The Third Twin
The technician did an ultrasound and delivered the shocking news that she could clearly see two distinct heartbeats. While the teenagers were reeling over this, the technician scanned back over Mom’s stomach to ensure she hadn’t missed anything. “I hear another heartbeat! I think there is a third baby in there!” Dad’s face turned white and his knees buckled. Mom began crying.
After a few days to recover, Dad was excited about having three children in one go. Nothing makes a man feel virile like spawning three offspring simultaneously. Mom had always wanted a big family and was excited about having three babies to play with. They were completely clueless about what lay ahead of them, a special naivety that only adolescents possess. Mom suffered from severe morning sickness so she dropped out of high school and languished on bed rest.
When the big day arrived we were two months early. Because of Mom’s age, small stature, and multiple pregnancy, a cesarean was necessary. Due to archaic attitudes towards men and childbirth, Dad was instructed to wait outside in the waiting area. Before fertility drugs became all the rage, multiple births were quite the spectacle. At the time, only 150 sets of identical triplets were born in the United States per year. Over forty medical professionals watched our birth, as if it were the opening ceremony at the OB-GYN Olympics. As premies, the three of us suffered various complications, so we roasted in incubators for two months before going home.
Having one newborn is a difficult task, having three newborns that are all hungry, awake all night, or filling up their diapers simultaneously is a logistical nightmare. All the pains associated with one infant are multiplied by three. Whenever one of us would start crying it would trigger the other two to join in a chorus of wailing. The cost of three babies is astronomical and our parents had to rely on donations from family, churches, and friends to meet our basic needs.
Every time our parents left the house with us it was a big time-consuming production. They would dress us in matching outfits, and pack enough supplies for anything that three infants might need; bottles, diapers, and changes of clothes. Then they loaded up the three-seat stroller, and three car seats into our beat-up station wagon. It was easier for Lewis and Clark to trek across America than for the Kennedy family to make a quick run to the grocery store.
When our family finally ventured out people were so astonished by the sight of matching babies that their manners would fly out of the window. Many would touch or poke us without asking permission beforehand, putting their un-sanitized hands all over our faces. Predictable questions followed; “Do they share a brain?”, “Can they feel each other’s pain?”, and the inevitable “Are they three twins?” Our parents tolerated these gaffes, but others had inexcusable reactions.
Complete strangers would ask my parents detailed questions about their failed method of birth control, desperate to avoid the same three misfortunes from befalling themselves. One gentleman was disappointed to learn we did not all share the same first name. A well-to-do lady in a parking lot patted our teenage mother on the shoulder and said “Better you than me, dear.” A surprising number of individuals proved their ignorance of the egg-splitting process by inquiring if we all three have the same father.
As we grew older, developing into sentient beings with distinct personalities, we did not have our own identities. Everyone surrounding us saw us as a package deal, an inseparable trio of children. We were referred to as “the girls”, instead of by our names. We wore matching outfits; with the only variation being occasional different colors. We spent literally every minute of every day together, never separated by more than a few feet. We shared every aspect of our lives with each other, parents, family, friends, a bed, toys, friends, clothes, and even baths. We were so emotionally intertwined that we completed each other’s sentences and predicted each other’s emotions; not through clairvoyance, but because we were together every moment.
Our close bond with each other also had an equal and opposite reaction, although we were the best of friends we were also the worst of enemies. We competed with each other, trying to assert ourselves as the superior triplet more worthy of the attention of our loved ones. We ruthlessly insulted, humiliated, physically attacked, and played hijinks on one another. I once convinced Jenny to stuff several packing peanuts deep into her sinus cavity; they had to be removed with needle nose pliers. But whenever one of us felt threatened by an outsider, a non-triplet, we would always have each other’s back.
Our unusual relationship with each other was accepted by our family and friends, and we didn’t realize we were peculiar until we started kindergarten. We began to notice that none of the other children came in matching groups of three; they didn’t have to share everything with their siblings. We easily made friends because we were a novelty, and if they made friends with one of us then they were friends with all of us.
However when we changed schools the following year, our “tripletness” caused an uproar. It came to the attention of our teacher that we were receiving the exact same grades on every assignment, even missing corresponding questions. The three of us didn’t comprehend the concept of cheating and had been copying each other’s work. Up to this point in our lives we had shared literally everything, so we didn’t differentiate between sharing answers on a test and sharing underwear.
The teacher thought that we were too dependent upon each other, and it creeped her out a bit that we did everything in unison. Although we shared friends we never actually interacted with people as individuals. We sat beside each other in class, ate lunch together, and even took bathroom breaks together. The school determined it would be best if we were split up into different classes, and our parents reluctantly agreed.
For our inseparable threesome, cleaving us during school hours felt like a cataclysmic event. It was mortifying to meet new people and not have my sisters in close proximity to me. It felt as if a huge part of my selfhood had been severed from me, for a reason that I didn’t even fathom. Together we could easily make friends and interact, but separated from each other’s moral support, we were excruciatingly timid. Every minute that we were apart I felt vulnerable and lonely.
Every morning Mom still dressed us in matching outfits, but we had to go our separate ways at the school doorstep. I attempted to make new friends, but couldn’t recreate the unconditional relationship that I shared with my sisters. The alliances my classmates offered were frustratingly fickle. A grade school girl would be your BFF one moment but could turn on you in an instant if you committed a transgression. Wear your hair in pig tails instead of a French braid on Tuesday, and your third grade social standing could be demoted to the same category as the kid who ate glue sticks.
Not long after we were forced to split up, we began resenting each other. The ridiculous questions, comments, and gawking became exasperating. It made us feel like freaks. We desired more than anything to be singletons. Children are often dramatic and daydream about horrific scenarios. The bitterness toward one another grew so strong that we imagined what life would be like if one of us happened to die from a horrible, slow disease. In our minds it would be much more glamorous and simple to function as a set of twins.
We begged Mom to let us dress ourselves differently, we were nine years old and she still picked out matching outfits for us every day. To exacerbate matters, they weren’t even fashionable ensembles, but consisted of oversized sweaters, stirrup stretchy pants, or stone washed jeans. We tried to convince her that people would never treat us as unique individuals if we wore matching outfits every day. But for years she ignored our pleas, she didn’t want to relinquish playing with us like a trio of life-size Barbie dolls.
Lucky for our personal wardrobe choices, our parents failed twice in their attempt to have a baby boy before they finally got it right. With six children the time-consuming task of dressing peevish triplets became too burdensome for her to oversee. We were finally given permission to dress ourselves in the fourth grade. We took this long overdue freedom very seriously, meeting together for lengthy conversations to work out the details. We had to agree which persona we each would embody with our clothing style; the Spice girls probably underwent a similar process. After much debate we even outlined the colors of clothing we were permitted to wear. Jenny would dress geeky because she was the smartest, Jessi would be the prissy one because she was the prettiest, and I would dress like a tomboy because I didn’t really have anything going for me.
The control we now had over our clothes allowed us to cultivate our new identities. Most people no longer realized so quickly that we had originated from the same fertilized egg; they just assumed we were just sisters. Finally we had relief from the hullabaloo that had plagued us whenever we left our house. Triplet became a dirty word in our vocabulary, we forbade anyone in our family to tell people we were triplets. We would cringe when someone figured it out and became deeply offended if they dared mention that we looked the same.
A few years later our parents took us to a triplet convention. Mom insisted we dress identical for this one occasion and for once we didn’t argue, only because we secretly dreamed of marrying a set of identical triplet boys (kinky I know). But we were severely disappointed, because not only did our hunky soul mates not exist, but every set of triplets were only fraternal. We couldn't really relate to these people. They were mixed sexes and barely held a family resemblance; they hadn’t been hounded by the equivalent of redneck paparazzi wherever they went. We were not happy to have been conned into wearing our ridiculous, frilly pastel outfits.
While we were leaving the convention, a couple of ancient men approached us and told us they were also identical. Finally an actual set of triplets, not those fraternal fakers! We asked them, “Where is your other brother?” The brothers began crying in unison. “He passed away of lockjaw when we were fifteen.” Suddenly the secret fantasies we had been harboring were a reality. These two men were still in deep mourning after losing their brother an eternity ago. The thought of seeing either of my sisters deathly ill made me nauseous. After this haunting meeting, I could no longer despise Jenni and Jessi’s existence.