Young Writers Project: Equal
07/16/12 5:00AM  Download MP3
Alexandra Booth, of South Londonderry and an incoming senior at Keystone School, says she has always enjoyed writing and it’s “something that I intend on doing for the rest of my life. This piece, ‘Equal,’ was prompted by everyday life and the interfamily struggles and relationships that occur.”
By Alexandra Booth
Grade 12, Keystone School
“Say cheese.” Our parents flashed their oversized cameras in our faces, moving from side to side, capturing every angle of vision. They clicked their fingers in hyper speed at a posing group of kids, three of us. They looked beyond thrilled, like the arrangement of humans they had created was astonishing. We sat on the wooden bench beneath the large oak tree in our backyard, with our little sister perched cross-legged on our knees. But our faces reflected our less than unanimous emotions; I refused to satisfy them with the smile they expected, while the others either forced an honest attempt at one, or remained oblivious to the multitude of tensions passing between the six of us. Two more flashes and our moments of modeling were over.
“Happy Birthday, Colin,” my mother said, pulling my head toward hers and kissing me right above the ear. “We are so proud of you.” She looked at me like she couldn’t believe it, that I was 16, and caressed my cheek. I wanted to thank her, but knew the words wouldn’t sound genuine enough for her fragile mindset to handle, so I hugged her back and watched as she set across the lawn to wish the same to Henry. She would kiss him just the same, and hug him just as tight, and be just as proud of him, but she wouldn’t tell him in the same way.
We gathered around the patio table, my stepfather Ethan calling his daughter over from the swing set in the corner of the yard. Jenna, almost 4, skipped across the grass, dragging her plush kitten toy behind her through the weeds. My real dad rested his hand awkwardly on Henry’s shoulder because the family psychiatrist had told him that physical connections were the key to a healthy father-son relationship. My mom pulled the much anticipated bag of gifts from beneath her chair. Jenna clapped her hands together in excitement. Ethan explained to her, in his usual arrogant tone of speech, that the presents were not for her. She climbed onto Henry’s lap anyway and began tearing at his wrapped box. He awaited her patiently and contentedly, glad to share his birthday with somebody besides me. My gift was much smaller, about the size of a ring box, but unlike Jenna, I hesitated before opening it. I shook it slightly and felt the metal object within rattle against the cardboard walls. I knew exactly what my mom and Ethan had given me.
As Jenna ripped through the final paper around his present, Henry looked immensely joyful, acting as if the laptop in front of him was the solution to all of his problems. And maybe for him, at that moment it was. But I knew that as soon as I followed suit and opened my present as well, his expression would fall.
Being twins, we’d always worn the same polos in Christmas cards, received the same candy in our baskets at Easter, and slept in matching pajamas, in our matching bunk beds on St. Patrick’s Day. It was what our parents did. We were made the same way, we were supposed to like the same things, and be the same person. And so they didn’t mind giving us the same things and dressing us alike. It had been that way for 16 years. But on this holiday, this birthday, it was clear that we hadn’t gotten the same gift. It was obvious that a computer wouldn’t be inside of the miniature box in my hands. Still, I had five sets of eyes on me, awaiting my equivalently joyful look that would follow the unwrapping.
So I pulled the carefully tied ribbon off, and slid my finger under the tape. The paper fell to the table and I took one last look at Henry. He was just as nervous as I was because I think he was hoping that despite what we had always known to be true, maybe the box wouldn’t contain what we both thought it did. I could tell that he wanted the day to be over with, because to him, 16 was just as meaningful, or meaningless as all of the other birthdays we had shared. Sixteen, we both knew, couldn’t be shared. It was mine. And it was mine no matter how much I didn’t want it to be, and it was mine no matter how much Henry wanted it to be his own.
I removed the lid and pulled out a set of keys. Car keys. I recognized them as belonging to Ethan’s old Volvo that he’d driven since graduate school. My mother’s eyes lit up and she threw her arms in the air. Jenna immediately snatched them curiously from my hands, and Henry’s eyes fell to look at his feet. “Thanks, Mom,” I swallowed. “Thanks, Ethan.” My dad gave us each 50 dollars. It was just the way I wanted it. He hadn’t given me 60 and Henry 50. We had both gotten the same; we were both equal.
We went around the side of the house, Jenna pulling at Henry’s arm. Our dad continued to take pictures of us, and told us to pose inside of it. I sat in the driver’s seat of what was supposed to be my car and Henry sat in the passenger seat beside me. This was the way it was going to be. For the last year, we knew that it would be. On our fifteenth birthday, Ethan brought me to get my learner’s permit. Every once in awhile, he would pick me up from baseball practice and let me drive home. Henry would wait in his room, ignoring the fact that I was doing something that he wasn’t allowed to. He wasn’t allowed to. Our mom had decided a long time ago that it was too dangerous. She always knew where she stood and always made it clear, that I would be driving and Henry wouldn’t be. Despite the studies done that proved it was actually safer for people like him, she stuck to her rule.
We ate cake with “Henry and Colin” written in the same size, equally across the white frosting. It was the cake that we had both woken up to smelling that morning. We took more pictures until it got dark and Jenna had to go to bed. I helped my mom clean up, and promised her that next year I would let her throw us a “proper” party. I brushed my teeth and waited for Henry to come upstairs. I didn’t know how to confront him and tell him everything that had never been said before. I wanted to let him know that to me, we were equal, that he was just as good as me, and that our parents thought so, too, but that they just worried about him more than they worried about me. He never came upstairs though, so after awhile, I went to look for him and found him on the wooden bench beneath the oak tree.
I motioned for him to follow me. I led him to the front of the house, right next to my birthday present. In the dark, I reached for his wrist, pulled it toward me, and placed the keys in his hand. I climbed into the passenger seat and him into the driver’s seat. This was the way it was going to be. He turned to face me and through the dashboard lights, I could see him sign “thank you” and heard the engine ignite.