"Come here," my mother said. She wanted to show me her twin sister's obituary in their hometown paper--which we read daily on my iPad.
A few days before, according to my mom's wishes, we'd selected a photo of my aunt from 1988 to run in the obituary with a more recent photo. It was a Christmas photo of the two of them standing in front of the fireplace at my cousin's house, and they were bedecked with dangling earrings and shiny necklaces. My mother wanted a photo of her sister that people would recognize from the days when they lived in Iowa together. She liked the photo I showed her, and so, I cropped her out and made a headshot of my aunt. My mom gave her approval, and I emailed the picture to my mother's only remaining sibling who had taken on the job of writing the obituary.
"That picture of Millie in the red dress--that younger picture--it's me, not her," she said. I reviewed the chain of events relating to the choosing of the photo while I opened iPhoto. "See?" I said, showing her the original photo. "You're taller and bigger. Millie was a slightly smaller person."
"I don't know," she said. "I think it's me." I must have looked stricken because she assured me then that it didn't really matter.
Sometime later she retold a story from her childhood I've heard before. How in the afternoon when chores were being parceled out, it was one twin's job to walk towards the factory where their father worked and meet him on his way home with a sandwich and some water. "Hello, twin," he would say. "Which one were you?" There's a story or two from their Baltimore days too where they filled in for one another at their nightclub jobs with no one the wiser. There was a cop on the beat there, though, who would swing his nightstick at the pretty brunette with the identical sister. He knew that my aunt was the one who would flinch.
Or was it the other way around?
Last evening, my mom shrieked when she saw what she thought was a spider in the bowl of grapes on the kitchen island. "I'd rather see a rat than a spider,"she said. But I remember a decade or two ago when my aunt and my mom would come to visit regularly. "Ethel, spider!" my aunt would call. "Help, Ethel!" My mom wouldn't smash the spider. She'd capture it and suffocate it, then pin it to a piece of cardboard, legs artfully extended. She'd spray it with hairspray and later, with a hint of sisterly torment, show the spider to my aunt.
Sometime in their 70s when my mom and my aunt were beset by a variety of health problems, I was visiting my mom when my aunt was in the hospital. My mother called her sister to tell her goodnight. "Where are you?" my aunt asked.
"I'm at home," my mother said.
"I thought you were in the hospital," my aunt said.
"You're the one in the hospital," my mother told her. I suppose that bit of weirdness could have been a miscommunication. Like maybe, my aunt thought my mom was there somewhere on the hospital grounds. I don't know. But I know what my mom thought about the conversation because we talked about it. She thought her sister was mixed up from the drugs. However, the whole thing gave me goosebumps.
As you might imagine, I've been fascinated by twins my entire life. A mother who's an identical twin, a fraternal set of twins for a great aunt and uncle, twin cousins--who have a sibling who has twins. Did you know that there's such a thing as vanishing twin syndrome? While I'm not entirely sure how much I trust the source--or the ABC News stories for accurate science, it's pretty captivating stuff--though a bit off the subject here. But nevertheless, I sense that, in my mom's grief, there's something odd happening here.