for my twin sister

28 February 2008

Sometimes when it is dark and our heads are on our pillows a tear comes out of my eye and then another and another but I am so good I keep my breath steady and when you say are you crying? I hold my voice still and say no of course not. I am lucky that you hear me and I am lucky that you put your arm around me instead of pretending not to notice, like some rotten people I have heard of who pretend to be asleep —some are so rotten they make snoring sounds, roll onto their sides and pull the blanket away.

The other day when I phoned Vanessa’s house in Toronto to see if she was OK Penny picked up the phone and told me that V was in Dublin and when I heard Penny’s voice my eye felt warm and slow tears streamed out and I choked but Penny doesn’t know my crying voice so she had no idea and she told me I should learn Chinese to become marketable because that is what mums want for their girls, to be pretty and marketable and successful so that they will never have to be at the mercy of people like our dads.

How come when I think of sad things I feel sad, and when I think of happy things I feel even sadder? And how come the happier things are harder to think up? But I am sure we laughed so much. I remember your laughing face much more than your crying face, and just now it occurred to me that in one week it will be our birthday, and I felt a warm tear swell behind my nose but then it went away by itself when I wrote this down. In the post I am sending you a birthday surprise with a card I traced from a picture of when we were swans in the school play and you were so graceful and I felt so clumsy and I can’t get my limbs to move like yours do even though we look the same and I hope you like it!

How come when I think of our childhood I first remember wishing I could be like you instead of remembering that we laughed so much! Like when Daddy became that scary twitching mole-monster on the floor and when we made Playdoh food and when Jumbo ate my blue crayon and his poo was blue and I stepped in it and when we were at Tai-Lau’s funeral and we were trying not to cry so we laughed instead. We laughed so much but sometimes all I remember is being in your shadow because you were so clever and artistic and funny and cute and adventurous and likeable and you ran so fast and all the boys liked you and Daddy called you Favie.

How come you love me even though I told you that you are ugliest when you smile? I remember when it happened a fat tear rolled down your cheek but your gum smile was still there. And now your smile is pretty for the camera, chin tilted up, lip pulled over your gum—oh, but when we see something that makes us laugh and convulse and hiccup, your goofy smile is back, all gum and squinty moon eyes and bunny teeth, but definitely not ugly!

Sometimes when I am sad I hide in the corner of the room and scratch mean things about Mummy into the wall, like “I HATE HER” and “I HATE HER SO MUCH” and stuff like that with sharp things I find in the drawer, like a scissor blade or a bobby pin or a key. But I don’t keep track of what I write or when I write it so when I saw the other day in black ink the words “I never meant it” with a full stop I couldn’t remember if I had written it or not or if you maybe decided to contribute to my wall but either way I scratched it out and wrote “I WILL NEVER TAKE IT BACK.” Because I won’t. I won’t take back the mean things I said and I won’t make you take back the mean things you did because it’s not fair to be choosy.

You always try to take things back and it always makes me mad. Why did you cut a hole in your blanket after you cut a hole in my blanket? If you’re going to hurt me, then mean it. Stop taking it back, and don’t make me take back the things I said, because you KNOW I meant it when I said you are ugliest when you smile, but I don’t mean it NOW because that was six years ago when you were making me really mad. And I KNOW you meant it when you picked up yours scissors and snipped deliciously at the stitches of my beloved, even though you didn’t mean it ten minutes later when you punished your own blanket, and even though we can’t remember why we were fighting to begin with.

Besides, if we take back all of that bad stuff, why should we be allowed to keep the rest? Moments of thoughtfulness, when you solicited the help of your kindergarten class to draw an eye over my eye-patch so I wouldn’t look like some crazy lazy-eyed Cyclops, and when you wouldn’t eat cheese in front of me because it reminds me of throw-up. And moments of reassurance, when we’d sleep in your bed holding hands because we were so scared of UFOs, and when you agree with me that our younger sister is a self-righteous poohead and Mummy is like an overgrown child. And moments of collaborative delight: when, after smearing poo all over the stuffed caterpillars in our cribs, we giggled at our masterpieces; when we made that slideshow for French class that featured a silly cut-out of a girl’s head on a swallow and Madame Seguin loved it so much even though we couldn’t stop laughing inside our head; and when we made that giant, ugly papier-mâché sculpture that they featured at the entrance of the art studio even though we thought it was so ugly!

No, let’s keep everything! Because while what we say might be true in the very instant we say it, the degree of its trueness wears off after a while, but this doesn’t mean our feelings are false. I think it only means that the way I feel about you is never fixed. Maybe this is how come you love me even though I am sometimes cruel to you. We’re always drawing things from our life and mashing them together to make up different ways of understanding each other. Maybe this is how come Mummy still loves us even though she had to hire some workman to sand the scratches from the wall so that her parents wouldn’t see that her daughters hate her sometimes, and how come she still loves Daddy even though he forgot about their anniversary last year, and how come he still loves her even though she spends all of his money on wine and cigarettes! Maybe this is how come you still love Mark even though he did some things that weren’t so nice to you when you were in Prague.

And maybe this is how come we find ourselves crying in our pillows at night because we think we want to be alone to dwell on our vanishing past but secretly, very secretly, we yearn for a warm hand to blot the warm salty water from our cheeks right NOW.

for my twin sister on our 30th birthday

Read the first “for my twin sister” (written in 2008) and Jessica’s response to this letter.

March 6, 2016

Remember that time we got in a fight and you threw me across the room? I tell this story a lot. We were eight, it was around Chinese New Year, and I was disappointed when the doctor told me to wear a scarf instead of outfitting me with a neck brace. I’d wanted strangers to see me and think, “Oh, poor child. What monster did this to you?”

I still wonder how you summoned the force to hurl me across the room that day. Who knew you had it in you? I certainly didn’t, and I don’t think you did, either. It’s like when mothers lift trucks high above their heads to save their babies, filled with superhuman strength reserved for gods and monsters. The stakes were high. You needed me to stop pushing you around and so you threw me across the room.

What else do I remember?

The other day I spilled some water on the floor and wondered if it was seeping into the apartment below. Was someone downstairs catching the drips in a pot plucked from a kitchen cupboard? Do you remember that time we tried to clean your bedroom floor? We dumped a bucket of water over the entire surface and took turns pushing the water around with a mop, so pleased with ourselves for being so helpful. This is a memory I’ve never shared with anybody before. The smell of soggy wood and you and me beaming as we danced around the puddles in our bare feet, thrilled to pull our weight in a house where we never had a single chore other than making our beds in the morning. Nobody was impressed with our initiative except for you and me. Angels.

It’s difficult to dig up memories I’ve never talked about before. I can’t know if they exist. It’s like when you have a dream and you don’t write it down first thing when you wake up. Hours later you have this feeling that something has moved you but you don’t know what it was. Ghosts.

Every time I tell a story I can feel it leaving my body like air leaking out of a balloon. Maybe telling a story is the same as giving birth to a baby: as long as you have one inside you, it’s part of you, your flesh, blood, spirit. Once it’s out it’s no longer yours. It has a soul of its own.

My stories belong only to themselves.

Our dear mother, her belly a balloon swollen with not one but two big, fat, fleshy babies, her skin marred with a double serving of stretch marks that would ban her from ever wearing a bikini again. Our dear mother, still coming to terms with the understanding that though she breathed life into you and me, our souls and dreams are separate from hers.

Our dear mother, her dreams for us smashed like a thousand broken mirrors because she can’t let them go. Dreams of rich, kind, selfless husbands and beautiful dresses that are neither secondhand nor handmade and hair that’s met a hairbrush and skin without blemishes and feet with no callouses and legs that aren’t so muscular and mouths that don’t belong to sailors and class and manners and etiquette and kindness.

Kindness.

Kindness. It’s her only dream for us that’s come true, I think. I hope this comforts her. I hope it tucks the edges of her blanket around her shoulders at night, plants a kiss on her forehead, turns out her light—kindness.

You are one of the kindest people I know.

I think our mother knows this: you and me, we’re trying to do the right thing. And the right thing to do is the kindest thing to do. So let’s keep doing what we’re doing. Let’s keep our hearts open. Let’s keep making stuff with our hands. And let’s keep telling stories.

Happy birthday, Jessica.

twins sitting on dock

Read the first “for my twin sister” (written in 2008) and Jessica’s response to this letter.