When I Was a Twin

I wrote about my twin brother’s death before it actually happened.

In The End of Being Known, a book about sex and friendship and the riddle of why, up to that point, I had been outside an intimate relationship for 15 years, there’s a piece of writing that imagines my brother dying in the street—gay bashed, I guess you would call it—a dark and slightly rhapsodic rambling based on a violence I always sensed was at the edge of my brother’s living.

The piece about my brother’s death is near the beginning of the book to erupt it into being, and then at the end of the book there’s a piece to sort of counterpoint the violence which is all about Andrew, the man I met online and with whom I eventually fell in love.

Both sides of that book were strokes of imagination.

And then in time they both came true.

As strange as love’s edict breaking through in that book (Andrew, the once and seemingly everlasting elusive someone to love)—the prophesy about my brother’s death is even stranger. Had I written, without knowing it, a book of secret desires—one awful one and one good one: a love wish and a death wish? And isn’t every memoir dangerous when it departs actual life and enters imagined life; when the writer forgets what must have happened and starts to follow the line of mind that personalizes the randomness of living? The memoirist insists life is most authentic at the point where there’s no turning back; when, in a dazed confession, it could all be told as someone else’s life.

I was telling my brother’s life.

And every twin lives two lives—one real, one imagined—one of being alone by night and with his twin by day; the other lit by wondering what life would be like without the other one. Twins co-joined are actually hardwired that way—made to think about what a life, detached from the life, must really be like.

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I’m the survivor because I thought like the survivor even when I didn’t voice it plain. The survivor thought kept coming and going in my living and in my writing.

I’m the survivor because I think I can feel my brother more now than I could feel him in our living.

I’m the survivor because I feel guilt not to have survived but to have always known that I would be the one who would write this sentence.

I’m the survivor because we said in a game that I would be the survivor.

I’m the survivor because my brother wanted me to be the survivor.

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I didn’t want my brother to die, nor did I secretly wish him to die, but writing about his death before it happened is—let’s face it—an odd thing to do, even if it came partly out of the imagination and partly out of some innate understanding of how he stood—however shattered—in his own life.

While it was no secret to anybody who knew him that my brother was an active alcoholic and could die from it some day, he wasn’t—I thought he wasn’t—as close to his own ending as I’d written him there in my book. But that spell—what turned precursor—was made even worse in a way by the fact that I never showed Kevin the piece of the writing the spell made me write. What I did show him—what I had to show him in the form of reading it over the phone one afternoon from an attorney’s conference room—was an essay about the weird and important sexual relationship we had when we were young and stood in the frazzled threshold of impulse and sexual (was it gay?) desire.

I had to read my brother the essay about the weird and important sex because it was being published in an anthology of erotic gay memoirs, and in order for it to be considered, the piece had to be cleared through the legal department of the publishing company. There’s some strange stipulation whereby even if a name as changed (I changed Kevin’s name to “Rex”) in a piece of “non-fiction”—you still have to get permission from the real person in case they can identify themselves in a character, even if that character lives in non-fiction.

I needed permission from my brother to tell on him.