I had a young cousin who once declared that twins should be called “doublets.” It made a cute story within the family because it was, well, so cute from a child just learning the world. But it was also right on the money: instead of being a single, no-one-like-me child, a twin went through life with a double, a doppelganger, right in front of her face.
In those days, twins were often dressed alike, and expected to play up their twin-ness in other ways too. The Johnson twins were a set – invite them both, or invite neither. These days, with more psychological knowledge, parents make every effort to differentiate one twin from the other, encouraging them to cultivate different friends, interests, skills.
Which brings me to this story, which made the rounds at a writers’ conference I attended several years ago. It made the rounds because once you hear it, the shivers set in, and you feel compelled to share it with others. It hints at magic, and forces beyond our understanding.
The person who told me the story swore that she’d heard it directly from the writer involved, a member of her week-long class. She was a fiction writer who had been at it a while, long enough to develop awareness of her particular habits as a writer. We all try to cultivate the good habits and eliminate the bad ones, of course. And we share our pieces with teachers and fellow writers, in hopes that they will notice and comment too.
The writer got her first tipoff from a member of her writers group who observed that she regularly created pairs of characters, often twins. This friend wondered why. The writer couldn’t explain it. She didn’t intend to, she said. In fact, she didn’t even realize that she did it. But she had to agree.
Why were twins so often showing up in her stories? Writers often say that once a story gets rolling, their characters take off on their own and create the story themselves, so the way the story develops is in the character’s hands more than the writer’s. Perhaps this was evidence of that phenomenon? But why twins when she had no particular connection with friends or close relatives who were or had twins?
She couldn’t explain it – but she figured that there is a lot about the creative process that is mysterious, so this must be just another part of the mystery. Until she learned the secret that had been kept from her: that she had been half of a twin pregnancy. Her twin had died before birth.
Somehow she’d known without knowing. Her knowledge was imprinted deeper than her consciousness could recognize, and she lived out the twinhood she was denied in this other way. Outside, she was a singleton, deep inside a twin without a twin.
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