Blood roars behind my ears in time with the pounding of a tenacious drummer who had managed to creep into my head. My brain is in overdrive, images, ideas, and plans surge at the speed of light, searching for an answer. I chase after every thought, I’m sure the next clue will take me a step closer to solve the biggest mystery to plague humanity, the elusive question: Who am I? I am unable to catch a single plausible idea, I feel as if I’m on a wild goose chase.
The trouble started a few days ago, when my English teacher, Mr. Bonsignore set our class off on a mission-to write a chapter of our memoir. A majority of people struggle to discover themselves from an early age, but the desire to join my peers on this expedition did not cross my mind until I began writing my memoir. Thus the question arose, for how could I write a memoir if I could not answer such a simple question: who am I? Most instantaneously answer: I am a gymnast, a doctor, a human. By their standards I can call myself a student, an artist, and a teenager. I have a sense of self, but how accurate can it be? For it is just a collection of mere reflections, replicated in in the response of society to my actions, the consequences of my choices, and my endeavors. Answering this question is as inconceivable as tasting your own tongue, smelling your own nose, or looking into your eyes without the use of a mirror. For years I had no desire for a mirror, as my twin brother, Gregory, echoed my every action.
We thrived, developed, and were brought up in exactly the same way. Very different from most American families, we grew up eating organic food, learning Russian poetry and classics before we could say our names in English, and did not have a television set in the house. We were born in the United States, more specifically, Manhattan. It was one of the few similarities we shared with our classmates. We were the only children in our class who never tried Coca-Cola or had a hamburger at McDonald’s. We never went to the all American baseball game, but we have seen almost every production of American Opera and Ballet Theater. You might not believe me so here’s a list: Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Magic Flute, Bizet’s Carmen, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Verdi’s Aida, Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Don Carlo, Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and Siegfried, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Tosca, Shostakovich’s Nos, Bellini’s Norma, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Queen of Spades, and I can keep going but I doubt you will continue reading. After all, I imagine, these operas and composers seem as foreign to you as the names of any baseball team or players are to me. Our parents did take us to a few Broadway productions to broaden our view, but it is considered a very light performance in our family. Like most children we went to the Museum of Natural History, though only once. Instead we frequent the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Barnes’ Foundation, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Frick Art Collection, and the Guggenheim. We never speak in English in our house. We are forbidden! In our family it is a crime to insert an English word into a Russian sentence.
We were very different from other children, but don’t be mistaken, my brother and I weren’t identical either. The differences began right away. He was a lefty while I was a righty. I was a seemingly content baby while his non-stop screams made the house tremble. My parents claim that even before I could walk I would sit on the floor littered toys, which would make any child shriek with joy. I say seemingly because I was never at ease, I was constantly alert; instead of entertaining myself with the multitude of toys I would watch my brother’s every move. As soon as he would select a toy and make even a slight motion towards it I would take off crawling across the room and grab the toy before he could get it. My brother would be sent into tears, and I would discard the toy with satisfaction. I have to admit that now he is a very content teenager, and I am more of a hot-headed screamer. Though my brother and I were evidently different since birth we were inseparable, we did everything together, played, learned, ate, slept, and schemed.
Our parents sometimes left my brother and me with the babysitter, who wasn’t always able to “make friends” with us, at least not until the two of us had schemed and executed an evil and frivolous plan. I can still remember one such occasion vividly. The sitter wanted Greg to clean up his toys and me to do the same with mine, but there is safety in numbers, so we felt empowered to refuse this kind offer. In response our sitter got upset, and so Greg and I ran into his bedroom closet to formulate a revenge plan. Our young creative minds raced for a good five minute before a light bulb flashed above Greg’s head. The plan was to take the stroller from Gregory’s room and push it down the staircase at the unsuspecting babysitter. Right then and there I felt a sort of respect for my brother.
Those of us, who are brothers or sisters, know just how exasperating it can be to get along at times. Well just imagine how much worse it would be to try and get along with a fraternal twin, and trust me I know, I’m talking from my own experience. Once my brother and I started elementary school our relationship rapidly deteriorated. Numerous children would walk up to me with a wistful gaze in their eyes and say, “I wish I had a twin. I would always have someone to play with.” Undoubtedly they were imagining the twins they had come to know in movies such as The Parent Trap and Mary Kate and Ashley with identical flashing smiles, a sixth sense that allowed them to reach each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences, as well as cute matching outfits. We did occasionally wear matching outfits until the age of eight or nine, but not in the traditional sense. I was usually wearing the boy’s t-shirts, snapbacks, and army print shorts too coordinate with my brother.
Imagine you and your ‘twin’ are screaming so loud, you’ve raised the entire neighborhood at six in the morning because you are insistent that that particular toy is yours. Imagine being forced to take the blame for something you never did because your twin brother pointed his finger at you. After all, it will always be your word against his. Which can be especially tormenting if your plea is dismissed without a hearing.
Imagine how your friends will always be comparing you to your brother and forever identifying the two of you as “The Twins.” My goal in life is to be an individual, to be taken for who I am. I don’t want to be associated to my brother, the class clown, and judged by his deeds.
I was the more normal, the more mainstream from the two of us. I longed for him to be more like me. The sad part is that he never tried to fit in. I won swimming competitions, my brother swam carefully, winning was the least of his concerns. He constantly fidgeted and turned around as he swam fearing to hurt his hands which he used to play the piano. I was ready to kill over a soccer game while he picked flowers. In every relationship there is a leader and a follower; I was undoubtedly the leader but my brother refused to surmise to my Totalitarian leadership. That’s what drove me nuts! My brother joked that he kept the hospital of special surgery in business by having one to two ligament fractures a year, despite the fact that he didn’t play any sports. At least looking from my point of view, he’s not like any other American teenager. Normal teens obsess over Justin Bieber and One Direction while my brother adores Robertino Loretti.
It seems irrational when I criticize my brother and find faults in him; I am convinced that everything I say is true. He is annoying in many ways and his behavior leaves a lot to be desired. However, even when my closest friends make a slightly negative remark about my brother, even if they are commiserating with my complaints, I feel hurt. I find these slight negative remarks about my brother very difficult to forgive. I can remember one such case vividly.
Ever since I took it up at an early age, I had excelled at the art of Kenpo Karate. My instructor, Mark, often brought me in to demonstrate karate routines to older children. Greg was always the silly one and couldn’t take such a serious art to heart, so in this area I was always his superior. There was a boy, Jacob, in our class. There was nothing too special about him other than the fact he was about a head taller than kids his age and would often insult my brother. So, my brother was terrified of Jacob until I beat him in a sparring match, 5 to 0. My brother would often be paired to fight with Jacob who always had the upper hand. The next match would be different. When my brother won, everybody was cheering, and I cannot think of a time when the two of us had felt closer.
You can have certain ideas about yourself, but as it turns out they are often not true. I blamed my brother throughout elementary school for my lack of friends, but when we started middle school, in two different schools in different ends of Brooklyn, I still had few friends. I wanted to get away from my brother, and envisioned finding friends who were opposites of him, like me, serious, competitive, athletic, and goal-driven. Soon I discovered that I have little in common with these kinds of people, and we have nothing to discuss. On the contrary I befriended kids whose personalities paralleled that of my brother’s; they are musically inclined, cautious, silly, and nonchalant boys. My brother’s best friend is a Jewish brunette girl who loves art; much like me.
My brother is a very good person in the lamest sense. The most import characteristic of a person is not his brilliance or perfectly rationale behavior. It’s admirable but nothing without a good heart, lightness, forgivingness, and generosity. This is perfectly illustrated by Arthur Conan Doyle in The Adventure of the Speckled Band, “My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied.”
I look at my brother and see how irrational he is, but when I look more at myself I see that I too am not rational. People can’t understand the world around them by simply rationalizing their thoughts. There is much more to life than can be explained by the rational mind. Sometimes your feelings tell you more about who you are and what is right and what is wrong. Internally our view of the world is limited. That is why G-d placed us into this life together, he saw the big picture. We are a bi-karmic design, created to go through life together. Maybe the reason we were born together into this life is so that I would learn to lighten up. Maybe my brother loses, not because he cannot win but because he does not see the sense to win. This idea is not so imprudent after all. The joy of life cannot be found in climbing to the top. Though our lives have just started, I have begun to understand that having a twin is a total blessing. Being a twin, and being my brother’s twin, is such a defining part of my life that I wouldn’t know how to be who I am, without that being at the center.
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