The Old Vicarage
This post has developed from a conversation with orna B Raz who is interested to hear about being a twinless twin.
Lent, I've thought a lot about loss. It's that time of year. Last
year's palm leaves scorched to soot. Last year's thorns not yet
camouflaged with burgeoning leaf. Dead wood snapped in autumn gales
not yet encrusted with copper-green lichens, or host to oyster
mushrooms. Redundant nests awaiting tenants. Dispassionate skies,
dark as pewter. Slicing winds and not the merest rumour of a thermal.
it's always a sad time of year in ways I struggle to explain, despite
the facts. These words will give shape to something invisible whose
effects are as tangible as those of a severed limb. There were things
I knew before I knew the reasons for them, fixed impressions not
based on evidence, spoken or actual, but so taken for granted that
they seemed routine yet jarring at the same time.
April birthday makes me a dyed-in-the-wool Arian. Jump in at the deep
end. Sink or swim. I made it into this world from a better place, I'm
sure, with a vague sense of mission. There was something I had to do.
Get back there, retrieve something lost. Earn space on the face of
the planet. Life is a gift we must do our utmost to treasure in order
that lemons become cordial. I think the anguish of birth was so
traumatic that memories are imprinted from some of my earliest days.
You see, I made the journey here, but my twin did not.
were years of austerity, the nation for all its courage and grit,
shell-shocked, hustled to its feet after not one, but two world wars.
Perspectives on life and death were not as they are today. The moral
code of stiff upper lip and shouldering your own burdens, not
speaking openly about trials and tragedies, getting on with it, was
the norm. Everyone had suffered in one way or another. There was a singular pride in not indulging grief. You dealt with what was
before you and put the rest out of sight and, yes, out of mind. Was
that unhealthy? It's not easy to answer that, as this account will
show. But for all our present day insight and empathy, the western
world does seem less mature.
was born in a rambling Victorian vicarage which had been turned into
makeshift nursing home during WWII. It was shortly due to close. In
fact, mine was the penultimate birth and would have been the last if
I'd not arrived two weeks early. My mother had been told by her
doctor that the signs indicated twins. There was no Ultrasound, no amniocentesis, so, after a complicated delivery which
required ten days of rest, she was sent home to get on with her life,
grateful to have come through, and with a healthy baby. She never mentioned the absent one, at least not to me, until she was in her
late seventies and a widow.
were conspiracies of silence about many things, of all shapes and
shades, when I was growing up, so that functioning in a vacuum, being
blind to certain factors that impinged on daily life, seemed part of
the human deal. I suppose this is not uncommon and was especially
rife after the war when quite a number of children were fathered by
American GIs billeted upon British wives and families, or else by POWs
quartered in the district. Thus the loss was despatched, couched
fluffily in an ensuing comedy which became the narrative of events.
roles were clearly defined at that period. It was unthinkable that
fathers should attend the birth of their offspring. It was women's
work and as natural as shelling peas. After a nail-biting day and
night, my Dad telephoned the nursing home from a public call-box to
be told that a bouncing daughter had been born in the early hours.
“Not twins, just a little elephant,” quipped the doctor. I
weighed seven pounds.
poor Dad, a logical man, overcome with the news, clutched faintly on
the receiver, fully convinced that the medic had said seventeen
pounds!! He was the butt of that joke for many a year, though he
took it in good part.
the elephant in the womb became the elephant in the room. It wasn't
just that it was a taboo subject, by mutual, tacit consent. It was as
though it hadn't happened. This may seem like a fine distinction, but
the domestic dynamic had changed beyond what was demonstrable and
reasonable in the circumstances. It introduced a ghostly dichotomy
that is an integral part of who I am. This is played out in small
matter-of-fact ways when making choices and evaluating opinions, down
to a sense of deep emotional and spiritual cleavage from where, and
with whom, I belong.
feel we're called upon to justify our space upon this planet, if
only by goodwill and the care and support of the fellow creatures
who cross our path. We didn't ask to be born, but Creation has called
us into being and invested in our uniqueness for the benefit of all.
While there is a metaphysical pressure to live for two, my instinct
is to take up as little space as possible in trying to achieve that.
Throughout her life, my mother impressed upon me that sacrifices had
been made on my behalf, though I was never quite sure what they were,
and this may have induced a free-floating guilt that is near
impossible to shake off. It did not occur to me until after she died
that the chillingly offhand moods which had been so
perplexing might have erupted from a primitive form of suppressed
grief. I was the child who had gained life at the expense of the
parents decided on a hyphenated name. Rose-Marie. There was no
such tradition in the family, but I suspect that a coupling of this kind
answered the spirits. However, on the day of the registration, my
mother changed her mind. For some abstruse reason, she decidedly did
not want her daughter to be called Rose (as was inevitable in the
real world) so Rosemary was instead written on the certificate.
Rosemary Joy. It failed to stick. Well into adulthood, I was
informally called Rose, except at home, and it seemed so naturally to
morph into Rosy that I kept to it. It was like a gift
of identity whose roots are clandestinely entwined.
the shadows of the psyche, where no one else treads, Marie has been
an angel presence from time immemorial. I don't actually name her,
except in now describing the alter ego, or phenomenon, she is. I
don't even think about this often, but have never been able to shed
the formless grief of her going, which, at times, is intense and
quite inexplicable in wholly rational terms. In infancy, I talked to
her as a matter of course. As a three-year-old, I noticed the sad
pain in the middle of my chest, exactly where Benjamin, my teddy
bear's squeak-box had worn through his fur, and marvelled that he was
feeling it, too! Even now, the way I go about decision-making and
debating issues with myself sometimes strikes me more like an actual
dialogue than an evolving stream-of-consciousness. When a conclusion
is finally reached, it is seldom other than firm. There is another dimension at work.
does all this leave me? I suppose it is a major cause of
'drivenness'. Wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, there's a feeling
of needing to be elsewhere doing other things. In order to keep
focus, it makes me doubly obsessive about achieving goals which,
incidentally, don't usually tally with what an observer might expect.
In the past, I have crammed much into my days to the point of serious
exhaustion. Family and social responsibilities aside, I have run a
gallery and a music agency, have written several books, trained as a
singer, performed in hundreds of concerts and a fair few operas (in
the chorus and minor roles). I have attended artists' courses, plus
others in antique furniture, silver, the fine arts, the Baroque era.
For many years, I taught Scripture. 'Jill-of-all-trades, mistress of
none,' I hear you say. Well, that is undoubtedly true. All I ever
wanted was to be was a ballerina. Folk pressed my parents to enter me
for proper ballet school, but the stage was anathema to their beliefs.
source of misgiving has been friendships. I've been forever blessed
in finding good friends and have not always reciprocated with the
degree of enthusiasm they deserve, at least in terms of relaxed and
regular socialising. The main reason for this is the distraction, the
anxiety amounting almost to panic when the contemplative sessions
from which creativity arises, are displaced. I've written of this
before, but it's not altogether about the demands of research or writerly
application and absorption in Story, it's where I am closest to
Marie. I am never alone. I know this sounds crazy, but it's as though
she will die if I don't make this breathing space and I shall become
must be stressed that there's nothing eerie
about it. My other half is a presence just over the shoulder, a
breath's span out of sight, the whisper of something I might not have
thought of. She is the frisson of electricity when I eclipse the
essence of her. Does she ever see through my eyes? Do I see through hers?
sometimes think they recognise me. They mistake me for someone
else, or I remind them of a person they once knew. We twinless twins
like to think we are individuals, but I smile and wonder which of us
they see and whether the capacity for mirroring extends beyond the
context, out of time and mind. One weird thing that does keep
happening is that when I spot a person who strongly resembles someone
I know, they will acknowledge me or greet me like an old friend. It could be in the native character of the catching of the eye. Or not.
Occasionally, in the past, I have used homeopathic Argentum
Nitricum, beloved of performers for its calming effects. In its chemical form, it's used as the silver backing to mirrors. I began
to notice on those days an increased frequency in the experience
described. There is much at our fingertips we fail to grasp.
the end of her days, my mother refused to hear me called anything but
Rosemary. Maybe it was a deep-seated need to keep a homogeneous
version of the legend intact, to slay the elephant, or an
impulse to control identity and reduce it to something she could cope
with. This was so challenging that, in full possession of her
faculties, she came to deny she had a daughter at all. The presence
and absence are curiously interchangeable. It's how I know death doesn't have the last word.
The Twinless Twin Support Group says, 'Once a twin, Always a
twin. You are not alone.'
once in a blue moon, the mist thins and all slots into the twilight picture, the whys and wherefores. And one day, the light will shine and
melt the veil and the long, stumbling journey of separation will be
knows? Perhaps Marie is doing the dancing in a parallel reality,
wishing she had written poetry or explored Georgian history. It cannot be denied that particular music haunts most powerfully and excruciatingly of all.
My poem, In Memory,
which is included in THE TWAIN, Poems of Earth and Ether, attempts to describe the experience of being born as a twinless twin.Read comments at Redroom.com