Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Life As A Twin

I've mentioned repeatedly on this blog that I'm a twin, and an identical one at that. Me and my twin came into the world on New Year's Eve 53 years ago. My parents already had two children--my big sister, Kathy, who was born nearly four years ahead of us and an older brother, Ray, who is 15 months older (he would have been my "Irish twin" if I hadn't already had one)--and the thought of the family doubling in one go must have horrified them. It couldn't have been easy having three children in diapers in the early 1960's, before disposables came out. Women employed diaper services in those days. Amazingly, the dirty ones were rinsed out and put in a diaper pail and then the whole thing was picked up when the service came around and you were given clean ones. This was an expensive extravagance, but it probably saved my mother's life. I would imagine among other expenses was an increase in the family food bill and the need for a larger car. How my parents managed all of this on my dad's salary alone is a mystery. 

So, I mentioned in another post that my mother dressed Carol and I alike and that my dad couldn't tell us apart. In fact, his whole life he constantly called me by her name and vise verse. A family story has it that on Friday nights when my mom would go out and get her hair done, my dad was put in charge of feeding and bathing us. My mother had a system. She put one dot on the bottom of my foot with an ink pen (because I was born first) and Carol got two dots on her foot. This was the only way they had of telling us apart. For many years, my mother kept the little pink and white ankle bracelets that were put on us at the hospital. Mine said "Baby A" and Carol's said "Baby B". I think that helped them keep us straight for the first few weeks, but I also think my mother realized that we couldn't wear those bracelets indefinitely. At some point we were going to outgrow them. The family story goes that on one night in particular when we were just a few months old, he had washed us too zealously and had washed the ink marks off our feet. I can just about imagine the panic of not knowing which child was which. He spent a very uncomfortable couple of hours waiting for Mother to come home. Of course, any good mother knows her child by sight, by cry and other ways and she easily got us figured out. However, my dad used to like to mess with us by telling me "How do you know you're not Carol Ann?" "It's too late now," I would always say. Whatever the truth about that, my mother always said that we hated being apart. When it was nap time or time to go to bed, we always pushed our cribs together (they were on wheels so they moved easily) and then held each other's hands while we slept. She said we wouldn't go to sleep any other way. One time, when we were about two, Carol tried to climb out of her crib and she fell face first on the floor. She had two black eyes and Dad said she looked like a raccoon. Carol was a daredevil her whole life. Almost nothing scared her; except being separated from me. One of my earliest memories is of being five years old and having to have my tonsils out. Kathy, Ray and Carol were going to stay overnight with our grandparents so that Mom and Dad could deal with me. I remember when we dropped them off and Mom and Dad drove away with me in the car and Carol parted the drapes and watched, the tears streaming down her face, until we were gone. My grandmother told me that Carol "cried for her sissy" all night. I still get choked up when I think about that.

The fact that my mother dressed us alike and cut our hair alike caused quite a few problems in the family. First of all, because Carol was a terrorist. I say that with nothing but love for her and respect for her memory. But she was a naughty child. She always made sure that, if she got in trouble, that she took someone else down with her. That "someone else" was usually me. She would misbehave and then go stand by me and since my dad couldn't tell us apart, we would both get spanked. Usually, when we were very little girls, he would put one of us over each knee and spank us together. He did this because one of us was sure to run away while he was busy with the other. When you have twins you have to improvise. And you have to be fast. And you have to have eyes in the back of your head. So Dad would spank us both at the same time and he would always say "I'll get the right one this way." It probably never occurred to him how many times I got spanked when I didn't deserve it or when I hadn't even done anything. I remember once being at a family reunion when I was about sixteen or so and I was complaining to someone about all the spankings I got because of Carol and my Uncle Bob just laughed and said "You probably got away with a hundred things you were never spanked for. Don't play innocent." 

Now until now, except for a memorable spanking from my Uncle Carroll (which I discussed in an earlier post), I haven't talked much about my mother's side of the family. Uncle Carroll's sons, my cousins, Lee and Kim, were my mother's age. Both were handsome, with dark hair and blue eyes, like most of the Applegates. When I was seven years old, we had a birthday party for Kim's wife, who I hated. She babysat us a couple of times and she was mean and bossy, everything a kid hates. Because Mother was an only child, the only cousins we had were her cousins. So the only kid our age was Kim's daughter, Gina Marie, who was a year younger than we were. She was everything I wasn't--beautiful, imaginative and talented. I was probably jealous of her, but jealousy, when one is a very small child, is too complex an emotion to articulate, so I simply hated her. Throwing children who dislike each other into a social situation that requires them to be on their best behavior is a recipe for disaster. My mother made sure everyone was bathed and in clean party clothes. Mother laid out our Easter dresses for this party, which were printed over in a floral print of apple green and yellow with matching green coats. It was still a bit nippy and, as I was a sickly child at times, the coats were a precaution. My mother's theory that, one behaves best when best dressed, was thrown out the window that evening. I wish I could remember what precipitated the fist fight between Gina Marie and I that fateful April night, but try as I might, I can't. I only remember us grappling on the grass in Uncle Carroll and Aunt Helen's backyard. Two little girls in crinolines, dirty and grass stained, were pulled apart by my angry cousin, Kim. My father hadn't been able to attend because he was working. My mother wasn't big on spanking us, but would if she had to. My mother's spankings were almost as bad as my father's. 
"Just look at you two!" Kim said, hands on hips. "You should both be ashamed of yourselves."
I have said before that I was a good kid and afraid of discipline, so I'm almost completely sure the fight was Gina's fault. 
"She started it!" I said pointing at her.
I remember at some point during this encounter with my cousin Kim being carried into the house under one of his arms, while he carried his crying daughter under the other. She knew full well that this entire debacle was her fault. Kim stood us on our feet side by side and demanded that we apologize to each other and to his wife, Stacy for making a scene at her party.v For once, Stacy glossed over the incident (probably because her little angel was the guilty one), 
"Well, Donna what are we gonna do with these girls?" Kim asked my mother.
My mother looked at us. What a sight we must have been. Our knees and elbows were scraped and I had managed to pull Gina's ribbon out of her hair. I knew what Mother was going to say even before she said it.
"I would spank them both," she said.
So, Gina got spanked by her mother and I got spanked by Kim. Gina absolutely got the better of that bargain. Kim put me over his knee and lifted my crinolines. Then he spanked me about seven or eight times across my panties. Gina got her spanking bare bottom. But Kim was a lot stronger than his wife and I still got the worst of it. Nine years later, at Uncle Carroll's funeral, Kim still remembered the incident. I was a 17-year-old high school senior by that time and I can remember flushing with embarrassment when he talked about it.

But life went on. I grew from a homely, skinny child into a homely, skinny adolescent.

My mother, although she's only in her late 30's here, is completely gray haired and had given up coloring it (probably because, as we kids grew and the financial demands of raising teenagers took more of their finances, there was no money to spare for such vanity). I was 13 when this photo was taken at Shepherd Of The Hills Farm in 1974. My father was still taking his belt to me when I misbehaved. With Carol around, it happened a lot. In fact, the day this photo was taken, my dad belted me for a fight in the car with my brother over ice cream. He pulled the car over, took off his belt and laid in to me right there on the side of the road, with cars whizzing past us. Of course, my brother got it as well, plus we had to clean the ice cream off the seat in the car when we got home. Such was life in those days; a series of misadventures that almost always resulted in a sore bottom. I'm sure that there are younger people reading this who are incredulous that a father would take a belt to his teenage daughter. But he was normally a kind, loving man. He was a "man's man" but wasn't afraid to show his tender side either. So I felt loved and cared for. 

As Carol and grew into fairly attractive teenagers, my parents had what every parent of daughters dreads--that we would start dating. And we did. Carol and I were still best friends, but we began to notice boys more and more. To my parents' terror, I was attracted to older boys. High school boys were so immature. While I did date the boys at my high school, I never got attached to any of them. I much preferred, by the time I was 16 (when the above photo was taken) to date college boys. I always told them I was 18 and they always believed me. If my mother's hair wasn't already gray enough, I'm sure Carol and I added to it. But she was my best friend and biggest supporter. No matter what it was I was doing, she was right there urging me to do my best. And I did the same for her. We made a pact that we would both live to be 100 because we read that the odds were astronomical. But then, we had bucked the odds all our lives. Unfortunately, Carol didn't even live to see 50, though it was her goal. 

We headed into our 20's still as close as ever; "thick as thieves", is how my mother used to put it. And still, even without dressing alike, my dad couldn't tell us apart. Being a twin was the coolest thing in the world. Even our boyfriends thought so. At least, until the night we switched on them. Carol's boyfriend at the time, a real cutie named Tommy, had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to go off roading (before there was a name for it) in his old Chevy Suburban. He wore T-shirts and jeans habitually and favored Old Spice aftershave. My boyfriend, Stan was a year older. I met him through a mutual friend. He was studying architecture and lived in a grubby apartment not far from my place. Stan was studious and serious, which is what I thought I wanted in a relationship. He had a weakness for seeing me in just my panties and one of his shirts.

Like this. This was taken in his absolutely dingy apartment. He never wanted to come to my place. He always insisted that we "study" at his place. But I was 19 here, what did I know? He had an absolute fetish for my legs, which is why we were found out so fast. Actually, as soon as Tommy put his hand down my shirt, the jig was up.
"Hey! You're not Carol," he said.
I laughed.
"Tommy, you see me nearly every day," I said. "You had to know as soon as you saw me."
"Well, I've had a few PBR's (Pabst Blue Ribbon beers)," he replied. "I thought maybe that was the problem. But no amount of beer is gonna make your boobs as big as your sister's."
"Well, you can't blame a girl for trying," I said with a laugh.
"Naw,I guess not," Tommy said. "So do you still wanna have some dinner?"
A free meal? Why not. He laughed about the deception and I had a great time with him. Carol, meanwhile, didn't fare so well with Stan. He was furious about the joke we'd played. He had no sense of humor at all and I can't believe I dated him as long as I did. At the time this happened, in September, 1980 I had been trying to get Stan to spank me for more than a year. He loved seeing me parade around in my undies, I didn't think a spanking was that big of a stretch. Like it or not, he refused to take the hint. Carol told me that Stan's idea of a "date" was to take pics of her in her underwear and order a pizza. He must have known all along that it wasn't me because, just like I didn't have Carol's boobs, she didn't have my legs. And he knew every inch of them. 
"I suppose you think that's real funny?" he said as Carol laughed.
"Come on, Stan, can't you ever lighten up?" Carol replied.
"Don't you have any shame at all?"" Stan said.
"Don't act all moral with me," Carol said. "You think I don't see those photos you take of her? You're nothing but a pervert!"
With that, he out her across his knee and spanked her. She had gotten him to do in one hour what it had taken me a year of begging and coercing and to no avail. She told me all about it when she got home.
"I don't believe you," I told her.
With a saucy smirk, she dropped her Lee's and showed me her red bottom. I stayed with Stan only another week or so. As far as I was concerned, he'd been intimate with my sister. I didn't blame her though.

This was Carol and I on our 23rd birthday. We were old enough to have affairs, drink in bars and dance the night away in the underground clubs that were all the rage then, but still young enough to enjoy blowing out the candles on our birthday cake. We had decent jobs (though Carol had recently moved back home) and decent lives. But we were both courting disaster. As we moved on into our 20's, we both became enmeshed in booze and bad relationships. In a couple of years' time, I would probably sink to my lowest: working fast food and enduring an abusive relationship. 

My life changed completely the day after this photo was taken. On June 22, 1983, I was involved in an accident with a drunk driver. I wasn't critically injured, but I was injured badly enough that I only drove sporadically over the next thirteen years and haven't driven at all since 1996. That accident changed me; more than that, it scared me. I can remember Carol, trying to put on a brave face, but tears were standing in the corners of her eyes. She told me that, right when the accident had occurred, she'd had the strangest feeling she'd ever had in her life. She said the worst feeling of dread had come over her. I told her it was because she'd made the goat horns behind my head in the photo. That was bad luck; as bad as rocking an empty rocking chair or walking under a ladder. My outward wounds healed up, but inside, I was a mess. 

The 80's plowed on. We stayed close to home, even in our individual lives. I still couldn't stand to be separated from her. This photo is scratched from being carried in my purse for a year after she died. We were both drunks by this time, but you wouldn't know it to look at us. We were going to a club that night, I'm sure. No matter how bad things got, we never forgot family. Our parents and siblings and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins still meant everything to us. We were proud aunts, too--Kathy had two boys, Sean and Andrew and Ray had two girls, Rachel and Dawn. 

This is Christmas, 1988. Carol is holding Andrew, the younger of Kathy's two boys. He's fourteen months old here. Even though we'd gone out the night before, we made sure we were up and dressed when Kathy brought the boys over (minus her husband) to get their presents. Mother was sick cancer and Alzheimer's by this point, so family became even more important. I knew Kathy wasn't happy in her marriage, but those boys were everything to her and she endured a lot of unpleasantness and frustration for their sakes. I'm pretty sure Andrew appreciates it. Sean, not so much. No matter how bad things get, I used to tell him, always put your family first. Yeah, it was old-fashioned. But in the end, who's going to love you more than family? Who's going to put up with your crap and repeatedly forgive you? Really, only family will do that. 

By the time this photo was taken, on Father's Day, 1991, things were bad. Mother had slipped away from us into her own world and Dad was struggling to cope. He had promised never to put her in a nursing home, but it was a promise he couldn't keep. Carol was caring for both of them full-time and she asked me to come back and help her. At first, I thought I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. But looking back, Carol needed me. As horrible as those days were, I'm glad I didn't desert her when she needed me. We were 30 years old by this time and I felt like my life was half over. But there was Carol, being my rock as she always was.

This photo was taken on Christmas Day, 1992. It was our dad's and mom's last Christmas. Dad did Christmas big that year, spending lavishly on everyone. He had always loved Christmas and I think he knew it was going to be his last. Carol had sobered up by this time and wanted me to do the same. The problem was that I hadn't yet admitted that I had a problem. That would take another year and a half.
Yes, my life has had some sorrows. Who's hasn't? But I was lucky enough to come into the world with my best friend. Not a lot of people can say that. They say that the twin bond is unique and can't be broken, even by death. I firmly believe that's true. A part of her is still with me, urging me on ("nagging" I would call it in my less than stellar moments). My life as a twin had ups and downs, like all lives have. But I never had to go through anything alone. And for this, I'm so grateful. I always had someone to whisper secrets to, to commiserate with in my losses and celebrate my victories. She was always my biggest fan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks Cheryl for such a great post! I actually got quite teary-eyed a couple times and made me think about my own family and past. I'm an only child so I wasn't lucky enough to have anybody to grow up and be close with but I think it turned out okay in the end.

I love how open and honest you were about everything and now I'm going to have to go back and read all of your other posts in detail lol. Thanks again and looking forward to reading more!

-Jon Welts