On our birthdays, my twin brother and I used to watch the clock. At 10:04 p.m., my brother was officially a year older, but I had to wait a whole six minutes. When we were 17, we watched the glowing digital numbers flash into place in his room. “You’re older than me!” I yelled, and Danny smiled up from his wheelchair. He could only say twelve words and used one now, my name, to taunt me: “I-an!” he said, like, Oh yes, it feels so good.
At 10:05, I damned the doctors, who during our C-section abandoned me in my mother’s womb for six minutes. Those doctors had a lot on their plates. We were two-and-a-half months premature and we both had brain bleeds, though his was worse. I used to think if they’d plucked me out first, we’d trade places: I would be in the wheelchair with severe cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities, while he would just be a slow reader and terrible at sports.
At 10:06, I said, “It’s not fair!” and my brother smiled with his dimples like, Yes it is. We both had the same long eyelashes, the same shaggy eyebrows that bled together into a unibrow. We did not have the same smile. His was dimpled, open, and wide. It stopped strangers in the street. Mine was closed-mouthed and tight, like I was in pain.
At 10:07, I said, “You’re such a jerk,” and he said, “Momma,” like, Are you still here? “Momma” was a constant taunt that meant, You’re not as good as her. To an outsider, my brother seemed defenseless and vulnerable, incapable of hurt, but a well-timed “momma” could inflict pain. Worse still was when he did not respond, as frustrating as Bartelby the Scrivener’s I prefer not to.
At 10:08, I said, “You better enjoy it,” and my brother said, “Ahhhhhh,” in a tone that meant You know I will. My brother was good at enjoying. Sometimes his spasticity caused him great physical pain, but more often he was in good health, ready to be loaded into his van and cruise the mall with his mother, laughing as he knocked shirts off the rack. At age 17, he liked to go to my hockey games and watch me fall all over the ice while he flirted with his lady friends. My brother was mostly a spectator in the world raging around him, but more than anything he wanted to be included. He enjoyed it.
At 10:09, I said, “I’m coming for you,” and my brother said, “Eh-eh,” his word for no, like, You’ll never catch up. He was right for a while. But more than ten years later, I would catch up: my brother would forever be 28 while I kept collecting years—34 now, six more than him. Every January 14th, I watch the clock around ten p.m. I stare hard at the minutes between him and me.
But back in the bedroom, when we were still 17, the numbers flashed into place: 10:10 p.m. And as my brother tried to drown me out with “Ahhhhhhs,” I yelled, “Yes. Ha! We’re the same! We’re the same!” And in that moment, we were.