Off the beat: The other twin

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Growing up, I was always the second twin. I was the one who sat for the second half of an hour-long piano lesson, the one who introduced myself after my sister, the one who said I wanted to be doctor or a veterinarian or work at a zoo when I grew up simply because my sister said so. When people asked for our ages, I waited for my sister to respond before saying, “We’re twins.” When people said our names together, they’d say mine second. Even the times on our birth certificates indicate I was born two minutes after her.

We did the same things, too. We played soccer, we played piano, we learned how to dance, we had the same friends and took similar classes. We’re fraternal twins, but many times, people couldn’t tell us apart. If we didn’t have different names — and if I weren’t an inch taller than she was as a kid — I’m convinced that we’d be the same person.

I can’t say I was particularly bothered by this dynamic. We sometimes burst out laughing for no apparent reason, and it didn’t matter how people were looking at us — because we could always say “I laughed because she laughed” and point at each other. When we had dance programs in large groups, my sister and I were always too synchronized, because we practiced together, and I was always trying to copy her technique. When neither of us could fall asleep at night, we could talk from opposite sides of the room about what someone did at school during the day. I’d know exactly whom she was talking about — those moments were nice.

I was the introvert, and she was the extrovert. It always took me a while to warm up to people I had just met, and it was comforting to know that there was someone else who could get through small talking for the both of us. I never paid attention to my mom when she told me talk more at dinner parties or to distant family members who may have stopped by for a brief visit. My understanding of my relationship with my sister was simplistic: As long as we had many things in common, she’d want to be my friend, and I’d always have someone to talk to.

My 21-year-old self hates that I ever thought it was that simple. But what’s a kid supposed to think when, even for others, comparing twins to each other is easier than not comparing them at all?

Living apart for the past three years has helped me outgrow that same naivety and my desire to be the exact same person as my sister. When I began my college career at UC Berkeley, my sister’s quarter had yet to begin, and for once, I was the first to do something she hadn’t yet done. I joined a club to tutor elementary school students, I began writing for this paper, I took classes I wasn’t sure I enjoyed. I spent evenings doing homework at Strada or Milano, developed a liking for white mochas and grew to appreciate the cloudy, misty sweater-weather days that I rarely experienced growing up. I made friends who only knew that I grew up with a second half if I told them (or if they looked at my Facebook page).

When I talked to my sister, I had to describe the people I had met here, tell her about how all the food at the dining commons starts tasting the same after about a month of eating it, illustrate that the eccentricity of Berkeley is something that makes this place strangely comforting.

I last saw my sister at the end of March. We talked, we laughed, we played with the dog, we made fun of each other. We watched each other dance to different songs, and when we did dance together, we weren’t as synchronized as we were before. We recounted stories from opposite sides of our bedroom of things we’d done, of people we’d met, of life as it happened to us — individually, differently.

I wasn’t bothered by fact that she knew some things I didn’t — in part because I don’t think of me or her as being first or second anymore and in part because I don’t care much how other people perceive me compared to my sister. I’ve learned that from Berkeley — that to be enough for yourself doesn’t make you better or worse than your sister. That it’s also enough for your sister to still be your best friend.

I’ve learned that Berkeley — both the city and the campus — is quietly self-assured, but it is not prideful. Every year, this place receives new students — people like me, who complain about the hills we must climb to get to class, the bipolar weather that changes suddenly from extremely cold to uncomfortably hot, the rent being too damn high. It does not pity us. To Berkeley, both the city and the campus, nobody is better or worse, first or second.

And there’s a certain intensity to Berkeley that forces you to actually do something to stay here; it makes you realize that succeeding requires not only passion but also persistence, humility, and the desire to improve yourself for only yourself. Try harder, this place tells us. Don’t complain. Move forward.

Contact Amruta Trivedi at [email protected]