I’d say my life started at the approximate moment that my identical twin sister died next to me in my mother’s womb.

After that, it moves all over the place.  But that was the key moment, right then.  And it, being the key moment, has peppered every other moment in my life.

Before grade school – kindergarten, I believe:  I took piano lessons with a woman whose age I cannot remember.  She forbade her students to touch the keys of the piano.  We were “dirty little children,” and we could not be trusted to keep her piano, which was not actually her piano, but the school’s piano, clean.  Instead, we played “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” pounding out each note on the wooden plank that covered the keys when the piano was shut.

From this teacher, I learned almost no piano – not a huge shock – but I did learn that I had murdered my twin sister.  After class one day, she pulled me aside.

“No one will tell you the truth, but I will,” she said.  “You are a murderer.  Your twin sister is dead because you made her dead when you sucked the oxygen out of her inside your mother’s belly.”

This, as it turns out, was not true, as one fetus cannot suck oxygen from another fetus.  Because a human fetus is not a feline character in an old wives’ tale.   But what did I know?

I didn’t know much.

I didn’t know what it meant that my twin sister died before she was born.  She was never born.  How could she have died when she was never born?  Doesn’t one invariably come before the other?

On a holiday – some holiday, I can’t remember which one – my mother, frazzled from being the mother of five living children and one dead child, lost focus and dropped me off for school to a locked and empty building.  And she didn’t come back, at least not immediately, so I took a walk.  There was a path lined with Sycamore trees.  There was an illness going around in Sycamore trees that season.  They were all falling ill, and inexplicably dying.  Their leaves withered, and their branches drooped, and as a result, birds’ nests that once comfortably rested in the crooks of the trees, shifted.  Sometimes, the nests would shift enough that an egg would fall from the tree.

That day, wandering alone, I came across an egg – that had fallen from its nest – which had shifted from its position on the tree – which was curling up and dying.  This egg had cracked in half, revealing the fetus of a bird, drooped over the edge of the shell.  The shell, though open, had pieces held together by a clear film.  A string of this clear film was suspended between two large pieces, and on this string rested the baby bird’s crooked head.

I crouched down, hands on the ground, chin between my knees, and stared.  I thought and thought and thought, and I eventually I laid belly down on the cold cement of the pathway, my face no more than a couple of inches from this tiny, dead, fetal bird.

Its skin was transparent beige.  It had no feathers.  Its eyes were closed.  Its beak was closed.  Its veins were dark.  Its wings were bare.  There was no blood.  It just rested, broken, but not damaged, on the edge of the shell.

I thought then, after watching it do nothing, after watching it be dead, I thought: “Ah ha!  Dead without ever having been born.”

And that’s when I noticed just how human this little bird looked.  My God, did it look human!  It was nothing but a tiny little bird-human, and it had died before it was born.

So I rolled over next to it, onto my back, and I smiled and I smiled and I looked up at the sky through the branches of the Sycamore trees that were bending and dying, releasing baby bird-humans to fall to their deaths, before they were able to be born.  And it felt like they were falling all around me, though really, none were falling, not after the first one, but Goddamnit , it felt like they were raining from the sky.

All of these birds.  Dead without ever having been born.  Killed by the Sycamore trees that refused to hold them carefully.

Trees can’t be evil.  They can’t be; they produce oxygen, they give life.  But these Sycamore trees were tossing these baby birds to their deaths, and they were killing them, just like I’d killed my twin sister.  But trees can’t be evil.  And if the trees weren’t evil for killing these birds, then I wasn’t evil for killing my twin sister.

I used my fingernails.  I clawed through the dirt in the ground beneath the Sycamore trees.  I dug a hole, a nice, deep hole, and I buried the baby bird inside.  I put it to rest, telling the tiny bird it had not been murdered, no, it had just died before it was born, and it was okay.

That’s when my mom came back to get me.

Since then, it’s like these baby birds really are raining from the sky – I see them everywhere.   And I dig a hole in the dirt with my fingers, and I lay these not murdered baby birds to rest, and I tell them it’s okay.

I was in a gas station because I needed a pack of Kool Kings.  In line in front of me was a retarded midget.  And I mean really retarded, as in mentally disabled.  Now, I am lacking in every midget-appropriate social grace known to man.  I have no idea how to behave when a midget, or otherwise tiny person, is nearby.  I often confuse them with children and speak to them as such.   Add retarded to the mix, and I’m outright socially crippled.  Additionally, after all this time, I’m still not sure if this retarded midget was a girl or a boy, or a man or a woman.  I am just going to refer to her as “her” because it’s easier that way.  Just keep in mind that she might have been a he.

She had no hair.  Just peach fuzz on top of her head.  She appeared to have a cold, which was creating a mess of mucus on her face.  She was attempting to purchase a Pepsi, but she was 48 cents short.  I happened to be holding, in my hand, two quarters.  She was fumbling around for a few minutes, trying to locate 48 cents, and I was standing behind her holding the two quarters.

I feel sorry for retarded people.  It broke my heart, this scene.

I walked up next to her and placed my two quarters on the counter.

“Here you go,” I said, smiling at her.

The retarded midget turned her oozing face to mine.  She smiled a really super big smile at me, which allowed me to pat myself on the back for a moment for my extraordinarily altruistic character.

Then:

“Thank you.  Can I have a ride home?”

I stared at her painfully for about five seconds.  I made a decision.

“No,” I said.
“Why not?” She asked.

This is where I started to panic.  I didn’t want her to think that I was grossed out by her, and that I didn’t want her coming in physical contact with my car.  I didn’t want her to think that it made me tremendously uncomfortable to be in such close vicinity with a midget, never mind a retarded one.  I didn’t want her to think that my charitable nature was strictly limited to those actions that cost fifty cents or less.  These were the real reasons I declined to take the retarded midget home.

“I don’t have enough gas,” I lied.

“You are at a gas station.  Get gas,” she quipped.  Outsmarted by a retarded midget.

“I don’t have enough money.” I lied.

“I just live right over that way,” she said, pointing east.

“I’m going that way,” I lied, pointing west.

“Then I live right over that way.” She said, pointing west.

Now, that frightened me.  Before, there was a retarded midget who didn’t want to walk home asking me for a ride.  Now there was a retarded midget attempting to fool me into granting her access to my car, and whose motivation for this behavior was ambiguous.  Petrifying.

“No,” I repeated, sticking to my guns.

I bought my cigarettes with her standing uncouthly close to me.  Then I walked out of the gas station, with her following unnervingly near.  I tried to ignore her, but it couldn’t be done.  I could practically feel her.

And then I broke.  I began to run.  I couldn’t help myself.  I was more than apprehensive at that point; I was terrified.  I turned around while I ran.  I don’t know what I expected to see.  I guess I wanted to see her face, whether I had offended her or not.

The retarded midget was chasing me.  Stubby little legs zigzagging rapidly back and forth, mucus and saliva flying off of her face and into the air.  She was visually livid, just absolutely irate, and determined to get me.

I got to my car, and it was like a horror movie.  I fumbled with my keys.  I dropped them on the ground and wasted time trying to retrieve them from under my car.  The retarded midget was getting closer and closer.

Finally, I got my act together and opened my car door.  I managed to slip in and slam the door shut right before she came, bashing into my window.  Snot and spit smeared all over the window, and I screamed in terror.  She was smashing her fist on the glass, hollering, noise, but no intelligible words.

I turned the keys with my shaking hand and started the car.  She was still punching my window when I peeled out of the gas station to escape her dreadful attack.

This was one menacing retarded midget.

The incident ended there, but maybe the worst part of the whole thing was that no one believed me.  I grew up in a small town, you see, and no one had ever heard of or seen a retarded midget living in the area.  People tend to take notice of someone like that.  There was Purple-Face Guy, Tanner the Wheelchair Kid, and the others, but no one knew of any local midgets, let alone retarded midgets.

Months after the episode, I was driving home from a friend’s house.  I saw her again, the retarded midget.  She recognized my car, and me in it.  She raised her arm and extended her pointer finger out to me.  Kept it up, pointing at me, until I couldn’t see her in my rearview mirror anymore.

Chilled me to the bone.

I have no memory of “the scene.” My entire neighborhood was standing around me in a circle, apparently, and I was bleeding everywhere.

This makes me experience two decidedly conflicting emotions: massive embarrassment and pure badass.

The source of the blood was mostly my face and my feet. Of course, my brain was bleeding as well, but that was internal and likely the cause of my fogginess and confusion.

I am very excited that my brain was bleeding. This is a rite-of-passage injury. I am now bona fide.

So I don’t remember a thing, not a single thing, until one fleeting moment in an ambulance. I was being restrained, and things were being inserted into my arms and my pants were being ripped from my body and I said: “But I don’t remember buying a scooter!”

I bought a scooter. An ex-boyfriend had one, and I intended to buy one from the moment I rode on the back of his for the first time. It was fun as hell. But then, he knew how to drive one.

It’s not as much fun when you drive your scooter into a parked car at 20 miles per hour and stop yourself with your head.

Though, really, since I don’t remember it, I guess it’s safe to say that I might have enjoyed it. I do so many stupid things, it seems, that I must enjoy doing them – at least on some level.

I was in the ambulance, insisting that I did not buy a scooter and being restrained and stripped, and then the next thing I remember is being prepped for a CAT scan.

“Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” The stranger asked me.

“I fucking hope not,” I said.

“Okay, we’re going to put this lead blanket on you to protect your uterus,” he said to me, while I clawed at my neck brace.

“Fuck, go ahead and leave it off, for all I care,” I slurred.

Then the next thing I remember is being placed in another room, when a man with a computer on wheels came to terrify me by telling me I was not covered by insurance.

You see, my health insurance payment was due May 1st. This was May 2nd. I’d forgotten to pay. And at the time, I didn’t know about the grace period (thank god for the grace period) you were granted before your coverage lapsed.

I will never forget to pay my health insurance bill again. Not ever again.

So the mean man came and told me “you’re screwed!” and then a neurosurgeon came into the room and said a bunch of stuff. What I heard was “You have bleeding in your brain. You need brain surgery. You have to pay for it out of pocket because you’re stupid and you didn’t pay your insurance. Brain surgery costs somewhere around $100,000. You are very stupid, and by the way, you are a major disappointment to your mother and father.”

I started crying. I was really confused and I was bleeding everywhere and I was a disappointment.

What the neurosurgeon actually said was that I had petechial hemorrhaging and I needed to be kept overnight for observation. No brain surgery. Sounds worse than it is. But man, the headaches for the days following….

Another doctor: “I’m going to give you pain medication now.”

Me: “What? What are you giving me?”

“What do you want? Morphine?”

I refused pain medication. Three reasons:

(1) I was confused, and I didn’t want to be more confused. I didn’t know what was happening or why it was happening. I wanted to piece things together, not become more foggy.
(2) I didn’t know how much morphine costs, and I assumed it would be too expensive, especially since I thought I was now paying out of pocket for all of these expenses.
(3) If the doctor didn’t know which medication I needed and wanted my input, I didn’t want her to give me anything at all.

According to my many friends who were with me, though I wasn’t exactly aware of their presence, I had spent most of my time in the emergency room up to this point cussing and cracking jokes at the hospital staff.

This is incredible to me, because in my memory, I was very frightened. I was terrified. Imagine, you’re in the hospital and you’re bleeding and there are people doing things to you and you have no idea why you’re there or what happened. At one point, I remember wondering if I’d experienced a dissociative fugue, but head trauma seemed more likely given my surroundings.

Another doctor came in to X-ray my feet. I fought tooth and nail with him, claiming that I did not need this service, that it cost too much, that they needed to let me go home. He proceeded to X-ray my feet regardless.

My chin was stitched up. Six stitches. I squeezed my friend Lisa’s hand while they did it. Moments prior to the stitching, the doctor had confused Lisa for my mother, so she was very angry. Lisa does not look any older than I look. My theory is that she looks twenty years more mature than I look, especially given the way I am told I was behaving.

Apparently I made a few phone calls around this time. My little brother, my friend Jeremy, and possibly a few others. To my little brother, I hysterically cried. To Jeremy, I laughed and made fun of myself.

I remember wanting to call my sister, because she is a doctor and she is smart and she would tell me what to do. But in my disorientation, I came to the conclusion that I could not call her because she would be asleep and her husband and kids would be asleep and they all needed the rest.

They took me to the room I was to spend the night in. I had no pants on. I was wearing underwear and my white v-neck, which was covered in blood and iodine. I was still very bloody.

My friends, Sadie and Dach, accompanied me into my room.

A few nurses came in. They were supposed to wash out the wounds on my feet. I thought they were indentured servants.

This, I found to be very offensive, so I refused to let them wash my feet. “It’s degrading to them!” I argued.

Sadie had to wash my feet.

Then there was about ten minutes of arguing with Sadie because she wanted to help me out of my bloody shirt and into a fresh shirt she’d brought for me from home.

“No! I want to wear this one! It’s cool! I like it! It’s cool!”

The nurse told me my other friends were going to my apartment to get me some things, and asked me if I wanted anything special from home.

“Sexual Murder! Sexual Murder! Sexual Murder!”

This is the book I am reading. Luckily my friends pieced that together and explained what I was talking about to the nurse.

I also insisted my friends bring me my night cream and my It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia DVDs.

A nurse tried to give me Vicodin and some anti-anxiety medication. I refused both, because I didn’t want anything habit-forming and I didn’t want to pay for it. I stumbled through a not-so-eloquent explanation of how I worked in a clinic with many clients who struggled with addictions to painkillers and benzodiazepines and how I’d seen too many people fight that battle to start it myself.

The nurse told me that’s why she didn’t ride motorcycles.

Jason arrived. He was staying the night with me in my hospital room. I was standing, refusing to get into bed, bleeding and babbling.

The nurse asked me if I had any allergies.

“I can’t have lobster. I’m allergic to lobster. Don’t give me lobster,” I said.

I was at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. It’s a Jewish hospital. And it’s a hospital. They aren’t serving shellfish, and they’re definitely not serving lobster.

Jason was the best. He stayed up all night with me, held me and calmed me down when the doctors came in to do things that scared me. He explained what they were doing to me and why, and got me ice packs for my feet and sent the nurses away when they came to do vital checks once I had finally fallen asleep for a moment.

He didn’t seem to mind that I bled on him, or that I was even afraid when the nurses came to take my temperature, or that I looked like a corpse, or that I cried on and off all night long.

Men, pay attention. This is how all men should be.

A neurosurgeon came into my room with about six residents. He did the checks that I had gone through every half hour with a different neurosurgeon, and then said to me: “Great. Everything looks great. You’re looking great.”

“Yeah, this is the best I’ve ever looked. I’m going to the prom tomorrow,” I said.

Outside my room, there were two policemen with guns. They were guarding the room next to mine. There was a criminal in it. They wouldn’t tell me what he’d done.

In the morning, Jason had to go to work, so Dach came and switched places with him. I tried to talk to Dach for a while, but they gave me more anti-seizure medication and that stuff makes you sleepy, so I passed out. Sadie arrived while I was sleeping. Sadie made up a song about my injuries and Dach told me stories about how he’d injured himself in the past.

I was taken to have another CAT scan. An old lady was being wheeled around on her hospital bed by a black dude. She was complaining to him. “Don’t go over bumps! Be careful! Not so fast!”

He looked at me and said: “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Later he read the tattoo on my back and told me he’d heard about me, that I was making all the folks in the hospital laugh. I didn’t remember being that much of a clown, but I’m not at all surprised.

They released me in the afternoon. I went home and fell asleep.

I went to work the next day. I was still very out of it, very spotty.

To be perfectly honest, today is the first day I feel actually lucid. I think I’m back to normal again. Of course, I can’t walk well, and I have a giant stitched up wound on my chin and I have a bruise that still continues to grow on my inner thigh (I’m fascinated by this bruise) and my feet are tore the fuck up and I have a chipped tooth and I have a constant, terrible headache from the head trauma. But I feel pretty awesome.

There is something almost thrilling about having control completely ripped away from you, about being unaware of your surroundings, about not being able to account for nearly ten hours of your life, and then only have fleeting moments of understanding for the following twenty hours. It is horrifying at first. But at some point, when you start to gather yourself, it becomes fascinating, and it’s almost disappointing when you begin to pull it back together. You have to go back to being responsible for yourself. No more excuses. No more tales of what you’ve done while you were temporarily “away.” No more pleasant dissociation. In a way, I love to lose control. In that same way, I love when I learn that I’ve lost moments of time. And also in that same way, I love being injured.

It’s something new. It’s not boring. It’s a story to tell. It’s mixing up the routine.

And I finally told my parents. They were pissed I didn’t tell them sooner. Mom never wanted me to get a scooter in the first place. I promised I’d mention that.

I made it clear to my brothers that they had to wait two weeks before making fun of me. After two weeks, they are free to make fun of me for the rest of my life. But I get two weeks to heal.

I already want to get on the scooter again.

I was in a full panic before my mother said anything at all. I didn’t want to ask what was going on, because her face and her shaking hands were confusing me. Usually, when I was in trouble, my father looked at me a certain way, and then it was clear, I’d been caught. But Dad wasn’t there, and all I had to go by were my mother’s ambiguous signals.

Finally, she spoke. “Your grandmother tried to kill herself today. She put a bag over her head and tried to suffocate herself.”

God, I was so relieved.

Almost excited, even. I got out of school early for this. Poor Mom, though. This was her mother, and I can see getting upset over this sort of thing.

My mother had a tendency to swallow this kind of thing whole. She was literally shaking with grief. Some people get upset like this. My mother was one of these people. I guess it’s safe to say I didn’t inherit this particular behavior.

Because Nana tried to off herself, my brothers and I had to visit her all summer long. We’d stand outside the automatic doors of the mental institution for a while, taking in the flowery, summer air, and then enter. The whoosh of sterile, crazy people scent replaced the outside smell, and into Nana’s room we were ushered.

The halls were white. Not sterile white, but eggshell white. It was so crisp and clean. I had imagined shit on the walls and muffled screams. It was more like an elementary school without the children.

The rooms where they kept the patients didn’t have open doors. I don’t see why they didn’t keep Nana’s door open, though. It would have been hard for her to escape, seeing has how she was in her eighties and she only had one leg.

And there was Nana, crumpled on her bed. She looked like she was sinking into the mattress. There was no fat on her body, none at all. The blankets covered her torso, but you couldn’t tell there was anything under there. If there wasn’t a head sticking out the top and a foot sticking out the bottom, she’d easily go undetected.

Nana didn’t ever turn to see us. She knew we were in there, but she didn’t care. Her face would just stay, all squeezed around her mouth, in a perpetually angry expression. She smelled terrible, like week-old urine, but so did everyone else in a mental hospital.

“Lenore, next time you come, bring your Nana Drain-O to drink,” she’d say.

“I’m not allowed to, Nana. Sorry.”

Then she’d try with my brother.

“Benjamin, you’re the smartest one, right? Find Dr. Kevorkian’s number for Nana.”

Ben was only eleven. He just quietly declined and apologized for not being more helpful.

We’d spend a long, unbearable hour in that awful, sharp room, struggling to make conversation. What do you say to a crazy, old lady whom you never really knew to begin with? She blamed my mother for her attempted suicide. After all, my mother was the one who brought the fresh fruit to her in a plastic bag. She was tempting her, obviously.

We watched Nana deteriorate in the next few months. She shrank smaller and smaller, week by week. Eventually, my grandmother starved herself to death.

It was different than I expected it to be. I was very unaffected by her passing. I didn’t even go to her funeral.

I was surprised when my siblings told me that her death was disturbing to them. I didn’t understand. I’ve realized since then, Death made his footprint on me long before Nana went. I was desensitized when he zapped my identical twin sister, Margot, in the womb.

The umbilical chord attached to my twin was pinched, so she couldn’t get any nutrients from my mother. It also wrapped around her neck and strangled her, which was the eventual cause of death. My chord was pinched also, but not as long as hers was. I was born dead, in that ridiculous way where I wasn’t actually dead, but the doctors say I was for dramatic effect. But there was no hope for my twin, who was dead three days before we were born. Dead bodies decompose very quickly, even in the womb. This means I was floating next to my decomposing sister for the last three days of my womb life. I must have smelled terrible when I came out.

The time I spent with my dead sister in the womb, I believe, forced a bizarre relationship between myself and Death. I go to sleep thinking about my mother getting into some sort of horrific accident, resulting in her decapitation, or the portioning up of my little brother on some grimy hotel room floor by the local pervert. I can’t control it. I’ve tried to think about happy things like babies and puppies, but then those babies and puppies die. My brain forces the thoughts into visualizations, and soon, I’ve knocked off my entire family and all my friends.

The worst part about this problem of mine is the irrational mess I become when these nighttime reveries are especially jarring. I’ll start believing that these things are actually going to happen, that I’m psychic. I’ll call my father and beg him not to go to any public places for a while, because there will surely be an armed madman in Home Depot or that little Argentinean restaurant. And he’ll kill Mom, too, but only after he rapes her. It drives Dad crazy. “Stop calling, Lenore. We’re not even going to Home Depot today.”

When I think about my twin, I wonder why I ended up alive and she ended up dead. I always end up feeling some level of guilt for being alive. When I think about this topic in depth, I often feel so blameworthy that I punish myself in small degrees. I’ll stay home from a party I was looking forward to or make myself watch a movie without my contacts so I get a headache. Sometimes this frame of mind moves in a circular motion. In the beginning I will think about Margot, which results in the culpable feeling; a need to reprimand myself is created, compelling me to think about the death of a loved one.

Although Margot’s death certainly did have an effect on me, it didn’t offer an explanation of Death. I didn’t understand it as a child, even knowing about her, and I don’t understand it today. This is tremendously exasperating because I believe that, given my insider’s info, I should have come up with a theory by now. In reality, I just don’t know what happens- I don’t even know what I think happens. I have examined all of the most popular beliefs, and none of them seem logical to me. If there is a Heaven, by now it must be packed. Under the same presumption, Hell would be overflowing with tortured souls. I could go on for hours about why these ideas have an endless string of flaws attached to them but then I feel pressured to come up with a viable hypothesis of my own. Eventually, the thought of it will drive me crazy if I don’t just assume that reincarnation would be a reasonable explanation. I only go with this premise because I believe that recycling is a relatively efficient way of keeping our environment clean. The parallel may be difficult to draw but it is there if you work at it, which I do.

Today, my grandmother and my twin’s deaths are still the only family deaths I have experienced, and I suppose they have both been important.

Even if it affected me in no other way, Nana’s passing made me realize that I was different from others because of the loss of my twin sister. And in the end, no matter how many hours I spend upsetting myself with images of death, or how many sets of twins I see walking around to remind me of Margot, I’m not always bothered by it. I think I benefit in some way by this thing that haunts me. I sometimes think I know more, or that I’m tougher than the rest of the people my age.

I spent one summer taking courses in biology when I was in high school. In the program, we got to dissect human bodies. Real, bloated, dead bodies, and they didn’t cover the faces with surgical napkins, or make any attempt to dehumanize the specimens. While half of the class ran out of the room covering their mouths, and the ones who stayed spent the rest of the day whining about how “all they could think about was the poor departed and their families,” I was holding organs in my hand and laughing at the squishing noise that they really do make when you squeeze.

I have Margot to thank for that.