“Are you twins?” It’s a question my sister Heather and I have heard at least a million times.
There was a time when that question made us roll our eyes, knowing that the discussion would include questions like “Can you feel each other’s pain?” Or “Do you ever swap places on boyfriends/family, etc.?” As children, all we wanted was to fit in, which wasn’t easy when you grow up in a small Texas town, pale, freckled, identical gingers in a sea of blonde and dark-haired children. Initially, we embraced our twinness, allowing and even encouraging our mother to buy us identical outfits, and finding comfort in our sameness. But as we grew older, our quest to be recognized for our individual achievements became an issue. People would congratulate Heather on winning the spelling bee when I had nabbed the top prize. I endured endless praise for placing first at a storytelling event when I wasn’t even on the team. To make matters worse, boys couldn’t tell us apart. My heart broke when my crush danced with me at a Halloween party in sixth grade, then returned to school the next day telling everyone how pretty Heather looked.
As the years passed, we accepted we were alike in more ways than just appearance. Together we made the decision to move to New York to study acting. But still no one could tell us apart, and I had to resort to wearing a watch, so we had an easy way to point out who was who. Then one day feeling frustrated by my acting career, I signed up for a memoir writing class. I’d always written, jotting ideas and short stories down in journals, but this was the first time I was setting out on my own. The class, filled with mostly senior citizens praised my work and opened up the possibility that I had talent as a writer. Writing became my thing, a way to separate Heather and I from one another. Before long, we found the courage to go our separate ways. Heather stayed in New York to finish her studies and I headed to LA to pursue my acting and writing.
At first, it was difficult but as time went by, we grew confident in who we were as individuals, not just “the twins.” After five years, we reunited in LA. The time apart had given us what we lacked all those years before--- a stronger sense of self. Now we were able to embrace our sameness because we understand and accepted our differences, even if they aren't apparent to the outside world. In fact, it was Heather who encouraged me to write my first novel, Baby Doll, a story about identical twins and what happens when one is kidnapped and returns home seven years later. When I began writing my second novel, The Walls, an exploration of domestic violence and the bonds that test a family, my sister was by my side, cheering me on. Now when we hear, “Are you twins?” we’re in sync, happy to discuss our relationship. We know how lucky we are to go through this world with our best friend and doppelganger by our side.
The Walls by Hollie Overton is published by Century and is out now, priced £12.99