A Tale of Two Twins

Adjusting to life without your identical sib...and flushing toilets

Unnamed photo
Jessica Walsh

"You PhotoShopped THIS picture," said Nathan. "You got me there," said Emily.

“Emily, cut it out,” my twin sister Anabel says.

She puts her hands on her hips. “Seriously. Mimicking me? That is so immature.” Anabel turns away, exasperated.

“Anabel?” I say, coming up behind her. “Why are you yelling at the mirror?”

Yes, my twin sister got into a small altercation with her reflection. We were at a student art show in a hair salon. Paintings of fruit baskets and photographs of Manhattan street corners hung next to very large mirrors. The place was packed. Anabel had stumbled upon a vanity in the middle of the room, and, well, confused it for me.

“Oh my god,” she says, laughing. “I thought that I was you.”

My twin sister and I look a lot alike (although we have different hair colors, thanks to a few chemical processes). We are not sure if we are identical or not. My mother never got a straight answer from the doctor—the confusion has something to do with placentas...unappetizing, right? We might be identical or we might not be. (Mary-Kate and Ashley are fraternal, after all.)

Regardless, there is one question that people always ask when they find out that I’m a twin: “What is it like?”

I have my stock answer: my twin sister Anabel is awesome. She is the cool twin (it’s true, ask my parents)—my filmmaking, screenwriting, guitar-strumming, record-producing sibling.

So having Anabel as a twin is like having a really cool 24/7 best friend. Someone who will always listen to you and will give you sound advice; someone who will read your papers and let you know when your thesis is crappy; someone who will tell you when you have accessorized poorly and will fix it with a pair of snakeskin sandals and a stack of silver bangles.

But I think the real answer is more complicated than that.

My family moved around a lot—from New York to London, Montreal to Pittsburgh, and back again to New York. At each new school, we faced the same routine. No one would be able to tell us apart. We’d be Graff twins at first, and after a few months we would finally become recognized as distinct entities: Anabel and Emily.

For years, we attended the same school and took the same classes. We went to the same summer camp and slept in the same bunk. That all changed the summer of seventh grade.

That summer, we decided to venture forth solo. Each of us found someplace new and entirely our own. Anabel left for Interlochen Arts Camp, to play clarinet in the band. I left for Longacre Farm, a place my family fondly refers to as “farm camp.”

So there we were, really and truly alone for the first times in our lives, learning what single-birth children learn in kindergarten—how to be alone. I arrived at Longacre Farm as Emily Graff, not a Graff twin. It was unbelievably scary. I was miserable for the first two weeks. Half of that misery can be attributed to missing Anabel, the other to the fact that there were no flushing toilets.

During the first week, a bunch of campers sat out on the steps of our platform tent.

“Tell me one thing that nobody here knows about you,” one camper, Nathan, said. We went around in a circle. The answers were pretty much confined to petty theft and vandalism. Then, my turn.

“I’m a twin.” I said this because it will always be the most important thing I can ever say about myself. It can never be undone.

“No way,” Nathan said. “Prove it.” I hurried to my tent, searching for the photograph I brought as evidence of my twinhood. It was an old holiday card, nothing special. I handed it to Nathan.

“You PhotoShopped this picture,” he said. I crossed my arms, shook my head.

“Nope,” I said. “That’s me. That’s her.” He looked down at the photograph of my family: My dad, mom, little sister, little brother, and my twin sister, Anabel.

“There just can’t be two of you!” Nathan said, handing it back to me. “Totally PhotoShopped.”

I tried to explain that my PhotoShop skills stop at the “plastic wrap” tool.

“Really,” I said. “I’m a twin. I swear.” His disbelief was incomprehensible to me. For years, everyone had known me as, first and foremost, a twin. Then, one day during the summer of seventh grade, I suddenly felt unable to justify a huge part of my identity. Because even though I am mostly Emily Graff, I am also a Graff twin.

Now, years later, Anabel and I take separate classes, sleep in separate dorms, and attend separate colleges, miles away.

So what is it like to be a twin? Complicated. Amazing.

Hey Anabel, I miss you.