As a kid I was obsessed with twins. From the moment I saw Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap I knew I was destined to be a multiple. I was unaware at the time that it wasn't necessarily a life choice I was able to make. After all, Mom said I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. Some kids wanted to be President of the United States; I simply wanted to be an identical twin.
My fascination with twins eventually extended onto my summer reading list. By age eight my chapter book staples included the Double Trouble series, with the protagonist sisters Sandi and Randi (I can still feel the euphoria when they were later joined by identical cousin Mandi in the explosive Triple Trouble) and of course the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in the Sweet Valley High universe.
I absorbed every detail I could find on the topic, paying special attention to updates on my own twin cousins and studiously watching The Patty Duke Show. I would recite on demand my vast knowledge of all things twin: the difference between fraternal and identical, the meaning of "twin language," and you didn't want to get me started on mirror twins.
At night I would lay in bed and imagine myself and my sister playing the old "switcheroo" game. We'd trade places and fool everyone. I was the bookish twin naturally, so my sister would be both athletic and good at math. She'd play volleyball as me so I'd never have to take another gym class again. I'd return the favor by pretending to be her during free reading time and recess. No one would ever know, except maybe our closest friends and Memee, my faithful stuffed lamb.
It wasn't long before I began to suspect my parents were hiding a big secret from me: that I was in fact a twin. It was so obvious I'd been adopted and separated from my sister at birth. After all, my parents and my brother were obsessed with football, and I could care less about it. What more glaring evidence did I need?
Soon I came to the conclusion that there was a twist to my story: I was separated from not one but two sisters. I was a triplet! I quickly grew jealous at the thought that somewhere out there, I had two sisters who did everything together, like sharing a room and clothes and playing Barbies. I bet they did each other's hair. They probably lived near Disney World, too. Meanwhile I was stuck with my stupid little brother, Scott. He wouldn't even sit still long enough for me to paint his fingernails pink and cut his hair. I tried to tie him up until Mom caught me. How unfair was that situation?!
I likened myself to Little Orphan Annie. I'd stare out my bedroom window and sing "Maybe" off-key until my brother screamed at me to shut up.
I decided to become proactive, planning ways to trap my parents into admitting their scam. Before dinner one night I thought of how to broach the topic in conversation. "This meatloaf is really good, Mom. I bet my sisters would love it!" Dum-dum-dum! My parents would drop their forks in horror. "How did you know?" my mother would gasp as my father would cry, "What have we done? We should've kept the triplets together and sold Scott!"
"No," I decided, dragging a high chair over to the table and strapping my stuffed lamb, Memee, in it, "too obvious. Better to just drop hints first, then the bomb."
I sat down in my chair and stuck my tongue out at my brother Scott, who was already whining about not wanting to eat dinner.
"MOM!" he screeched, "Jenny just stuck her tongue out at me!"
"No I didn't," I said quickly, sticking my tongue out again, then shooting him an evil smile. Typical family dinner.
Mom grabbed plates out of the cupboard. "STOP it you two I am not in the mood tonight."
Dad sat in his chair as Mom put our plates down in front of us. "Mom," I whispered urgently, "aren't you forgetting someone?" I nodded at my Memee, sitting patiently in her high chair. "It hurts her feelings when you forget about her."
Mom let out a big sigh. "Right." She put a small plate in front of Memee, which I promptly filled with meatloaf and peas, and began feeding her. (I was a weird kid, OK).
I decided to stick with my original plan. "This meatloaf is really good, Mom." I paused, then announced dramatically, "I bet my sisters would love it." I looked smugly at my parents, waiting for the shock and forks to drop.
Dad continued eating. Mom pushed Scott's plate closer to him and replied, "I'm glad your Memee likes it. Scott, I'm not kidding, you'd better finish your dinner."
"No," I said sternly, causing both of my parents to look up in surprise. "I know, OK? I'm a triplet and you guys adopted me and my sisters go to Disney World every. single. day. Without me!"
"Jenny," Mom sighed again, "You were not adopted. You look just like your father! And you are not a triplet either, believe me, I would know."
She had my attention. "How do I know for sure? Am I twin at least?"
Mom replied, "No, it was just you. You can look at your birth certificate if you'd like. And why do you want sisters? You have a perfectly good brother right here." She looked at Dad and continued, "I just wish you two would be best friends. Why can't you just get along?"
Scott and I exchanged mutual glares across the table.
Later that night, before bedtime, I found my birth certificate and was devastated to find the word "single" checked in the space that indicated multiples.
The next morning I went to school with determination on my face and a picture of myself in my pocket. I spent the morning contemplating my situation. Should I admit defeat and walk away, alone, single, sisterless in this world? No! I grabbed the picture and tapped the shoulder of the boy in front of me, Evan.
"Evan," I whispered, handing him the picture. "See this girl here? Her name's Jessica. We're identical cousins. She's the wild one. She's French and has diabetes (I was also fascinated with France and diabetes, checking out several books on the topics at the library. But that's a story for another time).
"Oh, OK," Evan replied pleasantly, handing back the picture and turning his attention back to the teacher.
At recess I showed my friend Sara the picture. "This is my identical cousin Jessica. She lives in France and has to give herself insulin shots. She's the prettier one." I started my self-deprecation at an early age. Even my imaginary identical cousin was prettier than me.
I still wasn't satisfied, however. What about my switcheroos?
The following weekend, I went downstairs to find out what Scott and his friend Petey* were doing. The basement at our house was a kid's paradise. My parents finished the space, putting up paneling on the walls and carpet on the floor. They pretty much gave the whole downstairs to my brother and me. There was a TV with a Nintendo hooked up, a couch with a pull-out bed for slumber parties. We had a full-size chalkboard and books, toys, my treasured dollhouse, Barbie dolls, a box full of play clothes and even a finished bathroom downstairs, not to mention lots of empty spaces for running around and playing indoor sock baseball games.
I sat on the stairs and spied on Scott and Petey, who were playing Mike Tyson's Punch-Out on the Nintendo. "I wanna play," I announced. Without removing his eyes from the TV, Scott replied, "You can't, stupid head. Leave us alone." His hands moved expertly on the controller.
"It's my game, too," I said quietly, not sure if I wanted to start a fight or let it go. Petey, sweet kid that he was, looked at me and gave an apologetic shrug. "Maybe Jenny can play next," he said to Scott.
"No. Go away Sissy."
"You can't make me." I glanced at Petey again. "Is your sister home?" Petey's sister and I were friends.
"She can't go out until she cleans her room. Mom said," he replied.
"Oh, I said, resting my head against the stair railing. "Hey Petey, wanna know a secret?"
"Yes!" Petey dropped his controller and turned to me. I had his full attention.
I hesitated for a moment. "Not many people know this, but I'm a triplet."
"Shut up Jenny! Don't listen to her Petey. She's lying."
"Am not." I said smugly. "Mom and Dad just don't think you're old enough to know yet."
"You're a lying liar you stupid dweeb butt. Leave us alone or I'll tell Mom on you."
"Fine, don't believe me, Poopface." I smiled warmly at Petey. "Do you want to meet my sisters? They're upstairs."
"They're here right now?" Petey was fascinated.
"Yeah, but we can't all be down here at the same time. Mom doesn't want anyone to know they're here. So my sisters will just have to come down one at a time to meet you, OK?"
"They're not really there, Petey." I detected the faintest flicker of doubt in my brother's voice.
"You'll see," I said kindly to him. "Isn't it cool you have three sisters?"
I could barely hear his "not really" reply as I thundered up the stairs.
I shut the door to my bedroom and threw open my closet. I grabbed a pair of shorts, a White Sox tee-shirt with Bo Jackson on the front, and put on a pair of cleats. I pulled my hair back in a high ponytail, and looked at myself in the mirror. "Perfect," I thought.
I came downstairs. "Hi you must be Petey and Scott!" I said brightly. "I'm Jessica, Jenny's triplet sister. I'm the athletic one." I was secretly glad I didn't choose rhyming names. Because that would just be ridiculous.
Petey was enthralled. "Nice to meet you!" he said enthusiastically.
"That's just stupid Jenny wearing different clothes."
"Oh yeah?" I shot back. "I'm good at soccer, so how could I be Jenny?" This clear logic silenced my brother. "Anyway," I continued, "Jenny told me all about you so you'd better watch it. You're gonna wish you were nicer to Jenny once you get to know me."
"Well Petey," I said, turning my attention to him, "It's time to pull another old switcheroo over Mom. You'll meet my sister Jean soon. I think you'll really like her."
I ran back upstairs, careful to take two steps at a time. I went back into my room and pulled what I thought was my most sophisticated outfit out of the closet--a totally eighties, flared, black-and-white polka dot dress. I put lace leggings on and raided my ballerina jewelry box, covering my neck and arms with plastic pink beaded jewelry I won at an arcade. I put on my ballet slippers and put my hair down. Then I snuck into the bathroom and put on my mom's frosty pink lipstick, completing the look with hot pink blush and blue eyeshadow.
I sashayed down the stairs, swinging my hips back and forth like Betty Boop. "Heyyy," I said softly, "You must be Petey. I've heard soooo much about you!" I batted my eyelashes and giggled. Petey smiled at me. My brother went back to fighting the fat guy on Mike Tyson's Punch Out.
"I'm Jean," I informed Petey, "I like to go shopping and I even babysit sometimes."
"Hi Jean," Petey said, and not knowing what else to do with myself, I exclaimed, "Oh my! It's getting late! I'd better get upstairs before Mom finds out about the switcheroo!"
I ran upstairs, changed back into my clothes, washed off my makeup and walked back downstairs. "Hi guys," I said, "Did you like my sisters?" I gave a high, weak laugh. "They're crazy, aren't they? We look soooo much alike."
"You guys do look alike!" Petey bobbed his head enthusiastically. "We should all hang out! Have they met my sister yet?"
I'd had enough of this game. "Petey I have to tell you something," I said apologetically, "I'm not really a triplet. That was just me changing my clothes and pretending to be Jessica and Jean."
"Duh." Scott chimed in the background.
I turned back to Petey. "Sorry to psych you out."
Sweetie Petey replied, "It's OK. I kinda already knew. But that was a fun game."
*Names have been changed to protect Petey