When we are not telling Elliot the Dragon stories on the way to school, I tell Elliot stories from my childhood. It’s a way of me being known by him, and he frequently requests them. They always start the same way, “Once upon a time, there were four little girls. Their names were Tamie, [Red Twin], Jessie, and Anna Louise.”
There’s the story of how Anna Louise got her name; the one about the time there was a big snake under our house; the time Red Twin broke her arm doing gymnastics in the backyard and the nurse at the hospital thought it was me who had a broken arm because I was crying so hard; how we used to go on our yearly holiday to the beach, 6 of us in a caravan and how long it took my dad to set up the annex every time until finally other holiday makers took pity on him and offered assistance; how sore my arms got doing the puppet show at Christmas each year and how my mum cheered me on and I always wanted to be involved again the next year; the time our van broke down on the Hay Plain between Adelaide and Sydney, before the days of mobile reception, and how the windows of the car were covered in a carpet of flies. I tell these stories and others to him over and over, but this morning he wanted a new one.
I’ve been trying to work out how to help him to discard the labels he is given by his classmates in favour of ones that he wants to live into, so I started out telling him about times when people said things about me that I didn’t like. How people used to compare Red Twin and me: who was the funny or serious one, smart/dumb, outgoing/quiet, pretty/plain, sporty/musical, nice/unfriendly, the list goes on.
We were still pretty similar, so sometimes people found it hard to make a distinction and just kind of melded us into one person. At one school we were even known as the ‘Tamie twins’. We were so annoyed at the erasure of Red Twin, and the attribution of one or the other’s actions to both of us. (“Why should I receive credit for something she did?” “Why should I have to defend her actions as if they were my own?”)
Sometimes, independence looked pretty good, just so I could be ‘Tamie’, instead of constantly being known in reference or comparison to her, and to be known as a unique individual rather than an indistinct and non-existent composite of two people. At times, that became necessary, when school teachers couldn’t cope with having two children who were so physically and academically similar in the same class, or became convinced that one of us was cramping the other’s development. Then we would be put into different classes. And it was OK. We made friends with kids in our new classes. We still performed academically. We got along fine.
But life was better together. Eventually the teachers would be satisfied, and we ended up back together. Mildly happy kids go mildly well; really happy kids go really well. And we were happiest together. Not because we were ill-adjusted or unhealthily reliant on one another, but because we had this wonderful capacity to enhance one another and see each other grow. However annoying it was to be constantly compared or blurred, independence was never worth the separation.
As I was telling this to Elliot, I felt this heaviness in my body start from my cheeks and shift through my body, as though my mouth turned down and pressed the rest of my body down with it. This story felt like an illustration of current reality. It’s like I am in a separate class from Red Twin, but without hope that things will change. It’s not like the times when we just had to prove to the teacher that both twins were academically capable and one was not compensating for the other, at which point we were allowed back together. This reality is permanent. Life in the other class. Life in 2D. I am cut off from the optimal condition for enjoying the world and growing in it. This is not a grey blip on an otherwise technicolour journey; the rest of the way – the rest of my life – is grey.
I go along fine. I parent, I learn, I love, I make new friends. And it’s fine. And also a bit dismal, because it’s still doing life in the 2D when I’ve known the 3D.
It was 10 months today since she died. And only a few days until she would have been 36. I guess that’s why I started telling Elliot the story. My heart and mind are consumed with her. It turns out that the mild happiness of the 2D doesn’t translate into mild sadness. It wrenches at me and compresses me.
Categories: Written by Tamie
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.