald head so that it’s totally bald. I find him handsome, in a sinister way. Of
course it’s true that he may not be the most benevolent person in the world.
But he’s kind to me. And there is much to be said for a man like Ivan, a man
who can make me feel very safe even while driving very fast.
“What about science?”
“Fuck science.” Ivan sits on the
bed and puts on his shoes. A well-dressed man, a successful man, maybe even a
little ruthless. I try not to think about that too much, but I come across the
evidence. A nasty, anonymous letter in the mailbox. A stone through the front
window. And then there’s his son, Jason, from his previous marriage, who stays
over with us one weekend a month. He is, as far as I can tell, a complete
monster. But maybe this has nothing to do with Ivan. Thirteen is never a good
“I already bought us plane
tickets,” I confess.
“Okay, if that’s what you really
want,” says Ivan, putting his jacket on, then coming closer and putting his arm
around me. “We’ll go together.” I follow him down the stairs. In the hall he
picks up his briefcase, kisses me on the forehead, and sails out the front
door. I stand in the doorway in my bathrobe, waving like a 1950s housewife.
“Call Lana,” he yells back, “and let her know the details.”
This is the moment I love, right
after Ivan leaves for work. I love our big house with the old hardwood floors
that gleam like honey in the sunlight. I love the eight-thousand-dollar couch
in the living room, with its thick down cushions and velvet upholstery. I love
the mesquite wood table in the hall where we pile our mail. I love having it
all to myself and knowing that nothing, nothing can ruin our life. Our safe,
comfortable, happy life.
Later in the day, I call Lana, Ivan’s
secretary, and tell her about the trip to
. Lana keeps Ivan’s schedule, business
and social, and has since before we met.
“He has Jason that weekend,” she says.
“So go by yourself.”
“I don’t want to go by myself,” I say.
And then, to my surprise, I say, “I want him to meet my sister. Can’t Jason
“Jason cannot switch weekends.”
“Are you sure?”
“Honey,” Lana lowers her voice, “you
should see the divorce agreement. It’s like a phone book.”
“Oh,” I say. I can well imagine. I have,
after all, seen my prenuptial. “Then what should we do?”
“Give me your flight number,”
replies Lana, “I’ll get Jason a ticket too.”
YOU ARE SPECIAL!!!
Over the twenty-year lifespan of the
California Twin Study, we’ve gathered vital information that has been of great
benefit to the fields of science, social science, and medicine. Some of the
data we’ve collected from our participants has been useful in our understanding
Changing American Family
We are delighted by your continuing
participation in the California Twin Study and look forward to seeing you
at our next meeting.
The following weekend will be dizygotic, fraternal twins, the control group.
Our weekend is monozygotic, identical twins, the freaks. Already the hotel lobby
is filled with pairs of people in their thirties who look either somewhat or
exactly alike. Sometimes it’s the same face on different bodies—one twin
is fatter than the other, or one twin has taken up body building. Often it’s
the same face with different hair color, hair length, facial hair, hair anything.
One twin is an Elvis impersonator—need I say more? Then there are the
twins who look exactly the same. It’s strange to see them milling around the
lobby, talking in pairs or greeting each other with bear hugs. Like most people,
I’m not used to seeing identical adults. They all look gigantic. Twinning is
something that one encounters in children or babies, little girls with matching
dresses, adorable boys with matching caps; adult twins seem aberrant, even to
me. Yet here we are. Some of us even move the same way, or use the same gestures.
Our brains are wired up the same. It’s a trick of genetics, a dirty trick.
I go to the registration
desk at the far end of the god-awful atrium and pick up my name tag. It says
mz: amanda 173. That’s me, Monozygotic
“Has MZ Samantha
173 picked up her tag yet?”
The clerk tells
me that she has not. It’s perpetually up in the air, of course, whether Samantha
will even show up for these weekends. But she always has. She generally needs
Jason and Ivan
are on the lobby couches, ignoring each other. “This place sucks,” Jason says.
Indeed, the hotel remains as noxious as ever, though they’ve painted the exterior
pink since my last visit.
“Maybe you’ll like
the swimming pool!” I smile brightly.
Jason smiles back.
“Gee whiz, Mom, maybe I will!”
“Don’t call her
Mom,” Ivan says.
“Why not? I thought
you’d be happy if I called her Mom.”
“Enough. Just quit
Ivan is in a suit.
Ivan is always in a suit. Jason is in baggy shorts that seem to be swallowing
his beanpole frame—all knees and elbows. He carries his belongings in
a paper bag with the name of a health food store on it. In this sad detail I
see a thumbnail sketch of his mother, a harried, distracted, slightly overweight
woman Ivan ditched around the time he met me. Jason is also carrying a skateboard
and a headset CD player turned up so loud that I can hear it once the elevator
doors close. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a woman screaming the words “fuck
the pain away” into his ears.
“What’s with all
the stupid farms?” Due to the CD player, Jason is yelling.
the headphones away from his head. “That’s where your food comes from,” he tells
him. “Where did you think?”
Jason looks like
his dad, but softer, moppish, due to his age and also the fact that he has hair—which
is greasy and falls into his eyes. I don’t know how he manages to be simultaneously
sullen and hyper—it’s some trick he does with hormones and Clearasil.
In the elevator, I can feel him staring at my breasts. I’m relieved when the
doors open. We all tromp down the hall. Lana has managed to exchange our suite
for two adjoining rooms. Ivan ushers Jason into his room and shuts his door.
Our room sports an intriguing blue theme. Blue bedspread. Blue carpet.
“A romantic weekend
in Fresno ,” says Ivan, pulling me close, “just the three of us.”
We’ve only been
married six months so Ivan does a lot of this, pulling me close and so forth.
I like it, of course; I love his aftershave. Though at this moment I find myself
less appreciative of Ivan and more focused on an idea: I want to show him off
to Samantha. Oh god. See how normal I am? See how nice and rich and stable
Without a knock,
Jason barrels through the door and jumps onto our bed. He’s wearing his swim
trunks, and his skinny back is dotted with acne. He rolls onto his back in a
kittenish way. “Does your sister look like you?”
“Pretty much. Her
hair is usually different.” I don’t say anything about our breasts, of course.
Mine are bigger. I had an operation.
“Hey Dad, don’t
you think that’s weird?”
“I think it’s weird.”
Ivan adopts a weary
tone. “Okay Jason, why do you think it’s weird?”
“Well, you married
her. Maybe you’ll be attracted to her sister. Maybe you’ll want
to grab her ass like you’re always grabbing Amanda’s.”
Ivan. “Get out of here. Go to the pool.” He chases Jason out and slams the door
to the adjoining room.
He just wants your attention, I say to myself, but I don’t say it to
Ivan. I’m not about to intercede on the little monster’s behalf.
Ivan takes some work out of his briefcase
and settles into a chair. He hasn’t come along on this trip just for pleasure—that
wouldn’t be like Ivan. He has some business to do in
, some deal with some client or some building or some pile
of money. Ivan doesn’t bother to explain the mechanics of his firm’s doings to
me. I find this slightly romantic, as if he’s working for gangsters. While he
skims his papers I give the registration desk one more call. No, Monozygotic
Samantha 173 has not checked in. Not yet.
My sister and I used to have better days.
That’s one thing the twin researchers don’t ask us about, though they ask us
about many things—our habits, states of mind, loves, and incomes—and
they take our blood and measure our brainwaves and so forth. But they don’t ask
about watching early morning cartoons together, laughing at all the same parts,
or running apace through the oaks behind our house, or the perfectly
synchronized water ballet routines we made up as little girls. They don’t ask
what it’s like to wake up to one’s own double image, realizing you’ve both just
had the same dream about the ocean swallowing the shoreline. They don’t ask
about the intimacy, the incredible, terrifying intimacy. Or what it’s like when
I feel restless, so I go down to mill
about with the other twins in the lobby. Samantha is nowhere in sight. The
Elvis and his non-Elvis twin are sitting on a couch, leafing through a photo
album. My stomach is bothering me, so I go to the bar and order a glass of
The bartender is puffy but pretty, an
overfed farm girl in a polyester vest. She answers me with a “What?”
We go back and forth about four times
before I add, “It comes from cows.” The researchers don’t ask about this
either. Do people understand you when you speak? The bartender tells me
that I’ll have to try the coffee shop. Instead, I wander out of the hotel, to
the cavernous entryway—a ribbon of sidewalk crouching under a huge
concrete awning. And there is Samantha, sitting in an idling Impala, a boxy
number from the sixties. She’s smoking a cigarette and chewing gum, her hair
streaked blond and clumped, like she’s been driving all day. I guess she’s been
waiting for me. She slides over and opens the passenger door.
I get in and she puts the car in gear.
That’s all it takes—just stepping off the curb, into a car, and it’s
the two of us once again.
“You know what I don’t get?”
No hellos, no catching up. It’s always
“I don’t get why there are no dog
petting zoos.” She rolls down the window and lets her arm hang out. “Then
nobody would have to be responsible for one full time. We could just pay our
money and go into a yard full of really nice, fluffy golden retrievers and
dachshund puppies or whatever.”
“Someone would have to clean up all the
shit,” I say.
“Not me. I paid my money.”
I think about it. “That’s actually kind
of a good idea. There could be a cat section too.”
Samantha tosses me a
pack of cigarettes. I put one in my mouth but don’t light it. It feels so easy,
to just fall into things with Samantha. It feels so easy to just be half of her
and let her be half of me. Everything else begins to get dimmer. I half-think
of Ivan, back in the room, leafing through papers. I half-think of the twin
researchers, sharpening their pencils, waiting to interview us in the morning. Question:
Do people understand you when you speak? Answer: Only my sister.
“Check this out, up here
on the left,” she says. “Hair sperm.”
There’s a strip mall
with a haircutting place called “Hair & Perm” beside the road; the
ampersand has been placed unfortunately close to the word “perm.”
“That’s really funny.”
“You always say ‘That’s
really funny’ instead of laughing.”
“I know, because you
always complain about it.”
I lean against the car
door and look over at Samantha. She’s blonder than I am, which is new, and
certainly grubbier, wearing jeans and a tank top versus my tasteful little
linen suit. As always, she has our long legs and thick hair and golden skin
that tans out to a flat brown. We are nice-looking girls—it’s hard to
mess that up. Though some years it seems like Samantha is trying her best to.
She keeps her eyes on the road. I check her arms. They look muscular. Not bad,
like they were last time, bruised with track marks.
“Do you think, since
there’s no aesthetic plan in the suburbs, like there was in Haussmann’s Paris or Vienna or wherever, that this
planlessness is Zen?” Samantha chucks her gum out the window. “Do you think the
suburbs, with their lack of human design,
are an expression of God’s plan?”
“Well, a lot of suburbs
are planned. There are master-planned communities, like Brasilia and all those
retirement towns in the Sunbelt.”
“I would like to be a slave in a
“That might be good for you.”
“I could break out my leather
Samantha has piloted us
out of Fresno’s dying downtown and
into its thriving sprawl. The suburbs here look the same as the suburbs
anywhere in the country—the same stores, the same chain restaurants
serving the same chain food. We’re not the only clones.
“You know what I really wish?” There’s
a tremor to Samantha’s voice. “I wish I lived in a world where nobody knew how
they felt about anything.”
“Really? That’s weird. What would
a world without feeling be like?”
“It wouldn’t be a world without
feeling,” Samantha explains, “it would be a world where no one knew how
they felt. No reflection. No self-reflection.”
“No unhappy feelings.”
“No guilt,” says Samantha.
“People would just do things and then feel really satisfied with themselves.”
I think of Ivan, his brow serene
after a day of cutthroat litigation. “You know how you just meet some people,
and after five minutes you can tell they’ve never felt guilty their whole
“Boys!” she says.
“Yeah, for one, boys. Grown men.
They’re happy being jerks.”
“And then we’re all, ‘I’m
sorry, I’m sorry! I’m sorry everything isn’t perfect. I’m sorry I’m not
Shirley-fucking- Temple making everyone happy with my little face.’” Samantha
is excited now, steering with one hand and smoking with the other.
“I wish I had a cock. I read an
article that said PMS killed Sylvia Plath.”
“You’ve gotta admit, Sylvia Plath
killed Sylvia Plath.”
“Oh no. I don’t gotta
admit anything.” Samantha grins at me, a too-big grin. Something is going on.
We are in for a Samantha Moment. Samantha loves dramas, big, small, whatever.
When we were kids, Samantha would always beg me to go first, but when it came
time she’d throw an arm across me and bolt forward, itching to do something
daring or stupid or just strange. Now she stops in the middle of a suburban neighborhood,
in front of a row of identical houses with tiled roofs, typical Taco Bell–style
architecture. I notice that Samantha has a piece of paper in her hand. It says:
— FOUND: PUG —
And then there’s an address.
“Are you coming with me?”
Samantha leads the way to the
front door of the house. She rings the bell and a middle-aged woman answers
wearing the modern-day version of the apron: a sweat suit. Samantha smiles and
begins to speak. Even to me, she sounds sincere. This has always been her great
talent—convincing people. She can talk her way into and then back out
of any situation. I think it’s what enables her to live without any fixed
address or steady job, though I’m not really sure how Samantha lives these
“We lost him about four days
ago,” Samantha says, facing the woman squarely, looking her in the eye. “We had
guests and they left the gate open.”
“We found the dog five
days ago,” the woman says. She has a plain Midwestern face, no makeup; a
practical face without time for foolishness.
“That’s when we lost him.”
The woman seems
suspicious of Samantha, but then she uncrosses her arms and half smiles—she
wants to believe. She wants to be taken in. “We thought it was a female.”
“Yes,” Samantha is loose,
seamless when she lies, “I know, it’s confusing. When we got her my sister kept
saying she looked like a him, so finally we just named her Him.” Samantha
laughs. “Everyone gets mixed up.”
What can the woman say to this?
It’s so ridiculous, I expect her to slam the door in our faces. But Samantha
has something I don’t have, something the researchers can’t quantify—charisma.
I find it maddening.
The woman goes inside and comes
back with a pug dog wheezing on the end of a red leash.
“Him!” exclaims Samantha. The dog
trots over and licks her hand.
She thanks the woman and turns to
usher the pug down the walk. It waddles to the car and hops in the front seat
like an old hand. I have to shove it over to sit down. The dog looks around
placidly, its froggy eyes bulging, its skin hanging around its compact body. It
starts to pant.
“Check it out,” she says, “these
things cost about a thousand dollars new.”
“Is that really your dog?”
Samantha looks at me and says,
“That’s really funny.”
“It’s your dog,” she says. “I got
it for you.”
“I don’t want it.”
“I just don’t.”
“Okay, fine. Then it’s my dog.”
Then she puts her face in her hands and begins to sob.
Around 80 percent—apparently
that’s my chance of having it too—whatever Samantha has, bipolar
disorder or borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia or depression or
mania. Except she doesn’t seem to have any of these things. Not really, not
typically, according to the researchers—well, according to a
particular researcher, Kevin, a bearded sociology professor I captivated one
evening at the hotel bar a couple of meetings ago. It’s truly amazing, what an
amicable one-night stand can accomplish. He’s been my man on the inside ever
since, a steady source of information. About me, of course, but mostly about
“Samantha is just
volatile,” Kevin explained, at the last meeting. I wasn’t married yet but he
was; he had made it clear that our “romance” was over. That made me laugh.
“It’s not necessarily an illness.”
“But how can she be so volatile
when I’m not?”
“Well,” he stroked his little
beard, “the interesting thing we’ve learned is that monozygotic twins raised
apart—in different environments—still have about 50 percent
of their personality traits in common.”
“Fine.” I’m always impatient with
Kevin’s professorial tone—just because he’s the researcher and I’m
the subject doesn’t mean he’s a genius and I’m a dolt. “Then twins raised in
the same environment must have even more.”
“That’s the fascinating
thing. Twins raised together also have about 50 percent of their personality
traits in common.” He raised his eyebrows—a significant look.
“Okay, professor. Meaning what?”
“Well, most identical twins don’t
like to hear this, but we attribute the 50 percent variation to the fact that
they were raised together.”
“Oh, I see. That 50 percent is us
trying to be different from one another.”
“Exactly. Trying, on some level.”
“We stake our spot. I’m the good
twin. Samantha’s the evil twin.”
“I wouldn’t call Samantha evil,
personally. She’s prone to substance abuse. You may be too. She’s more
I reflexively cringed. I’d been
hearing about her creativity my whole life.
“Okay. So I’m the boring one, and
she’s the scarf-dancer.”
I remember thinking about this
while Kevin chewed handfuls of bar peanuts and gazed around the room. He was
short, with narrow hands and a baby face. The beard was a nice try, but even
that couldn’t deactivate his graduate-student air. The bartender had carded
“What if we had been one person? With
our genetic sameness, but just one of us, without the other to react to. What
would that person be like?”
“That’s what happens to
everyone else,” Kevin said. “But you’re a twin.”
“Right,” I said. “I’m special.”
Samantha and I drive
back downtown without speaking, though she keeps crying for a while. She turns
the car around under the concrete awning, then sits there behind the wheel,
eyes red, staring at the instrument panel.
“Are you coming in?”
“Maybe later.” She keeps
her hand on the pug dog’s head. It’s wheezing through its little stoved-in
nose. I wonder if she’ll ever get over this. I wonder if she’s ever gotten over
anything in her whole life.
“It’s just not a good
time for a pet right now,” I tell her.
“No, that’s fine.”
Samantha waves her hand.
“Call me in my room. I
want you to meet my husband.”
“You got married ?”
“Yes, of course. I would
have invited you if I’d known how to reach you.”
“You got married?
My god. Why?”
“Love,” I say, but
somehow it doesn’t sound quite right.
Samantha keeps petting
the pug. Something about her seems about ten years old. This makes me want to
“Do you want to know why
I’m naming her Diego?”
“Because she’s bug-eyed
and fat and a communist, like Diego Rivera.”
“How do you know she’s a
“The red leash. And she
That night I lie in bed
with Ivan’s arms around me, listening to the hotel windows ticking. I don’t
know what happened to Samantha. She never called.
a statement is true or mostly true, as applied to you, blacken
the circle marked T. If a statement is false or usually not
true, blacken the circle marked F. If a statement does not apply to
you, make no mark on the answer sheet.
I like mannish women.
2. If I could get
into a movie without paying and be sure I was not seen I would probably do it.
The top of my head sometimes feels tender.
4. If I were a
reporter I would very much like toreport news of the theater.
Horses that don’t pull should be beaten or kicked.
6. It’s only natural
for me to note the color of my bowel movements.
There is something wrong with my sex organs.
Every year, they give us
the same ridiculous, ancient psychological test, the Minnesota Multiphasic
Personality Inventory, and every year I try to pick answers I know Samantha
will not pick. After all, we’re supposed to have only fifty percent of our
personality traits in common. And yet every year, according to Kevin, Samantha
and I pick the same answers to virtually every question.
I’m struggling with number 4: “If I
were a reporter I would very much like to report news of the theater.” For
me, the answer is F, I hate the theater. It’s too slow. Samantha,
though, always liked plays and even worked on one or two during high school,
when she wasn’t busy smoking pot with her stoner friends. But there’s something
about this question—the way it feels like a pale attempt to sniff out
homosexual tendencies—that makes me think that Samantha would mark F
in an attempt to be subversive, even though her true answer is probably T.
Yes, that’s it. I decide that Samantha will answer F;
therefore I will answer T.
My hand hovers above the bubble marked T.
But wait! Since we always choose the same answer, I realize that this time I
should invert my reasoning process now, at the last minute, and flop over to F.
F is the answer.
I answer each question via this rather
laborious process, with the last-minute flop.
Afterward, I come across Kevin in one of
the long, carpeted hallways of the hotel.
“Ninety-seven percent!” he says, holding
up his hand for a high five. “Same as last time!”
Kevin grabs my hand and veers into me. He
keeps coming until he’s backed me into a windowless room containing a table and
a soda machine. Kevin looks at me. I look at Kevin. His narrow fingers are
gripping my hand like squid tentacles.
“You two certainly are interesting.”
I’ve become used to a kind of abstracted
fondness from Kevin, so I’m surprised by his unstable, nonacademic demeanor—magnified
by a spray of wild eyebrow hairs I’ve never noticed. I wonder whether they’ve
sprouted due to advancing age—or did he give up trimming them? I
ponder this while Kevin clutches me. Clearly, he’s making some sort of play for
He leans in closer. “I could tell you
things about your sister.”
“I signed a confidentiality agreement.”
I laugh. “That never stopped you before.”
I pull my hand away.
“Yeah, well,” he crosses his arms over
his chest, “that was then. Things are different now.”
“Why are you acting like this?”
“Like you want to fuck me.”
The blood rushes to Kevin’s cheeks. “I
never said that.”
“You didn’t say it.”
“It’s not that,” he mops his sleeve over
his face, “it’s just this thing with my wife.” He lets out a long sigh. “Our
relationship is kind of rocky right now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s just this thing.” Kevin stares at
the floor. “I love her. I do. It’s just that she won’t perform certain sexual
acts . . .”
“I really want to get this off my chest.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Amanda,” Kevin extends a hand toward me—tentacle
fingers, imploring and threatening.
“What?” I’m already halfway around the
table and heading for the door.
He has dark circles under his eyes.
“You’re so pretty,” he says, in a rancorous tone.
I slide past him, into the hall.
During the break for lunch, I find Ivan
lounging by the pool. He looks relaxed and tan, splayed out with a Business
Week by his side. He has lots of hair on his chest—the emblem of
the alpha male. Though quite a few people are using the pool, all the nearby
chaises are empty. I attribute this to Ivan’s formidable air; he carries it
with him like a force field. But there are moments when it evaporates. Like
when he plays the piano.
“Where’s Jason?” he says.
“I have no idea.”
“I thought you took him shopping.”
“I didn’t take him shopping. Why do you
think I took Jason shopping?”
“Because you said so,” Ivan replies.
“A little while ago.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes you did.”
Oh no. I think I see what is going on
here. But Ivan would never fall for it. Besides, Samantha hasn’t tried this for
a long time, not since my high school boyfriend, Brian, the football player,
bought himself a baby blue convertible.
“That wasn’t me. That was my sister.”
“Oh,” Ivan says mildly, as though I’d
just pointed out an interesting item floating in the pool.
“Don’t you know me?”
“Of course I know you.”
I feel so angry—I don’t think
I’ve ever been so angry at Ivan. “She doesn’t even look like me. Her hair is
streaked, she smokes, she’s thinner, she acts all . . . whacked out. Ivan! Look
He looks at me, calm
and patient, the man I married. So lid. The man who flies off the handle at everyone except
“This is me. I’m not her. Look at me. My
breasts are bigger.”
“Ask Jason. He knows.”
“Amanda, what do you expect? If you girls
are up to tricks like that—identical twins,” he squints at me through
the sun. “Any jury would find me innocent.”
“I’m not up to anything.”
“You said you’d take him shopping.” He
closes his eyes and settles his bald, bronzing head on a rolled-up towel.
“Somebody took him away, thank god.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“She’s not me.”
“Of course she’s not.”
Of course. Everyone thinks we’re the
same. Why should I expect Ivan to be any different? We even think we’re
the same. That’s why we can only stand to see each other once every four years.
Who wants to watch her identity be swallowed by her genetic double? I certainly
feel the poorer for it. The only people who seem to profit are the researchers.
They get to learn whether we both stutter or get cancer of the pancreas; they
get to learn whether we both marry swarthy plumbers or enjoy table tennis. They
seem so sure that twins hold clues to the mystery of identity: what depends
upon threads of DNA winding and unwinding in our cells, and what do we glean
from the world? Kevin and his friends are trying to study what makes each of us
us—but not us per se, not the twins. We’re the freaks.
They want to know what we mean for normal people. Why do normals divorce,
sicken, hate licorice, refuse to perform certain sexual acts? Is it genetics or
environment? As if the data could ever tell us why we feel the way we feel.
I order a drink and settle into a chaise.
After a while, Samantha shows up. She’s riding Jason’s skateboard, with the pug
laboring at her side. Poor Diego. I don’t know what she was bred for, but it
wasn’t running. Jason trots along behind them. Under his curtain of bangs, his
face looks different.
“Check out my shirt!” He points at his
chest where the words designated driver stretch across in big, iron-on letters. I grasp
what it is about his face: he’s smiling.
Samantha jumps off the skateboard and
plops down beside me. “All these thrift stores around here are unbelievable. We
found the greatest stuff.” She reaches into a plastic bag and pulls out a green
bowling shirt. On the back it says seventh day adventist dentists.
“That’s really funny.”
“Want it? It’s one of a kind.”
“Yes.” I’m surprised by myself, because
usually Samantha is the one who wears the thrift store shirts. But I can’t pass
this one up. “I hear you met my husband.”
“He thought you were me.”
“He did?” Samantha looks surprised.
“Did you tell him that?”
She looks like she’s tasted something
sour: this is our lying face. “I don’t think so.”
“It’s a yes or no question.”
Samantha is leaning back next to me on
the chaise, curling and uncurling Diego’s tail. Jason has pulled up a chair
beside her. He gazes at her with adoration. He says: “Hey Dad!”
Ivan, sunbathing and half-asleep, grunts.
“Samantha took me to this restaurant
where we ate balls of raw meat!”
“It’s Armenian,” she explains.
“We fed some to Diego.”
“She liked it.” Samantha is wearing a
bikini top and jeans. She’s as brown as maple syrup and has muscles all up and
down her arms and shoulders. I guess she’s been going to the gym.
“You shouldn’t eat raw meat.” Ivan’s eyes
are still closed. “You’ll get cholera.”
“Samantha did it.”
He looks up. “That’s bright. If she
jumped off a cliff, would you follow?”
Jason cocks his head. “Maybe.”
“Beautiful. I’m going in the water.” Ivan
ambles off and wades into the pool, holding his magazine above his waist.
As soon as he’s gone Samantha turns to
me, her hands folded in her lap. “Your husband is intimidating. His aftershave
smells like money.”
“That’s because it’s expensive,” I snap.
Diego is leaning against my leg. I bend down to pet her. Something is bothering
me. Something is bothering me a lot.
“Samantha, why can’t you be my stepmom?”
Jason says, right on cue.
“She’s your stepaunt,” I tell him. “You can
call her Auntie Sam.”
“Don’t call me Sam,” she says. “She’s
saying that because I hate it.”
“You should wear sunscreen,” I tell
Samantha, “you’re too tan.” I can feel us falling into something; our rhythm—it’s
like loneliness and the antithesis of loneliness at once. And it really is like
falling, exciting or terrifying, depending on what’s below. I don’t think
there’s any stopping it. I say: “Kevin has a hate-crush on me.”
“The one with the little Lenin beard.” I
pick up Diego and put her in my lap. She starts licking my hand.
“Right, with the funny eyebrows. Did you
engender the hate, or is it women in general?”
“What’s a hate-crush?” Jason asks.
I ignore him. “I think his wife
engendered the hate. But now it’s directed at women in general.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Jason
looks at us sideways. “Is this your secret twin language?”
“No!” we both say, in unison.
Samantha turns to Jason. “A hate-crush is
when a man likes a woman a lot, so he’s mean to her.”
For some reason, this makes Jason blush.
“I thought that was over in third grade.”
“No,” Samantha says. “Sadly, no. Promise
me you won’t do it. It’s extremely uncool.”
“Okay,” Jason says.
“Be nice to the girls you like. Even if
it’s a little scary.”
He’s nodding, really soaking it in. It
occurs to me that Samantha may be changing the course of his entire life.
She holds up the nametag that says mz samantha 173 and tries to pin it to
her bikini strap. “I don’t have anywhere to put this.”
“That’s what you get for not wearing a
“Wait,” Samantha smiles, “check this
out.” She takes the pin and pushes it through the tough skin of her outer
elbow. She fastens the clasp. It stays there as she flexes her arm.
“Wow,” says Jason.
“That’s disgusting,” I say.
“Come on,” she tells Jason, putting on
her sunglasses, “I have an appointment on the inside.”
They gather their things and go into the
hotel. It takes me a while to realize she’s left Diego with me. Samantha never
has been very good at taking care of things.
No one has asked for my opinion of the
California Twin Study, but if anyone did I’d say they should stop doing all the
things that make us feel like rats. The lines of colored tape in the hallways
that usher us from room to room are especially inane, and after certain tests we
are offered doughnuts—why not lumps of cheese? Then there is the
underlying philosophy to all this testing, that any information we may be given
is too much information. So I go into a room, I lie on a padded table, and a
woman in a white coat tapes ice-cold electrodes to my head. When I ask her what
they’re for, she says, “Taking measurements.” When I ask what kind of
measurements, she says, “Important.” Then she leaves me in the half-darkened
room, with instructions to relax. But I know what they’re doing: measuring my
brainwaves to see if they match Samantha’s.
For a while I try to think my own,
idiosyncratic thoughts; then that seems too Samantha-like, so I go for some
dull, average thoughts; then I realize this is the same road I went down with
the personality test. I don’t have any of this figured out anyway. I don’t know
how much of me is a part of her no matter what. We grew up together. We’re the
same genetically. Maybe the desire to be singular is just another thing we
share, and somewhere, in some other room, Samantha is lying with wires attached
to her head, trying to think thoughts that I wouldn’t think. Finally, I give up
trying to be original and fall asleep on the table. Almost immediately I begin
to have the dream: the ocean swells, enormous waves sparkle in the sun and rise
above the beach. Then, the entire shoreline is swallowed up—houses,
cars, cliffs, beach umbrellas—they’re all washed away, and all that’s
left is a great expanse of blue water: nothing. Everything.
After the session, I find Samantha
sitting on the carpet in one of the long hallways, slumped over a line of
yellow tape. She’s crying.
I sigh. “What’s wrong now?”
“You’re married.” She wipes the
snot off her face. It’s a nice face, somehow prettier on Samantha (I even got
Kevin to admit this), more transparent and broad. It’s a little icier on me,
with a knot between the eyebrows.
“You’re just . . . normaller.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing.”
“It is good. You’re the good one,
I laugh. “Okay, let’s get this out in the
open once and for all. True or false: I have a tender spot on the top of my
“True!” Samantha touches her part. “Right
here. It drives me crazy!”
I touch my own head and am surprised to
find I have a tender spot there too. I try another. “True or false: I would
certainly like to beat a crook at his own game.”
“True! Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes. Do you always answer them
“Of course.” Samantha sniffs. “How about
“I try to pick whatever one I think you
She laughs at this. “Then you must switch
“Yes.” I feel dispirited. Of course
Samantha knows all about me and my ways.
“You always did love to lie,” she says.
“You left the dog with me.”
“I’m not keeping it.”
I look at her, her face red from crying.
I can’t remember the last time I cried. Even Ivan, when we got married, became
a little teary. But not me. I’m the stable one.
At the end of the day, Kevin locates me
and apologizes. His eyebrows are smoother and he looks embarrassed. Too much
work, he explains, shoving his hands into his pockets. Way too much coffee.
Then, as a peace offering, he tells me what it is he’s learned about Samantha:
she’s pregnant. And, in the grand tradition of the California Twin Study, no
one has mentioned this to her.
He doesn’t know if she knows.
I think about this through dinner and
afterward, in our rooms, where Jason refuses to settle down. Ivan tells him he
can call for room service, he can order Nintendo with the remote, but he keeps
jumping on his bed like a little boy while Ivan repeats “Jason” in a
“So what do you think about Samantha?” I
lean up against the doorjamb between our rooms. “She’s kind of a loose cannon,
“She’s okay,” Ivan says. “Jason!” Jason
jumps higher. Hanks of greasy hair stream upward from his head. Ivan looks at
his watch. “She’s not as unpleasant as you described.”
“I”—Jason jumps once on each
word—“like, her, more, than”—his face is turning red—“either,
“For god’s sake, stop that,” Ivan says.
“You should have seen her before. She’s
reformed or something. She used to be even more, I don’t know, disturbed. She
“She didn’t seem that disturbed to me,”
Jason is now making a va sound
with each jump, like a car that won’t turn over.
“You can tell she’s nothing like me
though, can’t you?”
Ivan laughs. “Well, there are
“I can tell,” Jason chants.
“Excuse me, I was asking your dad.”
“Boy, can I.”
“Okay Jason. I’m asking your dad.”
“Jason, stop that right now,” Ivan roars.
“He isn’t going to stop.”
“He isn’t going to stop until you quit
telling him to.”
“Jason! I said now!”
I go back to our room and turn on the TV.
Finally, Ivan comes in, shuts the door to the adjoining room, and bolts it. I
can hear the squeak squeak of Jason jumping on the bed for a while, even
as Ivan eases me down on our own bed and starts pulling off my blouse. He lies
beside me and unclasps my bra. Jason has quieted down, but then he starts
knocking at the door. Lightly, at first, but then he’s pounding and crying
“Dad” in a scared voice. I guess thirteen isn’t really that old. Two or three
years ago, he would have been too young to leave without a babysitter. I guess
I should feel sorry for him. But mostly I feel annoyed.
“Jesus,” says Ivan.
He excuses himself and slips into Jason’s
room. I brace myself for another round of screaming but don’t hear anything for
a long time. Then I hear Ivan’s voice, very faintly, coming through the door.
He’s not yelling. He’s singing.
Here’s what I know: life is ordinary.
Dreams, sickness, joy, grieving, loving our children—everybody
experiences these things. Everyone is full of goodness and dark longings. We
all have the capacity for sacrifice, for betrayal, for wildness. Everybody has
woken up one morning and said to themselves, I want everything, everything,
now, now, but we grow up. It goes away; the longing to take the whole world
inside ourselves, to make every second count, to live many lives. We spend our
days lost in activity. We marry rich men who can never fully know us, and we
like the idea. Or—what? We end up like Samantha—with our
feelings smacking us like waves, over and over, half-drowning us, never getting
a chance to learn to swim, never even being smart enough to get out of the water.
I know. That could have been me.
I ask Kevin if it could be me again.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” he says.
He’s sitting surrounded by papers, questionnaires, file boxes—he’ll
spend the rest of the year working on this weekend’s data.
“I mean could I be like Samantha? Could I
be volatile? Could I run around claiming dogs that aren’t mine and crying at
everything, could I charm thirteen-year-old boys, could I eat raw meat—that
kind of thing.”
“Well,” Kevin says, “you are like
Samantha. If anyone could, it would be you. But . . .”
“You aren’t her.”
“Not right now. But I have been.”
Sunday evening, after we’ve finished the
last of the tests, Samantha and Diego and I take another ride in her Impala. We
drive out into the farmland, through rows of vegetables fanning out from the
road, lettuce and peas and tomatoes and cotton, squash and soybeans, all
growing fat in the
sun. The plants look beautiful, but
they’re all sprayed down with toxic chemicals. The migrant workers get sick
from working with them, or so I’ve read.
I ask her to pull over beside a field of
cherry tomatoes. They’re hanging off the stalks like green pearls, and the air
is spiked with their pumpkin smell. All that produce, all that ripening—it’s
an incredible abundance, and it fills me with hunger.
We sit there in silence as the engine
“Ivan’s not that nice, is he?” Samantha
gazes through the windshield at the tomatoes. “Jason says he’s an asshole.”
“Yeah, but he’s not an idiot.”
I consider this. “Ivan’s not that bad. He
can be an asshole, obviously. He doesn’t take any shit. He’s rich and
successful and feels he deserves all that and more.”
“How is that?”
“It’s steady. It’s very calming.”
“It sounds kind of great.”
Diego’s head is in my lap. She’s snoring.
Already I know Samantha and I are thinking the same thing.
“Does he always wear that aftershave?”
“I like it.”
“So do I.”
I smile and pull my dress off over my
head. Samantha watches me with almost no expression—just a little
disbelief around the corners of her eyes. Because usually she’s the one, with
her Samantha Moments, who changes everything. But not this time. I take off my
bra and pantyhose and hand them to her.
Samantha starts to giggle. Then she takes
off her bikini top and ripped jeans and passes them over. She hands me her
cigarettes. She smoothes down her hair and puts on my linen sundress, my beige
ostrich sandals. Now we’re both giggling. We used to do this all the time, back
when we had the same dreams. Sometimes we’d do it for just a few hours, but
other times we kept it up for days, months even. I would be Samantha, and she
would be Amanda. I would be creative and spontaneous, and she would be
methodical and calm. I’d carry her books and take her tests and use her
toothbrush and sleep in her bed. No one knew. Even our parents were utterly
fooled. We thought they deserved it for dressing us alike, cutting our hair the
same, taking us to the same piano teacher, who taught us the same pieces to
play at the same recitals. There have been times, over the years, when I’ve
even wondered if we ever switched once and forgot to switch back.
Maybe I’ve been the volatile one all
“What do I need to know?” Samantha asks.
I have it all laid out: I open the
ostrich purse. “Here are my credit cards,” I say. “This is the code to our
alarm, these are the keys to the house, here’s my driver’s license. This is my
address book, with our friends’ names highlighted, and my calendar with
birthdays and anniversaries indicated. This is where I take yoga,” I hand her a
flyer, “usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is my smoothie punch card. I
like the Femme Boost.”
“Kevin told me you’re pregnant.”
Samantha laughs. I have no idea what this
means. For once, I have the giddy sensation of having absolutely no idea what
my sister is thinking. And I don’t want to know.
But she does say, “You don’t have to do
this for me.”
We switch places and I drive my sister
back to the hotel. She leans back in the passenger seat, an arm hanging out the
window into the warm
sky. I’m surprised to see how good she
looks in my linen dress. Conventionalism suits her remarkably well. She looks
calmer, more focused, now that she’s inhabiting my skin. You don’t miss the breasts,
either. No one will ever know. Except Jason, of course.
I stop the car in front of the lobby.
Samantha bends over and kisses Diego so that I’m staring at the tender spot on
the top of her head.
“Goodbye, Amanda,” I say.
“Goodbye, Samantha,” she replies. And
then without a glance back she slams the door and walks off, wobbling slightly
on her heels, until she’s swallowed up by the revolving smoked-glass doors.
I put the car in gear and turn it around,
Diego at my side, and drive off, crying, into the vegetable sea.
To read other stories from the Spring 2004 issue, click here to purchase it from our online store.