Turning 50 with My Twin
By Jude Joseph Lovell
We were there. On a long porch, at night. Isolated from the world. Thick clouds smothering the moon and stars. Wind trampling through the dark trees. Branches snapping in the mist like brittle bones. Night creatures chittering and screeching.
There was no fear. We were together. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. You can’t separate identical twins.
I reached over and lit my brother’s cigar. We clinked two glass tumblers filled with liquor. “Cheers. Happy Birthday!”
We were born in the fall of 1970 in the Windy City. Our father was a scientist, thinker, theologian, ex-Jesuit, voracious learner. Our mother taught high school and college English. She gave us one another, plus two sisters and two other brothers. She continually corrected our grammar. She worked countless jobs later on, one as a librarian. She made sure we got into books.
We talked about her all weekend. How our gratitude to her may extend the furthest. For the books part in particular—but really, for all of it. Who can adequately requite their mother?
Although we were smoking and drinking, we tried to clear our heads. It was hard to believe we were really there. But we were—and only fools would not savor it. That, we did not have to be told.
In all but the rarest instances, identical twins do not need to articulate their basest feelings. A tacit understanding exists. We communicate perpetually. Even when we are not communicating, we are. We love one another, but rarely speak of it.
This is not for embarrassment. Saying it does not cheapen it. But neither does it fully suffice. Language, such as it is, is inadequate to capture the bond’s infallibility. Or its nature. I will walk to the ends of the earth, and then gladly die, for my brother. But he knows that like he knows his own flesh.
* * *
Our extended family had arranged all of this. They sent us to a remote cabin in New Hampshire in the middle of October to celebrate our impending fifieth birthday. They communicated with our individual families well in advance. Our wives and children cleared the decks and took on whatever they needed to free us up.
This alone was overwhelming. We have eight children between us and we take fatherhood seriously. But everyone involved wanted us to celebrate our half-century together.
Our big sister is like an angel. Not the kind found in greeting cards or silly TV dramas in which flawed human characters are guided to some quasi-redemption. I mean the guardian kind: a being whose primary engine is love and whose very purpose seems to be to draw others heavenward. She’s really like that.
The cabin belongs to her and her family. They’ve only just bought it and have not yet even spent much time there themselves. She repeatedly drove over seventy miles back and forth to clean it up, bring in furnishings, buy snacks, write out little maps and instructions—everything. She picked us up at the airport, drove us to the house, made us dinner one night, even left us a car to drive. Unbelievable.
We also got to spend some time with her and her family. I normally get to see them maybe twice a year. We attended church and returned to her house for a Sunday brunch. We caught up with our gracious (and funny) brother-in-law and their two beautiful daughters, one a young woman, the other nine years old. They did everything they could to give us a fun celebration.
The rest was pure “nerdery,” as my brother put it. Anybody who knows us knows that all my brother and I really want to do is hang out. That’s what we did. We ate, we drank coffee, and read books, our favorite things in the world that aren’t human. We exchanged more books as birthday gifts. We recorded an episode of a podcast we created—about books. We watched some football and talked a bit of smack. We drank beer, port, and brandy. At night we hung out on the porch in the dark and smoked cigars. We were happy as a couple of bear cubs rolling around in the leaves.
People sometimes tell me that I wear my responsibilities heavily. I try my best to be good and care for those I love. My tombstone should probably read: “He tried.” I worry a lot. I don’t know if I am particularly good at anything I do. But I know I am present, and I hope and pray that this counts for something.
Whether we deserved all this or not, I cannot say. But the gift was extraordinary. We knew the only way to appreciate what we had been given was to celebrate it, in the moment. So, we gave it all we had. And we reflected on our gratitude. For the time, our wives, our children, our mother, our late father, our four other siblings, all our beautiful nieces and nephews, and our fifty years of being alive.
* * *
Many people do not realize this, but there is no known explanation for why identical twinning occurs. One egg becomes fertilized inside of a mother and only then splits in two. Science cannot explain this. Perhaps only God could.
In a way, for my brother and I, this creates a bit of a “three’s a crowd” situation. From the womb to that long porch—all the time—we are co-existing with the mystery.
And to think people sometimes wonder why I am constantly searching for the right words.
Photo credit by Andriyko Podilnyk (Ukraine) @yirage
Jude Joseph Lovell writes on books and popular culture for Silver Sage and is the author of four novels, three short story collections, and four works of nonfiction. His newest book is Door In The Air: New and Selected Stories, 1999-2020. He lives with his wife and four growing children in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. For more information visit his website at judejosephlovell.com.