July 2022’s short story of the month!
They’ve done all these studies about how twins remain connected, psychically, their whole lives. I haven’t seen Sally for twenty years, but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with pain in my knee and I know it’s her pain, not mine. Or I’ll be taking a walk and I’ll feel her sadness permeate my being.
Without asking though, I know she still doesn’t want to see me. I can’t ask why she wakes up in pain so often, or why she feels sad all the time? She won’t let me help her.
Maybe I should have chosen my words more carefully. But I know I was right all those years ago. If I’d been wrong, I would be happier, and so would she. If I’d been wrong, she wouldn’t be in pain as often.
Twenty Years Ago…
Sally and I kept waving as our parents pulled away. I could see Mom wiping her eyes. It brought tears to mine too, and I knew Sally would be welling up too.
This was it! We were starting college. Our parents had been both happy and sad for us when we’d chosen a college three states away from home.
Sally and I were thrilled. No parents for the first time ever! It was going to be so epic!
The first semester flew by. Sally and I signed up for every activity we could reasonably fit into our schedules. We had so much to tell our parents over the holiday break. I swear we didn’t stop talking the whole three weeks.
Second semester was the same. Things were wonderful until Sally announced her big news.
“I’m going to join the summer abroad program,” she practically chirped while we were eating in the dining hall in mid-March.
“What?” I asked. I thought maybe this was one of those times when she was pulling a prank on me. Sometimes I didn’t get her sense of humor. She said that was because I didn’t have one.
“We’re going to Europe. We’re going to like ten countries in like eight weeks. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.” She dropped a pamphlet on my dinner tray.
The front cover literally said, “Ready for the best summer vacation EVER? Join the summer abroad program for the trip of a LIFETIME.” The words were surrounded by picture of co-eds sitting in cafes and riding trains.
“When you say ‘we,’ do you mean you and I?” I asked pointing back and forth between the two of us.
“Of course,” Sally answered.
I took a deep breath. I couldn’t believe this, but for the first time in our lives, we were on very different wave lengths. I wanted to go home. I was looking forward to spending days with Mom and Dad. I wanted to sleep in my own bed and enjoy my days relaxing until the fall semester started up again. I was wiped. This year had been a whirlwind. I was beyond tired.
“I don’t want to go,” I said. I didn’t look at Sally when I said it. I assumed that would be the end of it. She wouldn’t go without me.
There was a long uncomfortable silence. I felt something that wasn’t my own emotion. It was Sally—she was furious.
“I’m going.” She crossed her arms and glared at me.
I shrugged. I fully believed she would change her mind before summer.
By May, I realized I’d underestimated Sally. She was determined to prove me wrong. We didn’t even say goodbye when our parents dropped her at the airport.
In the weeks she was gone, I felt her ups and downs. I didn’t know what she was doing because she refused to speak to me. I knew she was on a rollercoaster of emotions though. I was just angry.
My parents said it was good for us to do things apart. We needed to become our own people, not just twins. As the weeks passed, I started to agree with them. My anger faded, but it coincided with anxiety that wasn’t my own.
Sally still wasn’t talking to me, but she was a bundle of nerves. I could feel it. I had no idea what was happening to her, but there were no longer moments of joy. She went from panic to anxious to sad and then the cycle started again.
What was happening to her? Why wasn’t she enjoying her trip anymore? I should have picked up the phone, but I knew she didn’t want to hear from me. She still wasn’t ready to talk.
At the end of her trip, she didn’t come home.
“What do you mean she isn’t coming home?” I asked Mom.
“She’s living with some friends near the campus now. They all went on the trip together. I think it sounds like she is having the time of her life.” There was a longing in my mom’s eyes.
I didn’t understand it until the next weekend when my parents had Sally come over for lunch.
Sally brought the reason she wasn’t coming home with her.
His name was Dean.
I knew as soon as I saw him that he was the reason she wasn’t happy. It was coming off her in waves. She was panicked. Every time she spoke around him, she would glance at him questioningly. She was making sure not to say anything he didn’t want her to say.
I was quiet throughout the meal. Dad took Dean on a walk around the backyard, showing off the new deck and in-ground pool.
As soon as the patio door slid shut, I asked Mom to give us a minute.
“You shouldn’t be with him.”
“What are you talking about?” Sally said, but she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. “You don’t even know him.”
I didn’t have to. I knew him because she did. To make my point, I kicked her shin really hard causing my own leg to hurt.
“You don’t know him.” She stood up from the table and went toward the patio door. “Leave me alone.”
Those were the last words she’d said to me.