HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How many blogs have we all read? Written? And yet, and yet, from time to time, there’s one that special. Heartfelt. Instructional. Educational. Revealing. And universally wonderful.
Take three minutes, do, and just read this.
I took my thirteen-year-old sons for haircuts earlier this week. That may sound like a fairly stress-free event.
Show up. Watch some sports television in the waiting room. Check my Amazon rankings while listening to mindless boy banter. Read the news. Pay. Leave.
But in my household, haircuts are time bombs.
My boys are identical twins. And while twinning may be a thing for some sets of identicals, for my kids it’s a constant battle to differentiate themselves from The Other. Haircuts? There’s only so much you can do with short, dirty blonde, pin-straight hair.
Nevertheless, every trip to Sports Clips begins with “please, please give my brother a Mohawk,” and ends with two surly teenagers.
Since they were in utero, I’ve witnessed this competition between them. Baby B flipped positions at 32 weeks, painfully (for me) somersaulting his way to the head of his class. Before that, he was seen kicking his brother in the head during almost every ultrasound. Baby A entered our world calmly, a robust preemie with a pleasant personality. Baby B screamed his way through a week in the NICU, pulled out his IVs, and was so squirmy no one felt comfortable holding him other than his father and me.
We never dressed them the same, and we took pains to show their individuality to the world. Nevertheless, they struggled. At three-years-old, Baby B became obsessed with drawing. He was designing clothes by four and pointing gleefully at his brother’s stick figures. Baby A seemed quite content to draw stick figures. Art belonged to his twin.
At five-years-old, I overheard Baby A tell Baby B he couldn’t play with superhero action figures because “that’s my thing.” Baby B took up Barbie Dolls. I witnessed many a battle between Veterinarian Barbie and Superman.
At age eight, Baby B said to Baby A (quite sincerely), “You know what I love about you? You always know which twin I am.” Ah, love. The word I’d been waiting to hear.
But underlying that simple sentiment was a world of want and need. The desire to be recognized for who he was. The need to be viewed as an individual, not simply half of an appealing set. The truth is, people love twins, especially identical twins. I was warned by another mother when they were born that strangers would stop me constantly. They’ll want to touch them, she said. And they did.
Every stroll through the mall with Baby A and Baby B side by side in their double stroller required vigilance, graciousness, and patience. They were unique. They were a novelty. But not for who they were—for what they were.
As an author, I’m obsessed with voice. How do you make characters sound different? When writing from alternate points of view, how do you craft each character so that they feel part of the fictional world in which they live but still come across as a unique individual? As any fiction writer knows, it’s not easy. But that challenge gave me special insight into my boys’ fight for independence.
How do you have your own voice when you look the same, sound the same…when the world views you as interchangeable?
Their struggle has continued into teenage hood, although in some ways the pressure has eased. Baby B is two inches taller, and firmly entrenched in the art and theater world. He loves swimming, and is an expert on mythological lore. Baby A is more muscular, very justice-oriented, loves history, and he’s a lacrosse player (who still proudly draws stick figures). They share some friends, but have developed separate social circles. And they’re firmly and fiercely attached to one another in their own way.
“Go into the woods,” Baby B told me. “It will help you clear your mind.”
Baby A agreed. “Go into the woods.”
We were at our home in Vermont at the time, and the woods were snow-covered and peaceful, a hushed wintry oasis full of animal tracks and not much else. Unsure what else to do, I took their advice. Our Labrador, Driggs, and I set out into the forest, wading through snow and climbing over half-buried branches and logs.
The quiet of nature helped, and I found my mind was free to wander, eventually landing on the twist that I needed for Seeds of Revenge. After a while, I spotted the boys, who were playing near a creek at the bottom of our property. I put a hand on Driggs to still him, and spent a moment listening to my sons.
They were creating a story, each taking a turn to add to the plot. Baby B would provide a thread about selkies or mermaids or some other mythological creature, and his brother would add historical context—Germany, around the time of World War I. It was a fascinating activity, this shared fictional world they were creating, so discordant and yet so coherent. I found my heart aching for my boys and their journey. Mostly I was happy that they’d each found their voice, and the courage and creativity to join those voices together.
HANK: This makes me cry. Love you so much.
And hurray for the starred review for your new book BITTER HARVEST! I’ll delightedly offer a copy to one lucky commenter.
SO Femmes—are you a twin? Did you ever with you were? Are the twins you know similar, or different? Gosh, can it be? I don’t think I know any.
Wendy Tyson is an author, lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy has written four published crime novels, including Dying Brand, the third novel in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series, which was released on May 5, 2015. The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A Muddied Murder, is due to be released in spring 2016. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers, and she is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writers’ online magazine. Wendy lives with her husband, three sons and three dogs on a micro-farm just outside of Philadelphia.
“Tyson’s first-rate second Greenhouse mystery stars big-city lawyer turned small-town organic farmer Megan Sawyer, a kind, intelligent, and spirited woman with great integrity. In short, she’s the sort of person cozy readers warm to and root for." – Publishers Weekly (starred review)