“Twin” by Benjamin Wessel

An original memoir written in CW 352:  Creative Nonfiction Workshop with Prof. Elizabeth Geoghegan — Summer 2010


“Twin”

Matt said he was going to run away if the third set of twins didn’t involve boys.  My parents wanted to stop after the first five kids, leaving Matt screwed with four sisters and zero brothers.  Lucky for him, mistakes happen.  Lucky for him, this mistake involved two boys.

Mike and I are the youngest set.  The oldest in our family, Nicki, is the only non-twin.  Matt and Kim followed her as the boy-girl set and Amy and Beth as the girl-girl.  For the most part, the three oldest seemed to get along.  Matt never had anything to fight with the others about because he was the only boy around, and the fact that Nicki and Kim weren’t twins, at least in our family, seemed to preclude any potential conflict.

Amy and Beth fought…all the time.  Beth would steal Amy’s clothes and slyly put them back in her closet as if to suggest that they were there the whole time.  Beth would beat Amy in a game of HORSE and Amy would subsequently start chucking balls at her (as Amy is far and away the most competitive in the family).  Amy’s pink bed sheets would lie throughout the day positioned as they were when morning broke and this would trigger Beth to fury over the cleanliness of their room.  Beth, after a stage of complete social confusion—baggy, black Jinko jeans with a chained wallet dangling from the side pocket, hair intentionally greased to the side like the guys from “Grease”—finally turned pretty, and Amy, being the athlete, thought this contradicted their athletic Wessel image.  So, they argued.

Sometimes these arguments turned ugly.  Doors slammed.  Cheeks burned red and tears emasculated their toughness.  It was hard to watch, this vulnerability at its most sensitive point.  One would think Mike and I learned from the earlier twins.  While we weren’t as bad, we still argued.  We fought.  Over stupid things.  (At least in retrospect.  At the time they seemed monumental.)  But that’s the nature of being a twin.  We argued over girls, over what show to watch, over where Mom would take us to eat, over whose turn it was to vacuum or do the dishes.  People constantly tell us that they would die to have a twin; that they would be best guy friends and would share girls and do crazy shit together.  Ignorantly, they fail to realize that not only would they probably not share girls, but that so much inherent trouble comes with being a twin, as previously shown, and so much conflict ensues.

Mike and I got in trouble and on each other’s nerves.  Curiosity and girls seemed to be the primary reasons.

Kindergarten.  Best grade ever.  We didn’t have to go in until noon and literally played with toys all day.  Downside to starting so late?  Mike and I usually had to get up with our mom and do all the errands:  go to the post office; go to the library; get the car washed; go to the hardware store…seemingly an endless array of monotonous, mind numbing tasks.  Every one of these chores (I feel chore is a qualified label) gave me a headache.

Especially the library.

The library is quiet.  Mike and I were five years old on this specific day, clearly unable to read.  Occasionally we would get a “Where’s Waldo” book, but at this point we had found him everywhere.  Mission accomplished.  So, we tended to robotically follow our mom around while she picked up some books.  The deadness in the library impelled my mind to ring in boredom and ache.  The bookshelves were a dull brown, the carpet a dull gray.  It smelled like old books, as if they had been sitting on the shelves untouched for centuries.  And there were many old people.  All of these added to my state of boredom and my morning headache.

Our mom is a talker.  She knows many people due to her personable demeanor and outward bubblyness.  This fact tended to delay each stop in the mornings.  What should have been no more than a 30 minute stay at the library, on this particular morning, lasted over an hour (it only actually lasted an hour—to us, as bored to death five year olds, it seemed like much longer than that).

She was talking to some old friend:  a lady her age with long black hair and a wardrobe that fit in perfectly with the banality of the library.  Their conversation droned on.  While others were constantly walking through the front doors, clearly understanding the idea of “in-and-out.,” I could hear the lady’s heckling laugh as it stood out in that quiet place like a bright pink bookshelf would have.

I couldn’t stand any longer, so I looked for someplace to sit.  There wasn’t anywhere.  We were in the lobby, somewhat away from the lifelessness that existed in the books area, so I didn’t want to move.  Mike and I were restless.  While I was pacing back and forth he was constantly shifting his posture—body weight on his right foot and right hand on his right hip, then a shift to the left side – as if to suggest that we needed to get a move on.  Mom, seeing this but not wanting to end her conversation quite yet, gave us a toy to play with.

A nickel.

Seriously?  A nickel?  Not even two nickels, but we had to share.   One measly nickel, the same color as those annoying carpets.  I didn’t know any games to play with a nickel.  Neither did Mike.   Throwing it around, or something along those lines, probably would have turned a lot of heads.

Mike saw a payphone.  I assured him that calls cost 35 cents, and we only had five.

“Who cares?  It’s worth a shot.”

I conceded and threw the coin in.  I picked up the phone without any clue as to whom to call and without any faith that a call would actually go through.  I didn’t know anyone’s number except home.  But no one was home.  I dialed the only other number I knew.

9-1-1.

It went through.  I guess emergencies are free of charge.

“911 what’s your emergency?”

I panicked and slammed the phone.  Mike was freaking out, not because he was ecstatic that his idea actually worked, but because he was worried that his idea actually worked.  I surveyed the lobby to see if anyone had found out what I had just done, though no one had as they couldn’t tell who I called.  I saw Mom.  She was still chattering with Mrs. Whatever-her-name-was some 20 yards away with her patented smile and never-ending conversation, and our commotion was inaudible to her.  I wanted to pick the phone back up to assure that the call ended and everything was cool.

“Don’t pick it up!” Mike pleaded.

Curiosity trumped my consideration for Mike and I lifted the receiver.  The operator, to my utter disappointment and embarrassment, was still on the line.

“911 what’s your emergency?”

Again, I panicked.  “My mom’s dead.”  Whoops.

“What’s her name?”

“Patrice Wessel.”

“What’s your name?”

“Ben.”

“Where are you?”

“Library.”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know.”

I hung up and thought my lack of knowledge about what library I was at would compel them to drop the call and move on.  Meanwhile, Mike had already bolted into the bathroom and hid in the second stall, feet above the cracks, scared that the cops were going to know he was a part of the debacle and get him in trouble with Mom or something.

I attempted to be casual and wait.  I was no longer restless due to boredom, but restless because I had just made a huge mistake—Mom wasn’t dead.  Mom shouldn’t have taken so long.  That call wasn’t supposed to go through.   Being a nail-biter, I used this predicament as an avenue to bite away.

Sure enough, 10 minute later a cop stormed in the library.  A real cop.  She was redheaded.  Thin but in shape.   She had the black uniform, the belt, the gun, the badge.  Scary woman.

“Where’s Patrice Wessel?!”

My headache escalated.

My mom obliviously turned her head.  “Right here,” she mumbled.

The rest is a blur.

At this point, Mike had slowly come out of the bathroom suggesting that he had nothing to do with it.  Being only five years old, the cop knelt down and explained the repercussions of my actions.  Because of my call, they had to send cops to all local libraries and take them away from other potential emergencies.  I apologized and left the library with my head down.  I still had a headache.

My mom was livid.  The car ride was awful.  Mike and I just sat and took her heat.

We had plans to go to Chuck E. Cheese.

We went home.

I’m somewhere around 11 years old.  It was another hot, summer day at YMCA Day Camp.  These enrollments always seemed like they lasted the whole summer but I found out we only went for two weeks.  Boys and girls would be mingled into a group with a counselor, the guys sharing one cabin and the girls another.  Countless fields of grass were home to games of soccer, capture the flag and kickball.  The outdoor pool held swimming tests and leisure swim time.  Trails throughout the surrounding woods provided laboring but fun hikes.  And on the way end of the camp grounds was Lake Hastings.

A lot of the girls were cute, too.

Mom packed mine and Mike’s red duffel bags with one Gatorade and many orange Tic Tacs—which she was adamant about sharing with the other kids— and suntan lotion for Mike.  Mike was a pasty white and burned within 30 minutes of being in the sun, whereas within 30 minutes I turned a golden tan.  She also packed us a towel.  Mike and I didn’t like swimming in the Lake, so for that we didn’t tend to use it.  When our group would go there, we tended to isolate ourselves on the sand.  We would dig for treasures (rocks that weren’t gray) or build sand castles or watch the other kids swim in the murky water that apparently was a lake.  It’s not that we weren’t good swimmers.  We were the best in our group.  We just thought the lake water was gross.

Our refusal to go in says a lot about the following.

Because Mike and I were “advanced” swimmers, we had the privilege of using the sailboats.  So did Lauren.  Lauren wasn’t in our group, but she was at the Lake the same time as us and she was cute.  Blonde hair that stopped just short of her shoulders and her neon orange life jacket initially attracted me to her.  Plus, she was a good swimmer.  I already thought we had a lot in common.

Unfortunately, Mike thought they had a lot in common, too.  But she was my girl.  I found her first.  We had more in common.  He probably thought the same thing and for that, we took different routes in attempts to win her over.

The three of us got a 10 minute explanation on how to sail.  Mike was listening intently like he does with everything.  Lauren was, too.  I, however, was too affixed on Lauren’s beauty and our future sailing endeavor that I wasn’t paying attention.  I slouched with my life jacket tight around my chest, seemingly preventing my heart from beating fast like it wanted to.  She asked questions.  I liked that.  Mike asked questions, too.  I didn’t like that.

I figured I could get Lauren just by being present.  I had landed other girls at camp, including the girl whom I kissed underwater at the pool.  I don’t recall Mike having the same success.  I was tan.  He was white.  I had blonde hair.  He had red.  Sure, he was taller, but what girl that age cared about height?  I was the cute camper that she wanted.  He wasn’t.

The next part of the memory picks up while the three of us were alone in the middle of the lake It’s not as adventurous as it sounds.  The lake was all of a quarter mile wide.  A big pond, I guess.  Mike was working hard and Lauren seemed to mirror that with an enamoring smile.  This was his way of getting the girl.  I would mix blank stares at Lauren with little spurts of actual conversation.  I don’t know what we talked about, but I know that she giggled.  I giggled because she giggled.  Mike couldn’t make her giggle.  This was my way.

I couldn’t hear much else around me.  I guess I chose not to.  I would pretend like I was helping out every other minute, but really my focus was on Lauren.  Mike’s focus was on Lauren, too, but he showed this indirectly my manning the ship.

I saw Mike start to frantically pull on some white pole (a tiller—which I would have known had I listened during the lesson).  That made me happy.  He was messing up.  Lauren watched him.  I watched her.  Why was she watching him?  He was ruining the boat.  I was making her laugh.  Mike continued to be hysterical.  I continued to watch Lauren until she got up to help Mike.  That angered me.  In that moment my hearing re-opened to everything around me, and I heard the instructor hollering at us from the shore.

“Turn it left! Turn it left!” and a mix of many other sailing terms that we probably learned about in that 10 minute lesson.

Mike didn’t turn it left either in time or hard enough.  I don’t know.   I lost my footing a couple times and Lauren seemed confused.  Mike was still in a frenzy.  This wasn’t good.  I was about to drown with the love of my life.  Sure, it would have been Mike’s fault, but I needed some more time with Lauren.  We had things we still had to do.  Dates.  Hand holding.  Maybe a kiss?  But no.  We were about to capsize.  I remember thinking Mike probably schemed this.

I was first in.  Then Mike.  Then Lauren.  The nasty water welcomed me with slimy, green seaweed and such a disgusting texture that my hair hardened the moment my head popped out. Embarrassing.  Mike didn’t look much better.  Suits him right.

Lauren looked just as bad.  Her hair was longer, which meant more material to harden.  She wasn’t very pleased with us, but at the same time I didn’t care anymore.  She no longer looked pretty.

I don’t recollect Lauren and me ever talking again.  Same for Mike.

We were in the sixth-grade.  Not to toot our own horns, but girls liked us.  I don’t know if this was because we were actually cute and funny or if it was because we were twins, and dating a twin was cool.  Whatever the case, we reveled in being the ladies’ men.

This led Mike to go for the prettiest girl in our hall, Mai (short for Montida) Fleming.  Many tried but few succeeded.  Her Thai skin seemed to create an impenetrable barrier around her short stature and delicate smile.  The innocence in her voice lured every guy in, but the maturity and confidence rooted inside it proved them all incompatible.  Her intellect alone disqualified most of the hall from standing a chance.   As the cliché goes, Mike was up for the challenge.

Girls liked him, but I didn’t think he stood a chance.  Sure, he dated another very pretty girl (twice) but that’s because they had been best friends before.  It was more so they went out because they felt compelled.  And then did it again.  Mai was different.  She seemed untouchable, even to Mike.  No chance.

But to my surprise, I guess they were hitting it off.  I don’t really know because I was too into some other girl in a different hall; one of those relationships where you hate each other outwardly but deep inside are crazy about each other.  Hayden.  She played that game well.  So, while I was calling her names and taking a few bullets as well, Mike was smoothly winning over Mai.  He had plans to ask her out (in middle school terms, to be his girlfriend) at the dance one Friday night.  Unbeknownst to me.

At the dance, everyone was having a good time.  Guys were lined up against the wall with their baggy khakis and oversized polo shirts while the girls, all with too much make-up on, danced with each other.  One girl would customarily go over to a guy and ask him to dance for another girl because the other girl was too scared to do it herself, and the guy didn’t really care either way.  I wasn’t like most guys at this point though.  I typically wore a short sleeve button up with a pair of the hip cut-off pants (the kind that turn into shorts).  And while they were lined up like inmates, I would go play basketball with the guys, then hit the dance floor and look for Miss Right.

I only did slow dances, however, because those are too hard to screw up.  I danced with Gracie.  Cute, but not my type.  She’s the girl next door, the one who had a crush on me for years and I never reciprocated.   I danced with Hayden.  The love-hate relationship girl.  She knew how to dress.  Her jeans flared right over her feet and into her cheerleading tennis shoes, and her pink top brought attention to her blonde hair and blue eyes.  I liked her, as evidenced by my heart skipping a beat every time any parts of our bodies grazed each other.  Plus, we were actually being nice this night.  But I couldn’t completely focus my attention on her.

Mai was dancing amongst these timid girls and Mike was nowhere to be found (probably playing basketball in the gym next door, being one of the oversized polo and baggy khakis guys).  That’s who I wanted to dance with.  That’s who I wanted to sing the songs to as they played and we effortlessly swayed back and forth, her hands around my neck and mine around her waist.  She’s the one I wanted to think about as I went to bed that night.

So, I did what any twin brother would do.  I went and slow-danced with Mai.

And two slow dances later, I did what any other twin brother would do.  I asked her out.

She said yes.

The dance ended with Mai and I holding hands, and Mike learning of the news from one of her girlfriends.  He was pissed.  My mom had chaperoned that dance, and she recalls that while I was walking out of the school holding hands with the pretty Thai girl, Mike was stomping his feet right behind us, glaring heavily at his crush and the robber that was his brother.

I didn’t talk to Mike at all that night.  For some reason, he was mad.

I woke up the next morning, startled by a bombardment of stuffed animals.  Mike and I had the same bedroom since our toddler years, and we had two nets in the corners of the room piled high with stuffed animals we had accumulated over the years.  Kermit the Frog woke me.  Then the whole Monstars team from Space Jam precluded any further sleep.  Finally I got up to Mike, with my Christmas teddy bear over his head, hollering at me.

“I was supposed to ask her out!  She liked me!  Not you!”

I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it was along the lines of ‘Chill out, you had your chance.’  I kind of felt bad, but not really.  He already dated Jenna twice, and she was just a cute as Mai.  He didn’t need a rebound.  Maybe I thought he was being a player and that these girls needed to be grounded in one man, and I truly thought I was that one man.

We broke up two weeks later.  Mike never tried for Mai again.

I started talking to Hayden.

We continued to have girl problems.  There are three girls he dated (or at least was talking to) in high school that I ended up either dating or talking to after he was through.  He did the work, and I got the reward.  I actually feel bad about these ones, because I’m more of the ladies’ man than he is.  I’ve had more success in getting the girl I went for, whereas the girls he goes for label him a nice guy and great friend.  I guess I just couldn’t help myself.

We don’t go on curious escapades much anymore.  We’ve grown out of that.  We didn’t want ourselves getting in as much trouble.  A curious escapade to 21 year olds means flirting with the law or, even worse, death.

We do argue, however.  Out of all the twins, we’re the most alike while being the most different at the same time.  We do the same things at college but do them in such different ways, with such different paths.  Because of this, we inherently have tension that we resolve through yelling.  Our family doesn’t see this, and when they do, they remind us of Amy and Beth, and how awful a thing it was to watch them scream at each other and stampede in opposite directions.

It has to do with living with each other for the past 21 years.  Sure, we’re best friends, but it’s damn near impossible to be with your best friend almost every waking moment and be convinced that no arguments will arise and no shout wars will result.  Those types of things are bound to happen.

For us, it’s a brotherly inevitability.

—written by Benjamin Wessel

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