Jean-Claude and I ruminate over these possible scenarios. What if my twin is dead? I almost died when I had an extreme allergic reaction to the antibiotic Bactrum, a sulfa drug, when I was fourteen. What if she hadn't survived after having a similar reaction to the drug? Or what if looking at her was like looking at myself, but without the mild, raised scars from the resulting chemical burn that have become so familiar to me? What if I find her, as I am driven to do, only to be rejected by a spoiled Jewish American Princess who frowns upon my years of wandering bohemia?
The vision that scares me the most is that she has conquered her solitude and has settled down with a soul mate and a child. If I witness her domestic bliss, will I regret having opted for a liberated but solitary existence? Considering these possibilities sometimes leads Jean-Claude and me to pensive silences. We also celebrate my enlightenment about the facts of my life. Though I anticipate that finding my twin will be a long and arduous journey, I am tranquil knowing at last that the loneliness I have always felt is not of the usual existential kind; it has a name now. "C'est le début d'une nouvelle vie," Jean Claude says. It is indeed the beginning of a new life. And yet, I feel the knowledge that I have a twin had always been underneath the surface of things.
*** In a book at the library, I find an image of twins nestled together in their mother's womb. As a fetus first opening my eyes at the gestational age of six months, I must have encountered my twin looking back at me.
In addition to the traumatic separation from their mother at birth, psychologists believe, twins also experience a brutal rupture from their twin, with whom they have shared an intimate relationship in the womb, negotiating for nutrients and space.
Though consciousness in the womb has not been scientifically proven, many people claim to have a memory of a lost twin. One reason may be that researchers estimate that 12 to 15 percent of us began life in the womb as a twin. Yet only one in eighty twin conceptions survive to full term.
Early in a pregnancy, a second or third embryonic sac may appear on ultrasound tests, only to disappear later. In such cases, these embryos are partially reabsorbed by the mother or by the other twin, or they are just shed entirely. Without complications in the pregnancy, these aptly named "vanishing twins" sometimes go unnoticed, often leaving no trace. Since twins are more likely to be lefthanded (20 percent of twins, compared to 10 to 12 percent of the total population), some twin experts speculate that many lefthanders could be the remnants of a twin pregnancy.
In rare cases, two embryos merge and one twin incorporates the other; the result is called a chimera. In Greek mythology, the Chimera possesses the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. Unlike the gruesome creature for which it is named, the human chimera may only be detected through DNA or blood tests that reveal two blood types in a single person.
And yet, since identical twins share a blood type, it is virtually impossible to determine in a singleton birth if there was originally an identical twin in the womb with her.
PAULA: Dwarfed by the maze of packed cardboard boxes that surround me, I wonder how my husband and I managed to amass so much junk. Piles of books and garbage bags filled with old clothing beckon to be rummaged through and sorted.