Twins are not that rare a phenomenon, with 8-16 pairs of twins per 1,000 pregnancies in Europe, North America and the Middle East. Of these, around a quarter are a subset called mirror twins.
There is a simple Thai phrase which sums up my experience as an identical mirror twin, ‘Same, same but different.’ Here are my thoughts about being a walking clone of my sister for the past 28 years:
Our birthday is on the same day. Over the years, my sister tried to introduce a 3 minute curfew on me opening my cards and presents since she was that much older. I refused because most of our gifts are the same thing but in a different colour, which ruins the surprise element of opening them. Unforgivably, I forgot my twin’s birthday when I was 15 as I was away skiing in Austria. She is yet to forget mine.
When two become one
As a twin, sometimes it feels like you are half a person rather than a whole. In the Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, one character wonders if her twin girls, “have a life of their own each, or just one between the two of them.” We are used to the BOGOF jokes (buy one get one free), the ‘spare parts’ jibes where the dystopian reality of Never Let Me Go is a little too close for comfort, or the fact that if one of us were to die, at least there is another one walking around. Just so you know, pondering over our mortality is a total buzz kill.
Thankfully, when we were younger, our mum didn’t always dress us the same. We developed polarised styles as we grew up, with her experimenting with hippy-goth vibes and me pretending I was an Australian surfer. Aged 12, I was inspired by the Jacqueline Wilson book Double Act, where Ruby chops off all her hair to look different from Garnet. The change was temporary, however, as my sister liked it and then did exactly the same. It was a compliment I repaid her in our mid-twenties. As we grew up, I was frustrated by her unwillingness to share her wardrobe, but I understand now that she was protecting our identities from merging even more. On the bright side, it’s handy having someone try out a style before you commit to it yourself, even if it is dark purple lipstick.
Telling us apart
Up until the age of three, it was almost impossible to tell us apart. Our family photo album has our names scribbled on the back, but some do have question marks. It is entirely likely that we may have swapped identities when we outgrew our hospital name bracelets. Luckily, as mirror twins, we grabbed for things with different hands which helped our family work out who was who. My sister wore NHS prescription glasses for a couples of years in primary school, but we rebelled against this distinguishable feature by breaking them at every opportunity, from flying off swings or (less elegantly) jumping on them from the bed. As we grew older, people started commenting on our appearance. It’s amazing how brazen strangers can be when analysing your faces. To be told that one is prettier, more rounded in the jaw, has a bigger cows-lick or widow’s peak, has nicer-shaped eyes, has slimmer legs etc. is not pleasant to hear as a self-conscious teen, let alone one who loves her sister. Note to the wise – let the twins tell you how they like to be identified before you offend them.
The evil twin
There is always one. I took this title in our pair. I was always louder, more aggressive playing sports, partied more, decorated myself in piercings and tattoos and have an incurable case of foot-in-mouth. However, as identical twins, we share the exact same DNA. If a crime was committed and a DNA sample framed one of us, people would automatically assume that I did it. I’m not a bad person, but when you compare our virtues, I’ll admit that I’m not as saintly as my sister. This keeps me awake at night sometimes.
Strangers are easily offended
My twin and I ended up working at the same company in Canary Wharf after graduating. She’d been there nearly 2 years and set me up, and I rocked up to my interview on crutches. Lots of employees smiled emphatically at me or shot me looks of concern. I was concentrating on walking on my sticks and listening to my tour, so I did not respond. Undoubtedly, some of Carla’s colleagues thought that she was being rude that day. We ended up working in completely different teams but were located on the same floor. Often, we would often get accosted by our colleagues and set various tasks. As an intern who wasn’t sure on what my role entailed, I dread to think of how many extra errands I ran, or failed to do properly on my sister’s behalf. When I quit my job, a few of our colleagues were surprised to discover there were two of us. They must have thought that our amalgamation changed outfits regularly each day.
Achievements are dulled
When we were 16, we landed on the front page of our local rag. The picture showed us waving our exam results in the air and grinning moronically. My sister and I were the GCSE results story because, as she dryly put it, we were twins. She was at pains to explain that the one B result came from me, and resented the fact that her almost flawless sheet was marred with some of my unstarred A’s. She achieved an even greater accomplishment, though, having scored in the top 5 for English Literature out of over 365,000 papers. Unfortunately, I matched her on this too.
Telepathy is a thing
It’s just not our thing. Like anyone who has spent lots of time together and shared experiences, we often would react the same way and say the same thing. Jinxing is something I happen to do with close friends, too. However, we do not feel each other’s pain (stop punching us), we do not always feel sad at the same time (although there’s this thing called empathy), and we cannot communicate across the room using our minds (we use Whatsapp just like you).
We never capitalised on being twins. I’d like to say we took advantage of our likeness to play the system, but for that to work, you need two willing volunteers. As far as I can remember, we only swapped classes once as she was far too rule-abiding to try it again. Our mum entered us into a Pears Soap advert competition but unfortunately we’d just lost our front teeth. I did ask her to apply for Bear Gryll’s The Island after I auditioned, but it wasn’t something she fancied doing. We’ve never tricked our dates, or sneaked into festivals or gigs on one ticket. However, my sister forgot her ID once and I managed to persuade a bouncer to let her in on mine.
History can be edited
When my sister and I are together and reminiscing about the past, we often find that we confuse who was actually in the story. I confess I have an unfortunate habit of inserting her into a story when it is embarrassing. Sharing a synchronized childhood together was special, and ultimately it doesn’t matter who beat who 6-3 in the last set of tennis, who created the Spirograph masterpiece, who rode without stabilisers first, or who grew their sea monkeys the biggest. When she’s not around, I can shamelessly claim these victories for myself.
One Halloween in the 1990’s, we didn’t have a costume ready. We could have gone down the bed sheet ghoul route, but our mum had a better idea. We hit the streets in a large jumper and pretended we were conjoined twins. That evening, we got a sorry haul of just one orange to share between us, and oh, an old lady threw a bucket of water over us. I suppose we deserved it.
As fifteen year olds, we played for a women’s hockey team. We both played in mid-field, with her on the right and me on the left. Our playing style was markedly different. She was a more tactical player who would run miles each game, chasing down balls and initiating play up the field. I had already sent two girls to hospital with injuries from my (mostly legal) hitting technique. From my short hockey career, one game stands out. I scored the winning goal against a tough opponent. We had defended a short corner and their players had pushed up. I intercepted the ball and ran up the field, looking for support. I used reverse stick to get around one defender, then flicked the ball over the next defender. I was now in the D, facing their last line of defence. The keeper ran out, and I dummied running to the left before sweeping the ball in from the right. After the match, they gave woman of the match to my sister. Robbed.
What’s in a name?
My twin and I are both used to being called the wrong name by accident. What we are less tolerant of is when people deliberately call us the wrong name on purpose. Our response is to get their name wrong in return. Occasionally, our names are dismissed entirely and we are referred to as “Twin One” and “Twin Two” like Dr Seuss characters. For the record, being called number two is not something you can be proud of.
During a job interview I once had, the manager delighted in keeping me waiting for his decision, before congratulating me on landing the job on his bar staff. As I walked out, the manager shouted after me, “I wish there were two of you!”
“There are two of us,” I replied. “I have an identical twin.” He smiled politely and I walked out, thinking I needed to immediately inform my sister about her new job.
I learnt to scuba dive with my boyfriend and my twin. We were paired up with our buddies, did our checks, then descended down to the sea bed. The instructor was frantically waving at me to follow up ahead, but in following his instructions I had to abandon my buddy which is the ultimate diving no-no. I suddenly understood why – he had mistaken me for my twin. I wasn’t equipped to explain this mix up with my limited hand signals, so I just went with it. After that, I deliberately wore mismatched fins to be more recognisable.
As sisters, we drifted apart in our teens. We went to different schools before she headed to University then polished off her Masters straight afterwards, whereas I went backpacking and ended up living in a caravan before studying my degree. Our friends would ask us why we weren’t closer and would say that if they had a twin, they would do everything together. I think people imagine their twin will be just like them, matching in personality and interests, forgetting that each mind is autonomous.
Being a mirror twin does certainly garner attention, but it’s not always positive. As a reaction against the constant comparisons and diminished individuality, I think we became opposite caricatures of one another at school. We are close now because those pressures have been lifted from us. We enjoy each other’s company, have adventures together and have varied experiences to share when we catch up. We can appreciate the differences we see, rather than wish they weren’t there. We were conditioned to be more competitive, but I’m relieved that we lead individual lives and have achieved separate goals. I am now teaching English in Singapore, and my twin is studying to become a speech and language therapist in London. Although our paths deviated, we are closer than ever.
Twin statistics, ‘Mortality among twins and singletons in sub-Saharan Africa between 1995 and 2014‘, The Lancet, by Prof. Christian W S Monden, [http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30197-3/fulltext]
Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride, Hachette Digital version published 2009, p.79