I like people.
It’s just a fundamental fact of who I am. For whatever reason, I have been blessed with not just liking people but being intensely interested in any person that is in front of me.
I WILL FIND SOMETHING TO LIKE ABOUT YOU.
But that does not mean that there are not people and relationships that I have struggled with. Sometimes the struggle is very big and has been really painful and often the people I have struggled with the most are surprising to outsiders looking in. In fact, the single most troubled and broken relationship in my life has been with the one person who not only carries the highest social expectation that we be utterly devoted to each other, but it is also with the person who carries an exact copy of my DNA.
My identical twin sister, Loraina.
This story is extremely painful and difficult to write about. I have alluded to the struggle I have with my twin sister, but despite all of it, I have always had a fundamental love for her and have ALWAYS protected her from knowing my true feelings, hurt, pain and frustration that her actions have caused me. I have never desired to hurt her (ok, there was that one time you will read about but it was really understandable why). Knowing there is a possibility she could read this and feel embarrassed or hurt pains me greatly. The only reason I can share this is because I know without question I am supposed to AND because it will be clear that *I* have been the asshole jerk in the situation. SHE is lovely.
Any time that I meet someone who only knows my twin sister and of me, I can guarantee that one or two things (or both) will happen. I will either be told, “Yeah! Loraina says that you sat on her head in utero and that is why she has brain damage!”. (That is so fun to hear, y’all.) OR…someone will meet me and we will have continued interaction together. And at some point I will be told that, “Man…I was really not looking forward to meeting you. I thought you were a really mean and horrible person and really unkind to your sister. But, you’re great!” (Which is even SO MUCH MORE AWESOME to hear.)
It is a life time of conflict and by far the most troubled and complicated of my relationships.
Our early life, as I can hazily recall it, was fine.
Ok, I WAS bugged that she could never just smile for the camera and always pulled faces like this, but as little kids we were generally great.
We did normal twin things, had our own language and just generally hung out together.
All of that started to change when we started school. In fact, the first day of Kindergarten was really the last day of ‘togetherness’ that I remember feeling.
It slowly started to become apparent that my sister was not like other kids.
And in the course of a couple of years she gained a HUGE and explainable amount of weight.
As she got older, her social behavior got more and more erratic, unpredictable, and confusing to all around us.
The social stigma I carried around because of it was very big. To make it worse, I was not allowed to go on a single playdate, sleepover or party unless my twin sister was included. Which meant that my social life was really limited. I hold no blame for my parents in this…they did the very best they could for all their children and if I had a child with the struggles my sister faced, the temptation to do the same thing would seem like a total necessity to ensure any kind of happiness for both of my children.
At one point, out of sheer desperation to help their child, my sister was sent for a year to a lock-down facility miles away from our home to try and get her help. It affected and scared both of us deeply. She felt that my parents sent her away and didn’t love her and I was traumatized every Sunday when we would make the long drive to visit her and then I would see them lead her away and the sound of the large, metal doors slamming shut and locking behind her left me with a life-long fear of being locked in somewhere against my will.
We were both barely 10-years-old at the time.
Even when she was allowed to return home, she was still sent away often (again ALL to try and help her, not out of being unwanted). She spent a year in Mexico and went to a different junior high than I did. My heart breaks for her just remembering it. At the time I was HAPPY because then I didn’t have to deal with her on top of the very large social struggles I was facing on my own.
My mother made it clear when we started high school that she had been separated enough and I had been given enough time to find my own way in school and that we would be attending the same high school.
My heart sank.
I was already not the most socially successful chick in the world, and I KNEW this was not going to help.
I was right.
Very early in the first year of high school, I was selected for the only solo given to a sophmore during the opening concert of the year.
She picked up a chair and threw it at me in the middle of class.
In front of everybody.
It is very clear to me what I am to share here and what I am to keep private but I am allowed this one example to show you JUST HOW HARD THIS HAS BEEN. And it is one of the things I struggled the least with.
And I need to be clear that I was NOT supportive of her. I had times I was mean, taunting or just…totally not protective of her and let her suffer the cruel wrath of kids on her own.
I sucked a really big duck.
During the end of our sophmore year, we were sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch and I noticed something weird happen. My sister’s eyes started moving rapidly back and forth and she stared at nothing and started saying “Uh-huh…Uh-huh…Uh-huh…”
I went home and told my mother something very wrong had happened.
It turns out that I was witness to her very first seizure.
This was a turning point because everyone realized that all her problems were not due to mental illness but a pysiological deformity in her brain. There is no name for what she has, but as the years have increased, so have her seizures. She has spent probably at least a year of her life in the hospital in induced comas to try to preserve her brain from more damage because her seizures have been so violent and unending.
To cut a very long, very painful story short…it took years and years and more money and testing then you can imagine and…they finally have some answers.
Loraina has some very large amounts of brain damage.
It is a miracle that she can walk and talk, let alone sing.
As medical technology has advanced, it has allowed them to pin point exactly where that damage is and the decision has been made that she will undergo surgery to cut out a portion of her brain in order to save her life.
Now, knowing this was helpful, but I was still a kid and frankly, it was very unclear to me just what she could help and what she couldn’t.
It was so upsetting.
She had a life-long love/hate relationship with me. SHE was the one who desired to be a twin, not me. She always wanted to dress alike and yet she was also running in this huge competition with me that I was simply not interested in participating in.
She has had a very difficult life.
There are not many who would be jealous of me and my life, but she has been.
She has always been physically much bigger and so much more damaged and ill, her features stronger, her voice darker and less widely appreciated than mine, I was married twice before she even got asked out on a date, and she is unable to have children.
My sister has true reason to have intense feelings of unfairness pour through her.
That did not stop me feeling hugely conflicted about her. I loved her. We still did things together but the unpredictable social behavior and mood swings made it tough to deal with.
The breaking moment came after the death of my son.
Planning that funeral was very hard for me.
I knew very well that my sister would expect to be asked to sing a solo. My whole life she has been my responsibility. Both times I was engaged she was so upset she wouldn’t even speak to me. My mother begged me to have a wedding line I did not want in my first wedding to placate her and make her feel better. I hated the idea, but I did it anyway. When I married Jonathan we had to all sit down and have a long “Carpenter Wedding Concert” by Loraina so she would, once again, even speak to me.
Every important event in my life HAD to have her in it.
But the funeral of my son I COULD NOT DO. I could NOT have ONE PERSON UP ON THAT STAND THAT I FELT EVEN THE SLIGHTEST BIT OF CONFLICT ABOUT.
She had just gotten out of a month long stay in the hospital and was very ill, and so to me, it seemed the perfect excuse to not have her involved. I wasn’t cruel about it. I didn’t want her hurt by it. I went out of my way in every way possible to protect her from the truth and to make sure she was included and important in other ways.
At the end of the funeral, it is a Choate family tradition for all the family to come up on the stand and sing a hymn. I am grateful that at the time I did not know what was going on, but later, many people made it abundantly clear what had happened.
My sister through a public, pouting fit in the middle of my son’s funeral.
She was so mad that I hadn’t asked her to sing that when her husband tried to get her to go up to sing with the family she refused in a very big and noticeable way. And as she was the only family member left in a whole bunch of empty pews in the middle of the church, it was painfully viewed by everyone there.
I have never felt such anger in my life.
There is a WHOLE lot of negative emotion when something like the death of a child happens and she made it VERY easy for every BIT of it to reign right down on her head.
I would have happily had her die in a fire my offense was so great.
The important thing in this, is that even though I truly hated her guts, I did not want her to be made aware of the great anger and pain she caused me. I told my family that I was fine if they included her in gatherings and not to let on why I would be absent, but if she was there, I WOULD NOT BE.
And this lasted for several years.
In Christmas of 2011, I finally came to terms with my sister.
I offered her an Olive Branch and invited her to my house for Christmas Day dinner.
It was something that many in my family never believed they would live to see happen.
Since then, I have felt at peace with her. I did not initiate any contact with her because even though I was fine and accepting of everything that had occurred to us, I still got a sense that she fought with conflict about me and my life.
Before my…unbelieveable experience about how ALL in life CAN be transformed, my sister is the one who reached out to me.
She was going in for this surgery and she was terrified that the chances are high she will lose her ability to sing. During the testing in preparation for the surgery, they shut down the area of her brain that produces music. She couldn’t even THINK of music. All she could do was recite lyrics to songs. It was heartbreaking and as a fellow singer it must have been just terrifying to know this could be the end result of what is in front of her.
She asked if I could come down to her church to sing with her.
I felt such compassion.
Of COURSE I would sing with her.
And I did so happily.
We had the first discussions back and forth that we had had in years and years.
I would have been very happy if that was all that happened in my life regarding her.
THEN I had the week-long experience that I have already linked to.
And when I went down to sing with her and spend time with her and her husband and have dinner, something so remarkable happened that it almost leaves all else I experienced in the dust.
I love my sister.
And not only do I LOVE her (which has never been at question)
I LIKE HER.
I DELIGHT IN HER.
I am endlessly proud of her.
She just tickles me to death.
She is so pure and kind and so, so, SO desperate and willing to please.
Her husband is amazing. He is long-suffering and one of the most loyal men I have ever met. Yes, he has social awkwardness but if you can look beyond that you will see such a remarkable man. Such a remarkable couple.
I am the humbled one in front of her.
I hope one day that I can even be a tiny bit of what she is and have even a portion of the courage it has taken her to get through this life.
I am not saying that every troubled relationship SHOULD be transformed. Far from it. But anyone who knows even a small bit of my story and struggle with my sister knows that even the most troubled things CAN be transformed.
And I am so very, very glad it has been.