They never really twinned - then came a nephew

Writer Joan Leof reads to her nephew Adam's daughters, (from left) Kaya, Dahlia, and Lola, on her first meeting with them. "Mom sadly realized as Ellen and I matured that her twins would not be close. Now both she and Dad would be so happy that, at least, Adam and I were connecting."
Writer Joan Leof reads to her nephew Adam's daughters, (from left) Kaya, Dahlia, and Lola, on her first meeting with them. "Mom sadly realized as Ellen and I matured that her twins would not be close. Now both she and Dad would be so happy that, at least, Adam and I were connecting."
Posted: November 14, 2013

Several years ago, when discussing with a therapist my pain about my estranged two siblings - a brother and fraternal twin sister - he suggested I reach out to my nieces and nephews instead.

"Just because your family dysfunction has caused your siblings to reject you doesn't mean the next generation will," he said.

Hope infused the letter I wrote to my nieces and nephews - but I never mailed it. So it was a surprise when I heard from one of my nephews, unprompted.

"You never know what's around the corner," my friend said enthusiastically when I told her about Adam reaching out.

From birth, my twin and I were dealt a deck of cards with no set of hearts. With no one to show us how to use the incomplete deck, there was no way to win.

Although Ellen and I lived under the same roof for 18 years, we barely accumulated an hour of communication. Mom and Dad were so unhappy with each other that they were unable to help us connect - a classic story, I know.

"What are twins?" I had asked my mother when I was close to 5.

"Oh, you have the same birthday and wear the same clothes and do everything together."

This didn't make any sense, especially because I always wanted vanilla cake at our birthday parties, while Ellen wanted chocolate. Overalls were my favorite clothes, dresses hers.

Even more confusing were our tonsils: I had to go to the hospital at 21/2 to have mine removed while Ellen stayed home, tonsils intact. Upon returning, I pulled a chair up to the white medicine chest on the kitchen wall and climbed up to look in its mirror. After staring at myself for a long time, I asked, "Mommy, are we still twins?"

Answering my own question, I said hopefully, "We can't be twins because I don't have my tonsils and Ellen does. You said twins do everything together."

"You'll always be twins."

Finally away at college - without Ellen - I felt a true exhilaration of independence. "Sing it again, please," I begged on my 19th birthday - the first time I heard the song without Ellen included in the refrain.

Although Ellen and I have seen each other at family gatherings only a handful of times in the last 25 years, she has taken up residence in my soul, echoing from the womb, crying in the adjacent crib, screaming for my attention but being heard only as a whisper. I've spent my life yearning to disconnect and connect with this person.

A year ago I wrote a memoir with family stories that I wanted to share with my relatives, especially my nieces and nephews. I wanted them to know their grandparents, great-grandparents - and their aunt. I wanted them to hear my story directly, not through the lens of other family members. But I never sent them the memoir, just as I never sent them the letter.

Then, in April, Adam fell out of the sky. My sister's son, now 40 years old, had achievements I had heard about from my parents, but he and I were never in a position to be close. Now, I reread his e-mail for the fifth time.

"I'm taking my family on a vacation to D.C., and we're driving through Wilmington. I'd love to come visit."

I was stunned, and intrigued. Could this reaching out mean that I might have the beginnings of a connection to my twin, even though indirectly? Mom sadly realized as Ellen and I matured that her twins would not be close. Now both she and Dad would be so happy that, at least, Adam and I were connecting.

Three days after his e-mail, Adam and his family arrived. When I saw his wife and three children, I was instantly grateful and immediately drawn to this family - my family. The six hours we spent together felt strangely familiar, a connection not just to my vanished twin, but to my parents, with whom Adam had been so close until my dad's death when he was 20, and Mom's when he was 24. Conversation flowed easily. Sharing among the three adults seemed natural. Because his children never got to know my parents, he wants them to know his mother's family. I was impressed with the life they have created - loving marriage, beautiful parenting, interesting, successful careers. Adam invited me and my husband to visit them in Vermont.

Without hesitation, we booked our tickets for the visit.

I shared with Adam that our connection feels not unlike an arranged marriage. In our case, the cosmos brought us together. Adam arrived to irrigate my thirsty roots.

I gave him my memoir during that visit, and a couple of months later, we were walking through the woods in Burlington. "Your memoir helped me understand our family in significant ways," he told me.

My friend was right about not knowing what unexpected gifts life has in store.

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