Mirror, Mirror (or Why I See myself as “we”)


I was born an identical twin.

Hurried along by my mother’s toxemia, Marty and I made our way into the world one month early and several pounds shy of safe birth weights.  A little over two and three pounds apiece and with under-developed lungs, neither of us were expected to survive.  In 1962 doctors had limited means of saving premature and massively underweight infants.

Despite these dire predictions, my parents named us after our grandmothers—Kathryn May (a.k.a. Kimmy) and Martha Gilbert—and when we arrived, Daddy drove the streets of Pittsburgh screaming out of car windows, “My wife had twins.  My wife had twins.” 

He ignored the negative news.  That’s what Daddy always did.

Two days later Marty died—alone—in an incubator—separate from me—struggling to breathe in my own glass box.

Then there was no language for the aloneness I experienced—aloneness so deep it rooted in the very marrow of me.

Where was the hand I’d held?  The arm I’d snuggled beneath?

Where was “she”? 

Who was “me”?

Having lost the one whose DNA had mirrored me, I still sometimes struggle to see myself as separate, for from the beginning, before the beginning even, we’d been wombed as one, as singular.

Ironically, however, I will always see myself as plural, for I’m forever “we.”

I am forever you.

Note:  I may do some password-protected, memoir posts in the near future.  If so, I will email the password to regular commenters at the time the piece is published.   If you are a reader who does not regulary comment, and you would like me to include you on this list, please let me know in the comments below. 

62 thoughts on “Mirror, Mirror (or Why I See myself as “we”)

    • I love to think of it that way, Wendy. I suspect she is a kind of guardian angel for me. And I’m pleased you like the art. It was one of the first paintings I tried more than 20 years ago. Have a great day, my friend. Hugs to you, too.

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  1. Oh how sad. This brought a tear to my eye Kathy. I used to fantasize about having a twin when I was a kid. Can’t imagine being born as a set and then losing your other ‘self’. Big hugs. Though there’s something cool about thinking of yourself in the plural 🙂 Now I’m trying to picture two of you!

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  2. I’m deeply affected by this, Kathy. In my case, I’ve written about the losses I’ve experienced before birth and how they have impacted on me. You were aliive, certainly, but too young to have been aware of your sister’s death. But the loss is still profound. And I totally understand that you will always see yourself as plural. Treat it as a daily celebration, that your passion and your accomplishments are hers as well.

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    • Oh, Renee, I’m glad this piece impacted you. I find it hard to articulate how I feel about her–and I wasn’t sure how successfully I communicated it, because of that. It’s so primal and pre-verbal, it’s not easy to attach language to it. Thanks for the feedback, my friend—————-

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  3. This is a beautiful post.

    Looking forward to the special protected posts. By the way, good idea! Great way to write about things that you might not want to whole world to read about (yet). Maybe I should think about doing that.

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    • It is, indeed, something to consider, Heather. I think it will allow others the privacy they deserve, while affording me the chance to write and share with those who regularly read. Glad you hear you enjoyed the post.

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    • Absolutley we can. Like I said to Heather, it’s a way to write about things, we don’t want to share with the world quite yet. And for me, it is a matter of “yet.” I want to tell this story. I just need to protect a few people’s privacy for now.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Amy. I will be sure to include you on the list of folks to email. I’m so pleased you are enjoying these posts. And it’s nice to know you are there–even in your own quiet way. Thanks so much for reading.

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  4. I never knew that one could feel that connection so vividly, even when so little time had been spent together outside of the womb. This makes me sad. I can feel your heartache. But at the same time, there must be comfort in knowing that she is always with you even though she isn’t seen.

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    • Actually, the bonding that takes place inside the womb is huge in terms of its primal impact. It’s a deep longing I still experience. However, I do take comfort in knowing she is still somehow near. Glad you got to read this post, Terri. Thanks so much——-

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  5. You continue to surprise with revelations such as this one. I’d always wondered how a surviving twin would feel…interesting that, even though you were only a couple of days old, you still feel a connection to Marty. That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing, Kathy.

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    • I don’t think it’s the fact that we were only a few days old that mattered. Rather that we had spent 8 months sharing the same placenta. It’s that primal, prenatal bonding that has the impact, from what I understand.

      Thanks for reading, Mark. Hope you’re feeling better————

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  6. I think the twin connection is so fascinating, and it doesn’t surprise me that you feel this strong bond with whom you shared a womb. I’m currently reading a novel, “Cutting for Stone,” which hints at the everlasting connection between twins, despite continents of separation. So sorry for your lost, but be assured Marty is your guardian angel, with you wherever you venture.

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    • Thanks, Deanna. It’s great to hear from you. I will have to check out that novel. Sounds really interesting. And I love the thought of Marty being my guardian angel. How wonderful! Take care, my friend—————

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    • I think it could have been tragic, indeed, but I have learned to make the most of the lovely gifts God has given me. And if it weren’t for the terribly sad things that have happened, I don’t think I could truly appreciate how happy I am today. I have an amazing partner, work that interests me, and a family I love despite their flaws and shortcomings. But, I know exactly what you are getting at, and you’re correct. It could have defeated me, but it hasn’t. Thank God for small miracles. It’s like my sister says, “It’s a wonder we’re walking around like of human beings.”

      Thanks for reading, Chrissy!

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  7. Was there anything in particular that inspired this piece now? I’m just being nosy, wondering if something happened, a certain memory came up, etc. Blow me off if this is too personal a question.
    And I hope you include me in your protected posts–I promise not to be nosy there.

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    • In the piece I wrote about my grandmother, I had originaly included the fact that I had been named for “Kimmy” and how that was part of the story of my birth. But Sara pointed out, that it was too much to include in that one post–that it distracted from the story of our leaving Kimmy when my father died. Plus, I think it’s an important detail that might make some of my password protected posts more meaningful. In them I will tackle a difficult relationship that could have some root in the circumstances around my birth. This is a bridge piece in some ways.

      It’s okay to ask questions. They don’t bother me. They help me think about how I will organize all of this in a book and what parts need to be told before other parts. Please don’t hesitate to ask. I will defintely include you on my password email list.

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  8. It may sound corny but I believe that everyone we know who has passed on is an angel we have looking over our shoulders. Marty is certainly that angel for you. I just know that she is watching out for you on your journey.

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  9. Kathy, I don’t know what to say, nor, do I have a clue about what that would be like. So sorry. My heart reaches for you.

    Please include me on the list, Kathy.

    Thanks and I’m sending you big hugs. 🙂

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  10. I think this is so interesting Kathy. Although I`m sure painful. The connection between identical twins is well documented. I always feel sorry for JFK Jrs` wife`s sister- who lost her identical twin in the crash that killed him and his wife.

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    • In a lot of ways, I imagine losing a twin in adulthood, but way earlier than ususal, would be a good deal worse than losing a twin in infancy. I, too, feel sorry for her. Thanks for reading, Emily. Take care, my friend————

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  11. Bittersweet. Kathy, one of the gifts of your writing is that you have the gift of sharing both the sadness and joy in your sentences, paragraphs. I feel more “real” after reading you. Have you ever written something to your twin, and then replied in her voice? That would be an interesting piece to read.

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    • Gosh, Kathy. I can’t believe you think my writing accomplishes that. The ability to make readers feel more “real” would be huge! I would never have dreamt I could accomplish that. What an honor that would be.

      Actually, I have written a poem in my sister’s voice. It’s in a post from last May. (I will try to send you the link.) However, I have not written a response in my voice. That’s a great idea!

      Hope you and Barry have a great weekend. Stay warm!

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  12. Heartbreaking post, Kathy. I remember you addressing your twin, Marty, in an earlier post, but this is a sad reminder of a part of you that is defined primarily by what is lost and missing. I think it’s beautiful that you continue to define yourself as ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. It’s a touching tribute to Marty. ((hugs))

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  13. It is my personal belief that identical twins are soul mates – together before you even got to be in the womb and also together again when this life is over. I believe that Marty is here with you in spirit – egging you on behind the scenes. I think she knew about this hard life that you chose so she came with you for a short time to support you and give you strength for the long journey.

    This is a precious post Kathy – I don’t think anyone can fully understand the strong bond between twins unless you were a twin yourself. Your artwork is just so beautiful!

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  14. Thanks for including me in your password-protected posts. I’m looking forwardcto reading them as they come along.

    Sad story for your parents, and you. It’s hard to know how much we know before we’re born. Sad.

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    • It is sad, isn’t it? I can’t thank you enough for reading. It’s almost as life we’ve lead this whole other life before birth, and I’m not talking about the argument about when life begins or anything like that.

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  15. I loved ths as always, Kathy. What struck me most in this though was how surprised I was to learn your a twin. Nothing to be surprised about, there’s oodles I don’t know about you. But somehow your twin story, at least as you told it, with the loss of your sister was shocking. I suspect it’s how in so few words, you describe how you feel so well.

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    • It’s just not something that generally comes up. I don’t always think to tell people, as there’s so much to my story already–though I did blog about it last spring. Glad you think I express my feelings well.

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  16. This was a story that begs to be told, for it tells the story of … you.

    Beautiful, haunting, thought-provoking post.

    Like your post about memories, how are we to know what we remember vs. what we’re told about? Which memories are authentically “ours?”

    Hugs to you (and your parents) for your loss
    MJ

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    • Thanks, MJ. I appreciate your going back and looking at this post. Ultimately, I suppose, we will never know the difference between what we rmember and what “memories” we absorb from others. Hugs to you, as well.

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  17. As a twin myself (fraternal), I found this post to be deeply moving. There has never been a time in my life, even in the womb, when there wasn’t an “other.” Even though we now live (brother) half-way across the country from each other, and have for years, we do have a special connection and are sometimes still surprised when we discover yet another similarity. i do appreciate the sense of “we” you write about here. It will never ever leave you. Your sister will always be with you in the best sense. (Now, back to your memory post!)

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  18. Oops… the reply on the memory post posted here as well.

    The whole thing with memory remains a conundrum. As a mental health counselor dealing with people’s memories all the time, I believe that a person’s perception is their truth. It’s not about the memories, but one’s perception of events, happenings, memories, etc. that informs the person behavior, thinking, whatever.

    I was going somewhere with that thought, got interrupted and now I can’t remember. Great post though. LOL …. I need to call it a night.

    Thanks for this provocative post as well as the twins post. Hugs.
    C

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    • How funny. That happens to me even when it’s not late at night. However, I think you made an important point here–that perception is what matters. I agree–completely. It’s interesting, however, to hear this from a mental health professional.

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