In the summer of 1989, my parents moved across the Metroplex, from tony North Dallas to the rural community of Southlake.
The timing was particularly hard on me. I was fifteen years old, without a driver’s license, in a new area code — the combination of these three factors made hanging out with my old friends entirely unrealistic. It would be months before I could make new ones at my next school. And since my brother had recently graduated from college, he was moving to Houston for his first job.
On the other hand, the move couldn’t have come at a better time. For years, I had been the subject of teasing from other kids, who made fun of me for the scar on my face, the bouncy way I walked, or even my childhood chunkiness. I quickly realized what was blessing I had before me: a blank slate, where I could leave behind that accumulated history of angst and be a different person. I made a conscious decision to make the most of this opportunity, restrain my social awkwardness, and make new and better friends (which I am sure all teenagers wished they could do).
Once the semester began, I became friends early on with a girl named Tara. Along with Tara’s friendship came her circle of friends, so I started meeting new people fairly quickly. Soon enough, I was invited to a birthday party for her friend Michelle.
At her party were a bunch of fellow students I hadn’t yet met. Being a good host, Michelle took me around and introduced me to these fresh faces.
Soon enough I had met everyone, save for the girl in the front room. Although the lights were on, it was hard to make out her face, as it was being smothered by the dude whose lap she was sitting on. Completing the last of her introductions, Michelle pointed at this motley pair and said, “Oh yeah, and that’s Micha.”
I waved hello.
She didn’t wave back. Micha was too busy making out with her boyfriend.
And this was how I met my twin sister.
I grew up in a small family which didn’t have many extended relatives — so for most of my life, my idea of family included just me, my parents, and my older brother Michael. Because of our six-year age difference, my brother went to college when I was still a young teen, leaving me to my own devices at the age of twelve.
I often wished during those quiet years that I had a younger brother or sister to hang out with. It’s not entirey uncommon–in literature or real-life–for one to discover a sibling they’ve never met. It’s a bit more unusual for that person to be a twin, let alone one that’s not even a related by blood. Then again, there was little that was usual about my early relationship with Micha.
I was an artist that filled most of his elective credits with art classes. Micha was a member of the marching band and the star actress in our school’s drama productions. Because we were both creatives, we had a large number of mutual friends. As we got to know one another, we realized that our similarities were errie. Both of us were Saggitarians, born in the same year just five days apart. We lived blocks from one another. Strangers and everyday acquaintances marveled at our physical resemblance, as we looked remarkably alike when together. A mutual love for “Tiny Toons” and “Animaniacs“, along with boisterous, sarcastic senses of humor didn’t hinder our friendship.
When I became involved in same theater productions as Micha, most teachers, administrators, and classmates assumed that because we looked alike, talked alike, acted alike, and were involved in the same school activities, we must be brother and sister. And they treated us like such — for example, if I was sick teachers would ask Micha to bring home to me that day’s homework assignments. The two of us thought it was cute and funny, so we played along with it. After all, I always wanted a little sister. And Micha thought it was cool to have a brother that wasn’t in prison. We got along great, but at the time I wouldn’t say we were close.
Soon enough, high school graduation was upon us, and it was time for the senior class of ’92 to split up for distant colleges unknown. I and most of my friends had been accepted to the University of North Texas, just a few dozen miles away from Southlake. Micha ended up attending Texas Tech University, 300 miles due west in beautiful, scenic Lubbock. She was ambitious enough that she would set out immediately after graduation to attend summer school. Before we separated, the two of us expressed a desire to stay in touch. We exchanged addresses, and over the next couple of years we sent each other letters filled with news of mutual classmates and happenings in our new hometowns.
High school seniors are an amazingly arrogant bunch, largely due to their false sense of immortality. In some ways, it’s refreshing to know that all of us were innocent enough to believe that things would never change, that our lack of tragedy up until that point in life was indicitive of the rest of it. It took just two years to pass after graduation before I was called by an old classmate regarding Jason, one of our fellow classmates.
Jason was a hard-working blue collar dude. His best friend throughout his whole life was a country bumpkin named Derek, who was raised by his father, a single parent. Jason’s own parents had divorced many years before, leaving just him and his mother.
As a result of Derek and Jason’s close friendship, their parents met often and eventually fell in love. They married one another, and the two best friends that acted like siblings were now officially brothers in every sense of the word. Micha and I, although we pretended to be related, were nowhere near as close as the two of them.
After high school, Jason took a full-time job delivering auto parts so he could put himself through night school and achieve his ambition of being an E.M.T. Realizing how hard he was pushing himself, Jason took a little bit of a break between semesters to enjoy a Hawaiian vacation. He didn’t have much time off, so he packed his trip into a handful of days bookended by red-eye flights.
I’m sure he had a good time, although he likely didn’t get much in the way of relaxation. Immediately upon returning, he went back to work. The combination of grueling travel and exhaustion took a deadly toll. While he was driving his delivery truck, he fell asleep at the wheel, veered into oncoming traffic, and was hit head-on by a tractor trailer. He died instantly.
Although I didn’t know Jason very well, the news of his death rattled me. We were the same age, and he was the first member of our senior class to pass away. Around the time, I owed my penpal Micha another letter, and it occurred to me that she might not be aware of what happened to Jason. Instead of the usual randomness and gossip I normally enclosed, this time around my letter was filled with thoughts of emotional numbness and my newfound sense of mortality.
Micha wrote me back, and the silly tone she normally composed with had given away to an seriousness that I hadn’t figured she was capable of expressing. In her letter, I learned that she and Jason were close during middle school, but had drifted apart in high school. She shared stories about him that noone had heard before.
The two of us didn’t write each other much after that. Instead, we spent the time & money to visit, place long-distance phone calls, and catch up more regularly around the holidays. Thanks to a tradgey that didn’t directly involve either one of us, our friendship changed from being pals to best friends more like the brother and sister we pretended to be.
Years later, Micha got engaged to her future husband Jay. Their nuptials would occur in Ft. Worth, just a skip away from our old hometown of Southlake. Knowing she needed a break from both wedding planning and her crazy family, I told Micha to free up a day so I could take her out on the town.
We packed alot of goofing off into that day, visiting our old high school, wasting time at the local Sears Portrait Studio, and consuming our weight in nitrates at the Ballpark in Arlington. Despite all of the fun and bonding, the most important part of the day was a trip we made to Lonesome Dove Cemetery.
I didn’t tell Micha where we were going. But once we arrived, she realized immediately our purpose for being there. It took awhile to find the grave, as it did not yet have a headstone (edit: it does now). Once we found it, along the western border, we sat on opposite sides of a semi-fresh mound of dirt and contemplated the man buried under it, a man named Jason.
It was a strange experience, sitting six feet above someone whose face, laugh, and warmth you can still remember to this day. I felt myself regretting that I didn’t get to know him better when I had the chance. Micha told me some more stories about Jason, including details on his kindness to her in middle school when most kids are prone to warrentless teasing. Her stories flowed for a few moments, then came a pause as the gravity of it all hit us. Once again, we were realizing our mortality.
Micha broke the silence by saying, “You know, the good really do die young.” A pause, then, “Holy shit, Spam, we’re going to live forever!”
If only that were true.