WHAT IT'S LIKE TO LIVE WITH A DOUBLE
A TALL good-looking man stopped me on the street the other day and thanked me profusely for the insurance tip. He had sold policies on my two little nieces, he said, and he appreciated my suggesting their names. I started to answer but in true salesman fashion he carried the conversation and I didn’t have a chance. Finally, with a jaunty “Cheerio,” he left me. I had never seen the man before in my life and I haven’t any nieces. But I do have an identical twin who has two nieces by marriage. This poor man was just one of many who have mistaken one of us for the other.
Without going too deeply into biology I should perhaps explain how twins occur. There are two types of twins -fraternal and identical. Fraternal twins are simply two children born about the same time. They may be quite different, one a boy and one a girl, one with straight black hair and one with curly red hair. Identical (wins come from the same egg cell. Sometimes the egg cell divides into two cells which separate and develop into two individuals. These two individuals have the same combination of genes (which determine development), the same as the egg cell from which both derive. They are the same sex, since the individual’s sex depends upon his genes, and under ordinary circumstances they develop exactly alike. In other words, from the standpoint of heredity, identical twins are the same individual in duplicate. My sister Betty and I are identical twins.
What is if. like to have an exact living duplicate of oneself? It is sometimes confusing, often embarrassing, occasionally presents complications, but always it is fun. It is like being a celebrity without having done anything. People
stare and whisper and point. Some even stop and ask questions.
The potentialities of our close resemblance were brought home to Betty and me at an early age. Well-meaning people continually made us aware we were different from other children. We were “the Twins.” Unknowingly, they filled our impressionable minds with conceit. However, after mother found us one day holding hands in front of a mirror and cooing “Aren’t they darlings?” extra precautions were taken to keep our egotism under control.
Parents of twins should see that the twins don’t steal the show. I well remember my small brother’s frantic attempts to get attention. One of his favorite tricks was to take off his clothes, pile them neatly under the hedge and run down the street like Nature Boy. Other children should be made to feel important too. Mother and father were aware of this and did what they could to achieve it. They sent my older sister to boarding school where she became an individual in her own right. My younger brother went to summer camps where he had a chance to show off without the'“wretched twins,” as he sometimes called us.
Betty and I learned early that two heads are better than one and, if the two heads happen to be exactly alike -that is even better. When we were six I found a way to keep us in ice-cream cones at half the price other kids were paying. We’d wheedle a nickel each from our grandfather, then Betty would hide her nickel in the toe of her shoe and we’d nonchalantly enter a store and order two cones. Betty would take a quick lick of hers while I followed on mine. I would then pay for mine while Betty began one of those well-rehearsed searches that starts in the pockets and goes on endlessly. Wearing an expression of the utmost concern she would end the struggle by saying in a small sad voice, “I’ve lost my nickel; here’s your cone back.” Of course the proprietor always felt that what one twin had the other should have too, and told her to keep it. Bursting with glee we would race out to the street. Our reserve capital was held for rigging the market that afternoon.
Fortunately Clarksburg, our home town on Georgian Bay, Ont., was too small to pull this stunt too often, and we were found out before we became hardened criminals.
We were exposed to music when we reached school age. While mathematics came easy to me, my twin was good at the piano. I hated practicing. Even more I resented Ireing kept away from Betty during practice periods. Mother knew how futile it would be to have us practice together. What she overlooked for some time was that Betty was doing all the practicing. (Poor mother couldn’t tell us apart from the back.) She also took my lessons when we thought we could get away with it. I spent many lonely hours during those months, but at least I wasn’t at the hateful piano.
In classifying twins as identical or fraternal, geneticists use correlation tests (doctors’ reports are no longer considered enough evidence). By comparing twins on the basis of characteristics known to be inherited it can be determined whether they are identical. The factors used for comparison include blood
group, blood pressure, pulse, respiration, eye color and vision, palm, sole and finger prints, hair color, hair whorls and brain-wave patterns. The similarity in these characteristics is much greater between identical twins than between fraternal twins.
Our similarity was so close that if Betty had a toothache I had one too. For a long time our dental troubles were the same. We had all the childhood diseases together and in nearly every case the same reaction to the disease.
When she was sixteen Betty had her appendix removed and for the first time I didn’t have any of her symptoms. Father bought us a used
Even thir mother can't always tell which twin is which.When one gets a toothache/ so does the other. The man who married Vic thought at first he was dating her sister
car to drive to school while Betty was getting her strength back. We had a wonderful time with that car. But after six months father looked at his gas accounts and decided the car must go. That was a blow as we felt the old car had given us added prestige among our fellow students.
That night I woke with a pain in my side and a few days later I too had an appendectomy. Until I started to write this I never questioned that I had appendicitis. The pain was real at the time and I wouldn’t have had the courage to go through an operation unless it had seemed necessary. But now I wonder if my subconscious didn’t enter into it. I wouldn’t go to our family doctor but insisted on seeing another. Perhaps
subconsciously I knew our doctor might have seen through my pain. Anyway I matched Betty again, even to the appendix scar, and we kept the car.
We graduated from the local high school, but not in a blaze of glory. Still the principal did point out that our exploits, if not our scholastic achievements, would long be remembered. We constantly traded seats, causing our teachers no end of annoyance. If one of us was asked to remain after school, one of us did, but not always t he right one. At the school parties and dances we often switched dates. I well remember dancing with Betty’s date one night at the high school.
"You know, Betty,” he said, “Vic and you are certainly alike, but you are a much better dancer.” I replied, “Thank you very much. I’ll tell Betty —you see. I'm Vic.” The poor boy tried to avoid me for the rest of the evening, but he could never be sure which one of us to keep away from. I suppose most teen-agers discuss their dates and tell each what the man of the moment is like. We didn’t bother. We simply traded dates and found out for ourselves.
During these years we were so closely matched that there was never any rivalry or jealousy between us. We lived alike, looked alike and appeared to think alike. Group studies have shown, however, that identical twins are never exactly the same, even though they may appear similar in most respects. This finally became evident to Betty and me when we were eighteen and beginning to think about choosing a career.
Our parenta and friends had taken it for granted that whatever we did we would do it together. Although we never discussed it seriously Betty and I thought we’d wind up in the same career too. But this carefree harmony was abruptly shattered the day Betty said casually, “I’ve decided we should be nurses.”
I was appalled. The idea of being a nurse simply didn’t appeal to me. I bluntly said so, and it provoked our first serious quarrel. I wept and argued, but it was no use. Betty had made up her mind: she wanted to be a nurse.
A few months later she was accepted for training at the General Hospital at Belleville, two hundred miles away. Tearfully I helped her pack and kissed her good-by. We now faced our first real separation. Betty knew where she was going and was happy about it. I was miserable. Our parents say now they should have encouraged us to seek separate interests earlier, but up to that time we had been perfectly happy together. Betty may have been influenced by a kind nurse she had while in hospital during her appendectomy. My only impression of nursing was that nurses had to work hard and had long hours.
I spent a miserable eight months at a business college in Toronto. Life lost its sparkle. I felt out of things. I had always depended on Betty for so much that I didn’t seem to know how to mix with other people. I couldn’t make friends; having always been used to the limelight as a twin, it was a blow to shrink into the background as a mere average individual. Nothing had prepared me for this and I resented it. I urged Betty to give up nursing so we could go on together again. However, she seemed to have developed a more mature outlook and was happy in her work.
One day before I finished my business course I felt certain that Betty was sick I had felt miserable all day—no definite symptoms—I just felt awful. That night mother called to say that Betty had undergone an emergency operation and she and father were driving to see her. They picked me up on the way and by this time I was really upset. By the time we reached Belleville I knew I could no longer stand being separated from my twin.
Betty was lying pale and ill in the high hospital bed. She reached out and took my hand. “Don’t you cry, Vic,” she said. “Don’t you dare cry.” My mind was made up. I’d be a nurse. At that moment I wanted to be a Florence Nightingale to the world.
I started out to see the matron about enrolling in the next class. On my way I met the surgeon who had operated on Betty that morning. He was visibly shaken, as it certainly looked as though his patient was up and dressed and walking down the hall. No one had told him Betty had a twin sister.
The superintendent of nurses was very understanding. Perhaps she saw that my need to be with my sister was greater than my desire to L>e a nurse, but nevertheless she accepted me. I stayed with Betty until she reached the convalescent stage and then went home to get ready for my nursing career.
The great day finally dawned and I again left home to be with Betty. Breathless with excitement I left the train and
Continued on page 53
What It's Like to Live With a Double
Continued from page 15
hurried into the waiting room. There on the far side of the room I saw the familiar figure I was seeking. I waved happily, my wave was returned. I rushed toward her, then stopped, scarlet with embarrassment. Onlookers stared and were probably convinced I was not quite normal. I realized 1 was walking not toward Betty but toward a full-length mirror. A few moments later my twin sister raced across the room and threw herself in my arms. We were together again. By a strange coincidence we were wearing identical dresses.
My first day in training was a difficult one for Betty. I was a probationer and was not wearing a cap. The doctors and some of the nurses thought I was Betty and had lost my cap. That is one of the most severe punishments a student nurse can face. Until it was discovered there were two of us I am sure they must have thought Betty one of the seven wonders of the hospital —capless in the morning, capped in the afternoon. Then later :n the day it would seem she had lost ïhe cap again. Finally we appeared -ogether and the mystery was solved.
My three years in training were an endurance test for me. Betty was a good nurse and found joy in the work. I didn’t. I did it all with clenched teeth. Many times I hid in the linen cupboard and cried if a case was hopeless or a patient died.
I did love nursery work, however, and I was particularly interested in twin babies, and I used to watch them in the incubators like a mother robin. The prenatal casualty rate for twins is high—some authorities estimate that about three or four times as many twins are conceived as are born. In infancy too the death rate for twins is much higher than for single births, because so many are premature. But past infancy twins are usually as healthy as other children.
Among white people in the United States, Europe and Canada twins are born about once in every ninety births, with three sets of fraternal twins for every set of identical twins. Among Mongolian people twins occur about half as often.
There are many unexplained aspects of twin production. Age of the parents seems to be one of the factors. Older mothers in their late thirties or early forties are more than twice as likely to have twins as younger women. Where the father is older, too, regardless of the age of the mother, the chance of twins is more likely.
After I became a student nurse Betty rushed into my room in the residence one day to tell me she had made two dates for the same night and didn’t know how to break one of them. She begged me to take one and pretend to be her. I told her I’d go, but I’d go as myself. “Not tonight,” she begged. “One boy is already here and I have only met the other once—I’d feel like a fool asking him to take my sister.” Finally I weakened.
“What’s his name and what does he
look like?” I asked. Betty gave me a quick hug and flew out, calling back as she left, “He’s in the Air Force and his name is Johnson. You’ll like him.” “Hey,” I yelled, “what’s his first name?” But she was away like a shot and didn’t hear me.
Ten minutes later I answered when Betty’s name was called and walked into the sitting room to greet my caller and be my twin for the evening. Not knowing his first name, I nonchalantly said “Hi, Johnnie.” He seemed to sense nothing odd in that. He was a tall nice-looking man with a quiet charm and a sense of humor I liked at once. We had a pleasant evening at a movie; I thought I wouldn’t give myself away there.
On the way home I had a few bad moments wondering what 1 should do if he started to kiss me goodnight. Would Betty kiss him or wouldn’t she? When he left me at the residence door
WHICH TWIN IS WHICH?
(See photo pages )4, 15) Betty, left; Vic, right
he leaned over and kissed me lightly, saying he’d call me soon.
I rushed into Betty’s room. “For Pete’s sake!” I said, “I’ve been kissed and I don’t even know his first name.”
I learned that it was Walter. A few nights later we met Walter at a skating rink and Betty introduced me to him. He commented on how much alike we were. He was so proper that I had the greatest urge to say “You kissed me the other night,” but I didn’t. In fact T never told him about that evening
(til after I married him.
By the time we had finished training, Betty one year and I the next, we realized we were no longer thinking alike. We still had gay times, still fooled people, but we knew our lives could no longer run in parallel lines. Betty had accepted an executive position in nursing and I was in love with Walter. I felt almost guilty about it too. We had always planned a double wedding when we were children and I worried about Betty not wanting to marry when I did.
There was a certain sadness about my wedding preparations. All through the parties and showers and trousseau hunting I was aware that I was really making a final break. There was a lump in my throat a lot of the time. Betty assured me that she really made the first break when she left me to be a nurse. Now that I was planning my happy future I too had to think of myself as an individual. That is not easy after twenty-odd years of being “the Twins,” but in some ways it was almost a relief too. One does get tired of stares and whispers and the old question: “Are you girls twins?” or “Which one has the Toni?”
We are both married now, but this has not changed our devotion to each other. We have simply become two personalities instead of a team.
We still look enough alike to fool the unsuspecting. When my husband and I moved from Toronto recently, Betty and her husband took over our apartment. Betty said this caused some excitement among tenants who thought Walter had left and I had remained with a new husband. Betty of course was delighted with this, just as I would be. We drive our husbands crazy and bore our friends to death reliving our experiences every time we get together. Walter still takes a lot of good-natured teasing about his first date with me.
But life is just as wonderful as Mrs. Walter Johnson as it was as one of “the Twins.” What more could I ask for? Why, twins of course! W