"Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome" by Jennifer Makowsky

I still can’t really say how or when Miriam made the move from being our English au pair to being my twin brother's girlfriend. It was all done in secret, of course, during some clandestine exchange made the summer before I went away to college. Who can really say when the transition took place? One day she was standing in the foyer, shaking our hands, taking Baby June to change her “nappy,” and months later she was exchanging furtive glances with Jessie.

Perhaps they made the transition on a day in early summer when our father was away at the university, teaching a summer school history class. I can still see the lilac bushes in our front yard that June bursting with purple blossoms. And Jessie cutting the front lawn, pushing the mower with his sleeves rolled up, his dark hair falling over his eyes as he turned a corner on the edge of the lawn. Girls loved his hair—the way he pushed it out of his eyes before it fell right back over them again. Miriam, too, couldn’t have been impervious to his looks. He was of age and only three years younger than she was. I imagine she thought this as she watched him from the front windows in her tight Kelly-green tee-shirt, her jet hair sticking up slightly in back.

Maybe it started that day with Miriam bouncing Baby June in her arms and pointing to Jessie through the window as he mowed the lawn. Perhaps she hoped her rapport with our baby sister would get her even closer to my brother. Nervously, she snapped a wad of pink gum, pushing it out of her red-glossed mouth and over her tongue like it was something she wanted to spit out. I could watch her tongue curl around a gob of gum for hours. She turned to find me watching her from the stairs. Playfully, she blew a big pink bubble. It popped on her face and she let out a laugh. It’s safe to say I was smitten.

When Jessie and I were little, one of our mother’s favorite bedtime stories to tell us was the fable about Romulus and Remus, the twins who were abandoned by Amulius when he discovered their real father was Mars. The twins were thrown into the River Tiber, but were rescued by a she-wolf.

That was how I saw Miriam—the she-wolf who had come to save us.

#

Perhaps Jessie and Miriam had started their liaison later that day at lunchtime after Baby June was down for a nap and when Jessie came inside the house. I’m sure Miriam served him his regular ham sandwich (no cheese) and they were alone. I can picture her leaning in close to him as she put the jar of Dijon mustard on the table. She was so unlike the girls at school with their strict ponytails, pearl-buttoned sweaters, and pink-glossed mouths. So unlike our missing mother whose austere pantsuits and demand of impeccable table manners began to wear us down.

Miriam was unrefined in all the ways Jessie coveted. He loved her crass sense of humor, the ring in her nose, her lack of higher education, and her upbringing in a small cramped flat in Cricklewood London. I imagined he relished the sight of her chipped red nail polish and the large silver rings haloing her fingers, the way she carelessly licked some extra mustard off her forefinger and wiped it on her apron. Perhaps when she put his glass of lemonade on the table that day at lunch, he grabbed her hand. Possibly her fingers curled around his and she pulled him up out of the chair. They could have been toe to toe, staring into each other's eyes. Maybe her heart knocked inside her chest while she pushed the hair away from his face the way our mother used to when he was a child—curling it tenderly behind his right ear.

Meanwhile, Jessie probably barely believed it. He'd never been with a girl older than he was or one as cool as Miriam. During this dance of seduction, I imagine Miriam's guard was down. Her usual wry remarks would be useless to her now. Perhaps she thought of newborn ducks at a pond near her house back in Cricklewood and how vulnerable they looked without fluff on them yet. Perhaps this was how she felt as Jessie stared back at her. He was so young, so handsome, so dangerous to touch. I imagine neither of them knew what to do.

#

At birth, Jessie weighed six pounds; I weighed two. We incurred Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome—a condition caused in utero by unequally sharing our mother’s placenta. Jesse drew more nutrients from my mother than I was able to and resulted in my mother almost losing me before birth. I guess you could say I drew the short straw. Although I eventually caught up to Jessie in height, my limbs were still colt-like. I was a composite of angles—all shoulder blades and sharp kneecaps. My ribs were visible through my skin and my clavicles were like handlebars. At eighteen, the hollows of my cheekbones were so deep, they got in the way of my molars and caused me to bite the inside of my cheeks.

When I was thirteen, I would hold quarters in the hollows of my eye sockets to see how long I could go without them falling out. Sometimes I could walk around my room for up to five minutes with the coins squeezed over my eyes while not bumping into anything. When Jessie played The Wall by Pink Floyd in his room across the hall, I would wait until “Bring the Boys Back Home” came on. Once the music started, I would try to keep the coins over my eyes while pretending to be a drum major, swinging the empty cardboard tube Jessie's Pink Floyd poster had come in like a baton. I could feel myself being pulled from the middle of my chest by the snare drum, the crashing cymbals, the frenzied voices and horns as I marched back and forth across the hardwood floors until my calves burned. For the duration of the song, I felt like somebody else—somebody important, somebody complete.

One day Jessie caught me. I don't know how long he had been leaning against the doorframe watching me. When I saw him in my peripheral vision behind the quarters, I let the poster tube and the coins clatter to the floor as the music continued to play across the hall. “That was awesome!” he said, his eyes bright with enthusiasm. “How do you do that coin thing?” Some people might think he was being sarcastic, but Jessie has always been sincere, even protective, when it comes to me—his skinny, awkward twin with the dark under-eye circles and shadowy face.

Even though we are the same age—born three minutes apart—he has always treated me like a younger brother and I always saw him as older. That day when we were both thirteen, he took me into his room and played the song over and over, training me from the foot of his bed. He kept time to the music with a drumstick on the footboard until I had perfected the routine. Soon I could march the whole song while holding the coins, not bumping into anything while twirling the cardboard baton several figure eights in the air, switching hands mid-song. Soon after that, Jessie began to call me “Major.”

#

Romulus eventually murdered Remus and went on to become the first ruler of Rome. I know Jesse didn’t mean to almost kill me in the womb. However, sometimes I pictured him as a Roman god coming at me with a gladius, which in this case would have been my nickname.