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By , Washington, DC

My brother and I do not get along.

We used to, a very long time ago, although I can barely remember it. I can’t help but think that it was more out of proximity and familiarity, than anything else, although my mother claims that we adored each other. We were two children raised practically in each other’s pockets, not out of any sort of unusual closeness, but because we were born at the same time and it was far easier to parent us as a unit rather than individuals.

It’s not like our parents had a lot of time to get to know us separately; my mother was disabled, so she had less energy and time to dedicate to two hyper kids, and my father was the main breadwinner whom we only saw in the evenings, when he was exhausted from a long day at work. When we were two months old, they had to hire a live-in nanny, and so she was (and in many ways, still is) our primary caretaker. (But that’s an essay for another day.)

We squabbled, as all siblings do, but it was never anything serious. It was more of a way to establish our individualities than anything else. If he wanted to watch a movie, then I wanted to watch TV. If he wanted to play with blocks, I wanted to play with stuffed animals. We rejected foods that the other liked. I refused to drink orange juice until the second grade because my brother liked it, so I automatically didn’t. He wouldn’t eat ice cream until third, and even then he’d only eat vanilla. But we still got along.

This relatively peaceful period ended in kindergarten. For the first time, there were quantifiable differences between us. My brother had a learning disability and behavioral problems, so he became a troublemaker and class clown, and I became the teacher’s pet. He resented me for my grades, and I resented him for all the attention he got, especially from our parents. He started seeking me out on the playground just to bully me. If one of our friends became closer with the other, we’d make them choose. On the way home, he’d hit me with sticks and made fun of me when I cried. I never let him get away with anything, and constantly tattled to whichever adult was closest.

Oddly enough, even though we tried so hard to be different from each other, we still thought of ourselves as a unit. We used the pronoun “we” more often than either of us used “I.” If one got in trouble, the other was scolded, too — when only one was punished, the other needed to ask if they were in trouble, too. Our names weren’t separate, but conjoined — “Aiden-and-Ashleen.” People called us “the twins” when we weren’t in the room, and “you two” when we were. We shared clothes and books and toys, and neither of us had exclusive ownership of anything other than our underwear. I remember being so annoyed, because my brother had a habit of poking holes in our pants with pencils whenever he wore them, so we didn’t have a hole-free pair to our name.

And, like most twins, we had a language all our own. If I thought something, my brother would say it out loud. We had inside jokes before we even knew what inside jokes were. If one did something, so did the other — playing separately just never occurred to us. We moved the same way, spoke the same way, initiated eye contact at the exact same time. Even though we no longer got along as well, we were still we.

This changed in fourth grade, when my brother switched to a school more suited to his needs. The focus in our household, already heavily Aiden-centered, switched to him for the next four years, and I deeply resented it. He resented the fact that the attention he got was usually negative, and hated that I never seemed to get in trouble as much as he did. Whenever our parents included me in his scoldings, more out of habit than anything else, I forcefully reminded them, “Aiden, not you two.” He never said this — he liked it best if I was punished with him, if I was just as “bad” as he was.

At some point, we stopped playing with each other, and then we stopped speaking with each other, and then we stopped seeing each other unless our parents decided to have a mandatory family activity. When we did interact, we usually fought, but we did our level best not to. Aidan stayed downstairs, and I stayed in my room, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

This changed my freshman year of high school, when I became interested in activism and social justice, and he, who had been held back a year, became interested in conservative politics and ideas. He became a militant Christian, where he had once hated practicing our family religion, and claimed to be an atheist to get out of going to church, and I, previously a devout Catholic schoolgirl who attended Mass twice a week, became an atheist. Our fights were loud, often, and explosive. If he heard me talking about feminism or racism, he’d start yelling. If I heard him make an offensive joke or comment, I’d start hollering. The only time we had cease fires was when both of us were mad at our parents, and even then we tended to think that the other deserved their ire.

At this time, I became very ill, mentally and physically, because of stress and recently recalled traumatic memories. My brother was convinced that I was making it all up, and hated me for it. He started talking smack about me to almost everyone he knew, and so far hasn’t stopped. His friends still come to me and say, “Wow, you are way different than he said you were.” When I found out, I started to do the same, and I still occasionally like to tell unflattering stories about him to get a laugh out of my friends, most of whom are just as liberal as I am.

Things have gradually improved since freshman year, as I learned to manage my health issues, anxiety, and depression, and he became grudgingly tolerant of LGBTQIA+ rights. We still don’t get along, but our disagreements are civil, and he only swears at me under his breath and I only swear at him in my diary. I can never tell him that I am bisexual, and when I was hospitalized for being suicidal my parents had to hide it from him, but we tolerate each other, and have returned to a policy of mutual avoidance.

I miss having a twin, but I don’t particularly miss him as much as who he used to be. I would’ve known if he felt the same before, but now, I can really only guess.

I kind of hope he does.

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