Not Half of Anything
by Jule Ward
Part 1 — Just Me
Becky Birch stood in the classroom doorway, mesmerized by the staring sea of faces. She wanted to back out the door. For a tiny moment she wished Ezra was there with her. But no, this was better. All her life she had been half of “the twins.” For the first time she was going to be just her. He was in a different third-grade classroom. Her new classmates didn’t have to know she was a twin. She could simply be Rebecca Birch, a “singleton” like everyone else. Not that other kids thought of themselves that way. Only twins and other “multiples” thought that way. Other kids got to be themselves alone, not forever part of something else.
She and Ezra were like a family within their family. Until this year, nothing had separated them. And for as long as she could remember, Ezra had put himself in charge. Sometimes, he claimed he had that right because he was nine minutes older. Other times, and this made her angry, he said it was because he was a boy. But mostly, it just was that way. There was something about him that was the take-charge kind of person, and she simply was not.
He decided what games they’d play, what TV shows they’d watch. Sometimes he even told her what birthday gifts to ask for, like when he talked her into asking for a baseball mitt for her fifth birthday. Her dad had been so excited that his daughter was interested in playing sports, and then very disappointed when she turned the mitt over to her brother.
The older they got, the less Becky wanted to play with her twin. For one thing, he wasn’t frightened by anything. He positively loved creepy, scary stuff. He dug for worms and snails in the back yard. He always dove into the deep end of the fieldhouse swimming pool. At the library, he asked for books about ghosts and goblins. Worst of all, almost every day he hid behind a chair or door and jumped out, yelling “Boo” when she walked by. It made her mad that she never expected it and got scared every time.
In her old school, she’d always been in class with him, a shadow hardly noticed by other kids. But in this classroom, for the first time in her life, Becky was free to be just herself for hours every day. She didn’t even need to tell anyone about him. She felt a buzz coming up from her very toes and surging through her whole body. It landed in a big grin on her face.
The broad-shouldered, dark-haired woman, who must be her teacher, Ms. Winterbrook, had waited, perched against her desk, until Becky took a tentative step into the classroom. Now she strode over and placed a heavy hand on Becky’s shoulder, “Your desk is over there in the fifth row.” She gestured widely. “You can keep your books and supplies under the lid.
“Rachel, c’mon over here and show Becky where to hang her jacket and take her to her place.” After Becky put her books in her desk, she looked over at Rachel. I would love to be her friend, she thought. Rachel reminded her of a Barbie doll with her straight blonde hair and huge blue eyes. Becky felt very plain with brown eyes and brown hair, exactly the same color as everyone else in her family although her Nona always said her hair shone like fine sherry, but she didn’t know what that meant or if it was really a good thing.
Rachel smiled, which made her seem even prettier.
Within a few minutes, Ms. Winterbrook announced, “We will begin this morning with reading aloud in small groups.” Yay. Becky’s favorite subject was reading. Because she read so much, she had gotten really good at and could easily read books written for older kids. Mom said her brother could be just as good a reader as Becky if only he would “apply himself.” Mom and Dad said that a lot about Ezra, who just gave them a big grin, and then they’d shrug their shoulders.
Here in her new classroom, she didn’t have to listen to Ezra groan about reading groups. Instead, Rachel was in her group and had saved a chair for her. “Where did you go to school last year?”
“Isn’t that in Northeast?”
“That’s where we used to live.”
“Moving sounds exciting. I’ve lived in the same place all my life,” Rachel said. Ms. Winterbrook drew her heavy eyebrows into a frown and shook her head at them. “See you at recess,” Rachel quickly whispered.
At recess, Rachel led Becky to a bench next to the school garden. “Let’s talk here.”
It was exactly what Becky had hoped for. She caught a glimpse of Ezra climbing to the top of the monkey bars and trying to walk across the top. She shuddered and turned away. “Do you have brothers or sisters?” she asked Rachel.
“Yep, I have three brothers and they drive me nuts. What about you?”
“I’ve just got one big brother, but he’s crazy enough all by himself.”
Becky was horrified with herself. Why had she lied? It was one thing to be in a different class than Ezra; it was very different not to even mention that he was her twin. Yet, some little part of her savored this last thought. As if he really were just an ordinary big brother. Maybe she could pretend that for a little while.
“Why did your family move?”
“My dad got a better job, and I think they just wanted a bigger house. Mom had a good friend who had lived in Ladd’s Addition since she was a kid. Mom always thought it was sort of a perfect neighborhood and got really excited when they found a place here.”
“Do you like your new house?”
“I guess, but I miss things about my old one. There was a great attic playroom and my grandmother only lived two blocks away. I’ve been able to walk to her house since I was six. I miss that.”
“That’s so cool. Both my grandmothers live hundreds of miles away. One lives in Montana and one lives in northern Washington. I only get to see them for holidays. I bet its really nice having a grandmother right here in Portland.”
“Yep. It’s the best. She makes me doll clothes and teaches me card games.”
The bell rang. Becky saw Ezra race another boy for the school door. He hadn’t even looked her way. He probably hadn’t given her a thought all morning.
After recess, Ms. Winterbrook announced it was time for writing composition. “I want you to write about your summer break, telling us the best things and the worst things about this past summer. Be careful to use complete sentences, and divide your story into two paragraphs.
Becky bent over her paper and chewed on her pencil eraser. What had been the best things about her summer? She wasn’t sure. The worst thing had been moving. Packing up was horrible. Their parents insisted that a lot of their toys were much too young for them. It was time, Mom insisted, to pass them along to other children. They helped the twins sort through their toys, puzzles, books, and games. It caused a bunch of arguments with her brother. He didn’t want to give up much. She didn’t fight with her parents, but letting go of her baby toys made her very sad. Also, she didn’t realize until after she moved, how much she would miss not being able to just walk to Nona’s house.
She looked up at the clock above the teacher’s desk. She was running out of time. Everything she had thought of was something bad. What had been good about the summer? She stared out the window suddenly wishing she were home in her wonderful new bed. Having a room of her own — that was a good thing, and she didn’t have to tell that it was separate from Ezra’s – just that it was new.
Part Two — A Room of Her Own
But time was passing and she was only thinking of bad things. What had been good about the summer? She stared out the window suddenly wishing she were home in her wonderful new bed. Having a room of her own — that was a good thing, and she didn’t have to tell that it was separate from Ezra’s – just that it was new.
“Because I love to read and write,” she wrote, “in my new bedroom I have a desk, especially designed for drawing. I’ve been keeping journals since before I could write. When I was little, I drew pictures and a grown-up would put words in for me. Now I can write myself, but now I draw the pictures to go with the stories.”
Becky read what she had written and looked at the clock. Almost time to turn in their assignment, and she only written about one thing. Too late to erase it. Best just finish what she started.
Just then Ms. Winterbrook clapped her hands to get their attention. “I’m glad to see most of you writing so intently,” she said. “But I’ve noticed that some of you are daydreaming in your seat. We can’t waste class time like that. How many of you still need more time to work on your composition?”
Good. Lots of kids shot their hands in the air. She wouldn’t be in trouble for taking so long.
“Okay, I will give ten minutes to those still writing. The rest of you can take free reading time. But do so quietly”
Quickly, Becky started a new paragraph. “I got a new bike for my eighth birthday last spring, but this summer I got much better at riding it.” She thought for a minute, why was that? Of course, because their new neighborhood was much easier for biking. “That’s because,” she continued. “We moved into a part of Portland called ‘Ladd’s Addition.’ Its streets are really short and since none of them are very long, there’s hardly any traffic. But they’re super fun to ride around because they criss-cross each other in a diamond pattern with three circles in the center. Two of the circles have rose gardens and one of them has a coffee shop. Mom lets my brother and me bike to the coffee shop for donuts and hot chocolate because we don’t have to cross any busy streets to get there.” Becky put a big dot for the final sentence and looked up just as her teacher called, “Let’s pass those papers forward.”
When the final school bell rang, Becky could hardly believe the day was over. It had gone by so fast. As much as she enjoyed not being in class with her brother, she felt a little queasy that she had lied to Rachel about him. But kids think of twins as somehow different, a little weird even. She wanted everyone to think of her as just Becky before finding out she was a twin.
Her cover was blown the very next week. She and Rachel were helping their kindergarten buddies on the seesaw. It was hard work. Rachel’s buddy Sally didn’t want to be touched as the kids went up and down, but she wasn’t really good at balancing so it was tricky. Becky’s buddy Lucy listened very carefully and begged Becky to hold onto her. She wanted to go much more slowly than Sally did. Becky had to be careful that Lucy didn’t get bounced right off the board when Sally plummeted to the ground on her side.
While Becky was paying very careful attention to this delicate operation, a loud voice behind her yelled “Boo.” She jumped, letting go of Lucy’s side of the board. The board swooped upward out of Becky’s reach. Lucy screamed in terror. The little girl was so frightened she let go of the handles and plunged off the side of the see saw. Becky caught her by sliding under her as she fell and they hit the ground together with a solid thump. Fortunately, Becky kept herself between the concrete and Lucy. Becky scrapped her elbow which started to bleed, but she couldn’t pay it any attention because Lucy burst into loud wails of fright.
Becky pulled herself up and gathered the little girl in her arms. “There, there,” she said, just as her mother or her Nona would when she had a bad fall or a fright. “It will be okay. I’ve got you. Nothing will hurt you now.”
Lucy gulped several times and her sobs subsided. Becky stood up, looked around and saw Ezra and a couple of other boys laughing like they’d just watched the funniest video ever. She stomped her foot and yelled, “Ezra Birch, that was the meanest thing you’ve ever done. It’s bad enough that you are always tormenting me, but now you don’t even care if you hurt an innocent little kindergartener. If you better watch out or you’ll get in trouble with the principal.”
Ezra didn’t look the least ashamed. He stuck his tongue out at her and the boys ran off, still laughing.
The bell rang ending recess. Becky took the now much calmer Lucy by the hand. She and Rachel walked their kindergarten buddies back to their classroom. As they headed upstairs to the third grade, Rachel asked the question Becky had been waiting for, “Who was that boy? He has the same last name as you, right? You called him Ezra Birch.”
Becky was so tempted to lie and say something about how lots of people had the same last name, but realized that was a bad idea. Telling the first lie was just going to get messier and messier. “He’s my brother,” she said.
“Your brother? He looks about our age, and he was with a bunch of third graders from Mr. Brown’s class. I was in those boys’ room last year. They were awful then, and they aren’t any better now.”
What could she say now? Becky bit her lower lip and stared at the floor. There was only one thing to say. She barely got out, “He’s my twin.”
“Your twin! But why didn’t you tell me about him before this?”
“Because it isn’t cool,” said Becky. “Being a twin is like being a half of something, never the whole. Until now, I’ve had to share every part of my life with him. I just want to be me – Rebecca Jane Birch, Not Becky, Ezra’s twin sister.”
“But isn’t it just the same with him? He’s Ezra, Becky’s twin brother.”
“Somehow it never seems like that. I guess because . . . oh I don’t know, there’s just so much more of him. Do you know what I mean?”
Rachel was quiet for a moment. She was probably thinking about what had happened in the playground.
“Yep, I do. He’s a bit of a meanie and really loud. You’re quieter. I know my brothers think they can take over everything. It’s really annoying. Most of the time, though, they don’t bother with me.”
“I wish Ezra would leave me alone.”
“Well, if you don’t want to talk about him with me, that’s just fine. I’m for sure not going to tell anyone.”
“You can just let the kids in our room get to know you first.”
What Rachel said made such good sense, Becky felt a little silly for all the worrying she had done. If they had not been about to walk into the classroom, she would have stopped Rachel and given her a big hug right there. Rachel was right. She didn’t have to talk about Ezra. She was the only one who thought it was somehow deceitful not to tell about him as if she wasn’t important unless she told everyone she had a twin. It didn’t have to be the first thing everyone knew about her – ever again. From now on she could choose what she wanted people to know about her. She thought about what she would write at composition time this afternoon.
It certainly wouldn’t be anything about Ezra. Or maybe it would. What mattered most was that it was her choice alone to make. And her mind was brimming over with ideas.