SNAPSHOT #3: SELFSAME

It was always just the two of them, at least that’s how it felt. Kevin and Colin. Colin and Kevin. They began as a simple zygote, singular and whole. Perfect, symmetrical. They divided because they had to, floating in their mother’s womb. They dodged about smiling, reaching toward one another, swimming about in the warm, red glow of her blood. The constant thrum of her heart sustained them, and they were happy there together for the longest time. Then, of course, they were born. And everything changed.

Kevin remembers how it was, now, in the dark hole of his grief. He remembers how it was before everything went so wrong. He never tells anyone, afraid they won’t believe him. He wants to hold this memory in the private place inside of him that he keeps for things that are precious.

Not all births have happy endings. Things happen. Sometimes one twin thrives and the other doesn’t. Sometimes things are so crowded that when the older twin comes shooting out from between his mother’s legs, his face red with life and fury, the younger gets lost for a moment, is trapped. There is not enough oxygen. Two boys who are exactly alike down to the very DNA they share are faced with the cruel realities of fate. One has everything. The other one is left with almost nothing. What a tragedy, everybody says. How terrible and sad.

Kevin and Colin. It should have been so simple. But it wasn’t. Kevin with his charm, and smarts, and interest in physics. Colin, lying in the hospital bed in the small room in their parent’s home, his eyes soft and bright, his body useless. His mouth open and his brain altogether different. He could not speak but Kevin could still hear him, could remember how they had laughed together.

Kevin learned to bathe and change his brother when he was twelve. Colin made little sounds as he lifted him gently, turned him over, ran the warm washcloth over his brother’s soft skin. He learned to turn him over so that his skin would not be riddled with sores. He loved his twin in spite of his horror and sorrow. He learned to do what needed to be done.

When Kevin was sixteen, he kissed Mary Louise Holstrom. Later he whispered into Colin’s ear, I will tell you everything, always. I will keep you near. He tried to keep his promise. He held his twin’s hand and murmured into his ear. He looked at his brother’s face, saw his own, and knew that Colin heard.

He sits in the back of the church, now, watches all of the mourners. His parents are in the front pew holding one another, their faces stunned, their mouths slack. His brothers and sisters wander, lost, towards the front of the church, clumped together like pieces of wet sand on a cloudy day at the beach. They pause, their breath shuddering as they lay their hands on the cherry coffin. Kevin watches the backs of Deirdre’s knees crease forward like origami, sees how the rest of them hold her up as she sobs. Keith and Robby catch her arms. Nora brushes the tears from her flushed cheeks.

Last week, when he got the letter from Yale, his hands shook as he read it to Colin. He sat next to Kevin quietly in the late afternoon sun, dust motes floating and darting about like gnats in the fading light. There’s only one way I can take you with me, Colin. I won’t leave you alone. Right before he put the pillow over Colin’s face, he leaned his forehead against his brother’s and saw himself in his brother’s eyes. He felt Colin say his name and then he did what needed to be done.