When Dove and I were in grade school, we had a friend that told us that the reason we looked the same was because we were actually the same person. She said that we were a single soul that was ripped in two.
Oh really? Now I don’t even get my own soul?
I was livid. How could anyone be expected expected to live with half a soul inside them? When I shared this with Dove, she smiled a little and chewed on the end of her braid. She said that it didn’t really matter because we were always together. The memory of this friend faded away with time, and in the end, her only impact on our lives was that binding statement.
Zipping up the side of my black skirt, I peered into my vanity mirror and tried to see the same little girl who had been so warped by the claims made by a foolish little friend. Blinking back at me was a made-up face, framed by strident slashes of black hair. I sighed upon realizing I could change the hair, could change the wardrobe and the color painted onto my skin, but the eyes that challenged me in the mirror were never solely my own and would always remain like that. They were not my property alone, they were like spares; Dove’s eyes had always been softer than mine, but I imagined this is what they would look like if she ever dropped the serenity that almost seemed to deaden them.
Wrenching my handbag from underneath a mountain of clothes—the product of my desperate search for something appropriate to wear—I stalked out of my apartment. As I made my way down the sidewalk, I watched the world as it moved around me.
And I, I felt myself floating.
As I reclined within my consciousness, barely at attention and with high-heeled shoes marking out the familiar paths of my neighborhood, I could only muster up a soft exhalation at the sight of my old school. I saw the place every day on my way to the subway, but today something struck me as being particularly piteous in the effects of the dappled light of an off morning. Elementary school had been like hell with a snack time.
“Dove, we get rice cakes today!” My voice was loud; it battled the chatter of nearby third graders and grasped at the attention of my sister.
“That’s nice. But Vivienne, you don’t have to shout.” Dove said, Cupid’s bow lips puckered in slight disapproval. I grabbed her hand and pulled her down to the seat next to me.
“I know. You’re not the teacher.”
“Neither are you.”
We spent a good portion of that snack time quibbling, Dove often resorting to threats about telling Mom when we got back home. Even though I hated her threats and hated the way she talked like an adult with something to prove to everybody, we didn’t like talking to the others more than we disliked arguing. When work period started, my hand sought hers, just to remind her that we would be working together. She shook my hand off, but still nodded her head in the affirmative. We walked to our station and restarted our construction of a large cardboard house—“This is where we’ll live when we grow up, Dove!” “All right.”—which had been our ongoing project. As the class wore on, I picked up the badly concealed whispers from the other children posted around the room. A few paces behind me, I heard a hushed debate concerning the identity of ‘the twin holding the Scotch tape.’
“Yeah, but which one is it?”
“Um, I don’t know. I guess it’s one or the other.”
“Well yeah, obviously. She’s got a blue scrunchie today. Does Dove like blue?”
“Fine, I’ll just ask.” With that parting sentence concluding their discussion, a brightly bedazzled pair of sandals was suddenly in my field of vision. “Um, hey…are you Dove?”
I looked down at my purple overalls and white, frilled socks. I looked at Dove’s purple overalls and similarly frilled socks. We looked the same, I knew that, but I wondered why it wasn’t obvious that I was not my sister. I knew immediately by looking at her that she was Dove and I was Vivienne. If anyone has the right to be confused, shouldn’t it be us? I looked at her face every day and I had to remember it was not my face. These girls had both of us in sight; they could see one, and then the other, so why couldn’t they remember? Mom liked to dress us up so that we seemed like a mirror; she thought it was ‘charming’ that we were like the same person. “No.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.” The shoes moved away and sought out my sister, bent over a freshly hewn slab of cardboard. “Dove, do you want to come to my birthday party?” Dove’s expression didn’t change much as she considered the wearer of the sparkly shoes, and eventually she smiled softly and asked if I was invited too.
“Well, we only have one more ticket for the movie…and my dad says I can only invite a couple of people.” The girl sent a quick look my way, mouth hard and pinched. Dove blinked slowly several times. I watched and wondered. I wanted to ask what was wrong with my half of the soul.
“That’s okay, then. I don’t really like movies. Vivienne doesn’t either. I guess you can invite someone else.” Dove said, and smiled, tugging lightly on her braid.
When the memory released me, I was standing pressed up against the fence surrounding the playground in front of the building. My hands were clenched tightly around the bars blocking me; I briefly entertained the possibility that they would snap off if I tried to pull them away. An inappropriate bout of dinging alerted me to the arrival of a text message from my mother. Where are you? We’re going to be starting soon. Mom.
Pulling myself from the grasp of the solemn building, I sent a quick reply, intimating that
I was on my way, and continued down into the depths of the subway. As I leaned back into the dip of my plastic seat, I saw my reflection in the window. She looked too drained to be twenty-three years old. Riding through the underground maze, my reflection and I, a memory approached me slowly, as if sauntering in from a great distance away.
Close-up on a sullen seventeen year old girl; I wore tight jeans, a shawl, and a scowl. Dove had settled beside me, a concerned tug shaping her lips. Mother had grown out of her love of the identical twins shtick, letting us go to town on our appearances. Instead of reciprocating with similar jeans and shawl, my sister had donned a long skirt and pretty blouse. And yet, our differing expressions still perched on identical high cheekbones, and emotions still peered out of identical eyes.
“Are you still mad at me?” Dove asked.
“I’m not mad at you. It’s not like you did anything wrong.” I replied.
Dove didn’t say anything, and during that lapse of conversation I could hear the whispers of the family sitting across from us.
“Hank, look, those two must be twins, like Pamela’s kids.”
“Sure, but Pam’s kids aren’t identical.”
“What’s ‘identical’?” the small girl in between the two parents piped up. She was loud enough to catch Dove’s attention too, and I watched her eyes narrow consideringly.
“It means that they look the same, sweetie.” The woman said, stroking her daughter’s hair.
“God, it’d be tough to have identical twins. Pam got lucky. I mean, even the parents of those kids have a hard time telling them apart. And so much pressure for the kids.” The man spoke softly, but the air seemed to have intensified and the words plowed through to us. My hands clenched.
“I want to be identical!” the little girl screeched.
“Hush, Natalie, we’re in a public place.”
“Be happy you aren’t, hon. You’re one of a kind.” The man ruffled the hair the woman had just fixed and she slapped him lightly on the arm. They exited the car at the next stop and the silence Dove and I were suddenly drenched in was thick.
“Dad didn’t mean it.” Dove laid a hand on my arm. I shook it off.
“He did. He absolutely meant it.”
“He got carried away…he didn’t mean what he said.” She turned my head so I was facing her and pressed her forehead against mine, speaking softly. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
I wished she would stop. I didn’t want to get into this on a train where everyone could see us. And I knew that she wouldn’t listen to me anyway. She didn’t understand. She always takes it so personally. But what else was I supposed to do? Was it weird to begrudge her success? Didn’t she understand that I was happy for her, even if I couldn’t stop to say so; entrenched in bitterness, I couldn’t escape long enough to congratulate her. Anyway, Dad said enough for both of us. He’d known, even before she needed to say anything, that the SAT had nothing on his daughter. He’d be the first to say that out of 2400, Dove would score 2500. And then, like always, he’d turned to me and asked for my score. You share the same DNA, how the hell could you be so spectacularly less spectacular? was how I chose to interpret his tight grimace. In lieu of that response, my father stared me down and said that he’d figured as much. He told me it was possible for me to retake it, and that maybe this time I would consider Dove’s offer to help with studying. He said that I shouldn’t judge myself too harshly, said it was the contrast to Dove’s score that made mine seem so bad.
Dove had tried to bow out of the attention, her eyes riveted on my burgeoning glower, and waved away her success. Even that had ground salt into the wound, representing the leeway her ability had given her. The worst part was I couldn’t disagree with my dad’s response. We shared the same thin face, the same divorced parents, and the same education. Of all the places for us to differ, it had to be this. And she tried to push it away, like it was nothing, that anyone with her face, parents, and education could have done the same. She wouldn’t even admit how selfish she was, for taking all of that and leaving me with nothing. I got to be the half of the soul that raged and bellowed and chased away the friends Dove made for us. I felt like I was riding shotgun in her life, like every good thing that trickled down to me was just a portion of her leftovers. I loved her, of course I loved her, but sometimes I wished we didn’t have to share the world.
My dad had told me that I should try to be more like my sister.
I was jolted back to the present by the garbled announcement that my stop was next. Exiting, I made my way through the unfamiliar neighborhood; I was struck by how the click of my heels echoed along the empty street, totally disparate from the mad rush of the subway. Quiet like this always bespoke of a silent rising tension, calm on the surface level, but teeming with undefinable feelings and shouts just below. I listened for the steps that would usually accompany Dove’s presence, needing her soft deflections to counter the accusations and confusion I couldn’t utter. Soon, you’ll see her soon; a voice in my head reminded me.
Being siblings, Dove and I had honed our skills in the art of argument together. Often, these spats were inconsequential, fighting over which movie to watch, who had to clean the dishes, or who got to use the shower first. Silly things. But sometimes, these fights reached new heights; they dipped down to where it hurt and scathing words tore through any emotional façade. Those fights laid us out bare, raw and hurting and sensitive to even the slightest whisper. We would pick each other up after a period of licking our own wounds and things would return to normal. Dove and I had engaged in one just a couple weeks before.
She stood still and tall and serene, perched lightly on my sofa. Her hair was pulled back into a neat braid and her clothes were high-quality. Dove ran a hand absently over the arm of the couch as she took me apart.
“You’ve been sitting there for a while now. Did you have anything to add to that little tirade of yours?” I asked.
“So you’re done?”
She hefted a sigh. “Yes. If you have anything you want to say, now’s your chance.”
“Fuck you.” That was the extent of my comeback. I ignored the soft look in her familiar, familiar eyes, and flipped through an old issue of People.
“Vivienne, stop pushing me away.” Her voice was too measured, too calm. Even though only a few feet separated us, she felt light-years away. I hated it when she did that; it was like she didn’t even feel like she had to invest all of herself into this fight.
“You’re pushing yourself away. I don’t want any more of your motivational bull. Dad doesn’t need two successful daughters. One will be enough to support him when he can’t even make it to the bathroom on his own.”
“I’m not saying you’re not successful—”
“Yes, you are. But don’t worry about it. I’m not going to condemn you for your honesty or anything.”
“Why did you stop trying!?” Finally, she yelled, careful voice cracking at the end.
“When I realized there was nothing up there that I could get that you couldn’t. You’ll take that road, and I’ll stay in pizza delivery. Deal?” Without my consent, acid had begun to seep into my tone. I saw her face contort and knew her guilt had awoken, churning at the insides of her belly.
“Hey, come on, that’s not fair. It’s not a competition.”
“Yes it is! It is a competition, Dove. Maybe I was too far back for you to realize you were running a race, but that doesn’t mean the clocks weren’t counting.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Just you existing hurts me sometimes.”
“Vivienne!” Her eyes were wide, shocked. Immediately I felt the vile aftertaste of my words and I struggled to get my mouth open to apologize.
“I- I didn’t…damn. I didn’t mean it. I love you, you know I love you. I just sometimes wish everything didn’t come so naturally to you. It’s not fair that you get everything.”
“I wish it…it didn’t, but—”
“Oh, come on, don’t start that.”
She tugged on the end of her braid and my face stared back at me. I couldn’t do this anymore. “Just get out of here. I love you, but I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’ll see you later, okay?” I walked up to her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders. If I could take away her essence, it was almost like I was comforting myself, hugging my own downtrodden self that wished things didn’t have to go this way.
“Love you. Don’t sulk for too long. I need my other half around sometimes.” She gave a smile and kissed my forehead. “I’m just a phone call away, if you want to talk some more.”
“Not likely.” She walked out of my apartment.
When my memory had finally run its course, I had reached my destination. I pushed through the doors and gazed at the crowd of people, searching for my mom’s shock of white hair. Finally catching sight of it, I moved to her and when she turned to see me, her arms encircled me in a vice grip. “My baby, my baby. What are we going to do?” I heard the tears in her voice and I could only shake my head. Wordlessly, I pulled away from her and walked to the open casket at the end of the room. The sound I let out when I finally saw her couldn’t have been human.
“I guess…I guess even perfection can’t stop a car.” I looked at her face, my face, and I hated that her expression was so smooth and serene when mine had contorted so viciously. We had never looked so different. I guess the higher up you put someone on a pedestal, the harder the crash is when they fall down. I touched her cheek and willed her to prove that I had not been wrong in envying this life, crushed so prematurely. Nestled into the plush material, my sister smiled softly in her death.
Jenan Jacobson, Age 16, Grade 11, Bard High School Early College, Gold Key