“You’re twins?” exclaims our new krav maga instructor, a feisty brunette named Kristy. It is a question often asked because we look vaguely alike, but not to the extent of twins.
“Yes,” I say, as I always do. I’ve gotten used to the incredulity, to the double takes when we walk into a room, side by side, or back to front, like in revolving doors.
We are indeed twins. Cromwell is older by six minutes, but he is not the boss of me. In fact, he is timid where I am forthright. He is complicated where I am simple. He is everything I am not, and I fulfill the same role for him.
He was born in 1989, while I arrived in 1990, an oddity indeed, but not as rare as you would think. Out of the four million babies born in the U.S. in 1990, five hundred and eighty of them were born on January first. At 12:03 in the morning, I joined this group.
“Ohhhh! Fraternal,” she says, as they always do once they’ve realized I’m not joking.
“No,” I say, calmly, measuredly. “Identical.”
And of course we do look somewhat alike, but you can see the brain cells working overtime to try and put the pieces to this puzzle together. Because while in the womb Cromwell took the position of power. He siphoned off a lot of the nutrients that should have gone to me. He monopolized space in the uterus so I was squeezed into smaller quadrants. It’s a miracle I survived. A whole six minutes. The doctors thought I was dead, so there was no rush.
Cromwell looks like I might if I were standing in front of a funhouse mirror, strong and healthy, and too large for this life. By contrast, I am scrawny, as if a stiff wind might blow me over and not think twice about it. I will always be scrawny. But at least I’m a medical marvel. For the first eight months of my life I was like a premie, hooked to machines night and day until I was out of the woods. Cromwell took over our large nursery as his own.
“Identical?” she asks, but I know it’s rhetorical. Her eyes are still doing the tennis ball dance, going back and forth, judging us as they all do, but judging me more. I’m used to it.
I grab my gym bag. It’s heavy with my boxing gloves, and my krav maga leotard, and my Mookie Blaylock basketball. It doesn’t quite fit on my shoulders because they are sloped downward, two hills that just can’t reach their peaks. I hunch down a little so the bag stays up. Cromwell doesn’t look at me as he exits the gym. He never does. To him I don’t really exist. My mother says its because he feels guilty for how things turned out. I wonder if I would treat him the same if I were on the other side of those six minutes.