There’s always a touchstone when you’re an identical twin. My mother is one and it’s sometimes hard for me to imagine the pressure of the competition of that touchstone. Which one is prettier? Thinner? Smarter? Which one married better? Has the best personality? The smartest kids? A consistent rivalry, always vying with each other.
The two of them lost their father when they were five. Their mother, my grandmother, was devoted but never was able to say “I love you” to them or to their older sister. There always seemed to be a desperate neediness on all their parts as we were growing up.
My aunt ended up in a loveless marriage and found empty consolation in material things (she had unfortunately confused the two)—clothes, shoes, formal dresses, exotic cruises, fancy cars. I’m not sure how this would have played out if she had not had the means to feed this insatiable hunger.
My mother, on the other hand, though with plenty of problems of her own, found herself with a soul mate, and though he died very young, had some reparative exposure to love, though remaining faulty and extreme in her own demonstrations of it. Ultimately, my father’s early death only exacerbated her lack of its understanding.
Both my aunt and my mother were very attractive and sexy women. Both wear make-up, but over the years, my mother now wears only lipstick while my aunt wears more and more. As my mother grows more and more comfortable with herself (and with the Parkinson’s she experiences), my aunt has become more and more a caricature of herself.
My aunt is always two or three shades darker than my mother. If it isn’t from sitting in the sun, then it is from tanning salons, or pancake make-up. She has had several facelifts though never confessed to having them in front of family. (When you have a touchstone, it’s difficult to deny such things.) Her eye make-up has become darker and thicker. The lines she traces at the top of her lids have become increasingly longer, less careful, and stretch dangerously close to her ears. I have seen a small cousin run behind his parents in fear when he looked at her face. “It is her Egyptian eyes,” we all laughed. When she was in the hospital battling cancer and heart problems, her head was shaved. Without make up, I was shocked at how beautiful she still was.
My mother remarried some thirty years ago to a man who is totally devoted to her and has managed to provide the kind of nurturing care with which she seems to thrive. My mother is weak now with Parkinson’s and has battled bravely in the face of her diminished and compromised capacities. Parkinson’s is a terrible disease for a whole host of reasons but one of the strangest side effects is that the sufferer has no wrinkles.
Having a touchstone at 83 offers bitter irony and poignant example of disparate consequence. Having a touchstone you are scrutinized much more attentively and thoroughly by family, friends, and outsiders. As if life weren’t hard enough already.