This happened on one of those nice afternoons in April. I was leaving the Kenton County Library on Scott Boulevard in Covington, Kentucky and they were coming in.
It didn’t take me long to figure out they were twins. No, they weren’t dressed the same, but they looked exactly alike — graying black hair, round faces, slim noses and high cheekbones. I’m guessing they were about my age, in their early 60’s.
“I don’t see many twins going into this library,” I said with a smile on my face. They smiled back and we stood and talked for a minute outside the entryway.
“Will you guys be checking out the same books?” I asked. They both laughed.
“I like crime novels, but Les here is more of a memoir man,” the one twin said to me while smiling.
“I’m a twin myself,” I said.
“Oh?” said the twin who hadn’t talked to me yet.
“He lives in Seattle, Washington,” I said. “We aren’t identical, but you can clearly tell we’re brothers.”
“You probably miss him being so far away from you and all,” the twin named Les said.
“I do,” I replied. “I don’t get to see him much.”
Some more words were exchanged but not many. I felt strange for what I had just told the twins and wanted to stop talking. I told them both it was nice to have met them. I watched them go into the library and then I tuned to go home.
Walking up Scott Boulevard, I had tears in my eyes. When I reached the safety of my apartment, I laid down on my bed and cried.
I lied to those twins I met while leaving the library. My twin died on September 27th, 1994.
The subject of having a twin or being a twin seldom comes up anymore, but when it does, I’ve been known — or at least I know this — to not tell the truth to people who don’t know me. Their twin is alive and sometimes I want the happy ending too, meaning I want my twin brother to be living.
To those strangers, to those twins I meet, I pretend like he is. My twin brother has been gone for over 20 years now and I haven’t done this pretending very often — maybe a total of three or four times, including my brief encounter with those twins at the Kenton Country Library. It’s probably something I should talk to a therapist about.
Somehow, I think telling strangers my twin brother is alive will make me feel better. It never does, but telling them he has died isn’t any better.
I remember a couple summers after my twin brother had passed away, I rode with a friend to Chicago to see a Reds vs. Cubs game at Wrigley Field. My friend and I had great seats and sitting to our left were two sisters who were twins.
I don’t remember much at all what I said to them, but I mentioned I was a twin also and they wanted to know about the two of us. I remember saying, “Oh, he died in September of 1994.”
I then remember suddenly getting choked up about it. Maybe I had never said those words to strangers out loud before and it seemed unnatural to say them.
“I’m so sorry you lost him,” she said, seeing my pain and starting to get emotional herself.
“No,” I said, “I’m sorry. At this point, I should be able to say those words to you without having tears flow.”
“It’s OK,” I remember her saying. I also remember watching a couple innings of baseball before telling my friend I was going back to the hotel. I was no longer in the mood to watch a ballgame.
I know some other twins in my life and also some who have lost the brother they were born with. I think they are the only ones who truly know what it feels like, who really understand that empty feeling that doesn’t go away with the passage of time. My twin and I came into this world together and it feels so unnatural for him to be gone and it may seem strange to you for me to say this, but it doesn’t feel right for me to still be here. We came into this world together and that’s how we should have left.
When this column runs, I will have had a birthday. I’ll be 61 years old. No doubt, I’ll go out to eat with my kids and they will want to celebrate my “big day.” Cards and gifts will be given to me and I’ll be smiling and joking around like I usually do, but something will be a bit fake about all of it. Something will be missing. The 21 years of my twin brother passing away doesn’t soften that feeling or emotion or that longing to see him.
Most of the time and with most days in my life I’m fine. My twin brother would want me to go on living and that’s exactly what I’ve done — but you can’t tell me that in all our lives there isn’t a few things you wish you could change.
I’m not going to let myself feel too bad about lying or pretending with those two twins at the library the other day. I think if they knew the truth, that I simply want that happy ending they’re having, I think they would understand it.
Larry Gross' new book, Mishmash: Stories, Essays, Ridiculous Ramblings And/or Astute Observations, is available now at amazon.com.