“Methinks you are my glass, and not my brother”
William Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors
She was my reflection in the morning, she was me at night. In her there was me and in me there was her. Now the mirror is cracked and we’re both gone. We had always been together- neither separated by a second nor divided by a day. From the moment our cluster of cells split in two to become one, she had been me and I had been her.
They say people don’t remember the womb, but we do. Not in any aural or visual sense- we’ve forgotten the darkness, we don’t recall our mother’s beating heart, that came later, but we do remember not being afraid, feeling warm and safe and together, knowing that no-one could hurt us or come between us. Knowing it was just us. So much so in fact that when we came out they say I was gripping her ankle, tearing our mother apart but holding us together. We say that means that neither of us is the older since we came out at the same moment, as one.
From womb to room we stayed together in the same crib. At night they put us down top to toe, though swaddled as we were there were of course no toes in sight, just two pink purpley plums with matching blonde tufts and lips that sucked in our sleep. By morning we were top to top, nestled together like two quotation marks. And when our mother fed us she did so at the same time, each at a different breast but still listening to the same beating heart.
Later our parents worried that we weren’t talking, that all we said was babbly nonsense. Their friends with children our age were ‘streets ahead’ of us they worried to each other. Loudly, in our hearing, thinking possibly that lack of speech was the same as lack of comprehension. They were the ones who didn’t understand though. We were talking, to ourselves in our own way. What other way would we have needed? Who else would we have wanted to communicate with? They might not have understood us but we understood each other. ‘Grunt groogle,’ she said to me. ‘Gush goo,’ I replied taking her by the hand to help her get the doll she’d asked for. And when we did finally speak our first words were of course each other. ‘Me’ I said pointing at her. ‘You’ she said pointing at herself.
We didn’t really needed language at all though, not when we could hear each other’s thoughts in our heads as clearly as our own. ‘I’m scared,’ I felt her say that day. We were on holiday where the sky was as blue as the sea and the water in the pool crackled in the bright sunlight. I was sitting at the edge watching my legs change shape, change colour as I dangled them over the side while eating a packet of wheaty hoops. I kicked and the spray scattered across the surface breaking its mirror.
‘I’m scared,’ she said. ‘Come to me.’ I didn’t ask where to come, where she was. I didn’t need to. She tugged the invisible thread that held us together and pulled me beneath the water towards her. My eyes were shut but also wide open. I could see her sitting on the bottom sucking her thumb waiting for me. When they pulled us out we were clinging to each other, her blue face becoming rosy beneath my touch, born together again.
‘Will they be alright?’ my parents had whispered then and more recently. Huddled by the stairs and outside our bedroom door as they watched us play, they asked the same question constantly that last week. We didn’t know what they meant and so didn’t especially worry about it. Now we understand though and if we had tried to understand then perhaps we could have done something about it. But then again, perhaps we couldn’t have.
Even that morning as our mother matched us in grey- grey socks, grey tunics, grey shirts and even little grey hats- we didn’t really understand what was happening. ‘Important to meet other children,’ she said plaiting our hair. ‘Difficult at first,’ she said buckling our shoes. ‘So exciting, so grown up,’ she said kissing us goodbye before steering us towards two different doors. Two different doors? We still didn’t understand but we started to pay attention.
She howled as much as I did, at least to begin with. I could hear her down the hall and in my own head as well. I felt it both in my chest and in my ears- the sound and sensation of being torn apart. I clawed the door. ‘Sit down dear, come and sing Twinkle Twinkle with us,’ said a little orange haired woman with a cushiony face and dangly earrings . I wanted to both bury my head in her lap and to hurl her across the room. ‘I need me,’ I said. ‘Where’s I?’ The orange haired woman clucked at me and tried to lift me up. I kicked her hard on her shin. It felt good. For me anyway. Just for a moment.
Whenever I’ve skinned my knee or even shut my finger in the door the pain has been hard to bear, nauseating at first, but gradually it has subsided. This pain didn’t wear off though. If anything it got worse- a road drill driving through my chest deeper and deeper to my core. I could feel her pain which intensified my own, a wildfire catching my body’s fibres. ‘Come to me,’ she said again only this time I couldn’t.
I let another woman lift me over to a window seat and rock me, she had cinnamon skin that I itched to lick. The pain still burnt strongly in me though I felt it dampen in her. Her voice in my head grew faint and I felt her cover her ears against mine. ‘Where are you?’ I screamed in my head. ‘Soon, I’ll be back soon,’ she said. I’d never had to ask where she was, she’d never wanted to make me wait. I started shaking, the fire’s heat becoming ice.
The woman holding me cradled my face in her hands. I jerked it away from her towards the window and in that moment, in that motion, I saw and understood.
She was strolling around the playground eating a cookie, hand in hand with someone that looked nothing like us. The someone whispered something to her and she giggled. I could hear the laugh in my head-water rushing over stones, wind chimes on a breezy day, the birds outside our window before it was time to wake up- her laugh, our laugh shared with someone else.
I clutched my stomach, sure I was about to be sick, sure also that when I removed my hand it would be drenched crimson for had I not just been split open, split in two? I looked down and imagined my blood crying out to me from the ground just as I had cried out to her.
My mother came to collect me. ‘Hush, hush little one,’ she said. ‘Mummy’s here now’. She didn’t realise she wasn’t the one I wanted. ‘Don’t worry, the first day is always the hardest, you were very brave, I’m so proud of you.’ I brushed off her kisses when she wasn’t looking but allowed her to take me by the hand. I tried to remember how to breathe, how to walk, how to hold my head up on my neck when all I longed to do was to crawl into the earth. To become nothing. To be nowhere.
There’s a lot I don’t understand but I do know this, the she in me has gone and when I look at her now I no longer see myself.