A FAMILY HISTORY
Given the billions of lives past and present all unique and banal, there’s always days within each, those days both perceived and actual that rank above others, days most notable for their tragedy both individual and collective, for we as a species gravitate toward the tragic, and shrug off the joy. It’s who we are. And whilst such days as these may number a mere handful in any average life, I can guarantee to you, dear reader, that the story you are about to undertake contains no less than several days of import so immense as to render you full of both terror and awe. And this despite the fact already known that these days happened to myself and my other, both aged only sixteen years (plus, by now, a bit). I detest the phrase “old soul” because I find it disparages the soul holder, inevitably applied as it is to the young as a backhanded compliment. I am neither old nor is my soul. Yet neither am I a victim, though of course should you cast your gaze upon me now, your pity for me would grow quite literally in sickening amounts, and you would contemplate forever the irony of a visage so worthy of endless sympathy, yet so definitively vile that you must consciously push me from your thoughts simply to function with any degree of sanity. No, the days merely occurred, benefitting from an indifferent God, amused as He is from the constant chattering of his doomed children bickering in playpen Earth. It was just my luck that my Days nearly tripped over one another, happening with such frequency, that I simply could only surrender to them. I had little time to think. And remember, I am only sixteen. I substituted instinct for experience.
I shall tell of this first day of Days shortly, but I do not wish to belittle the sixteen years leading up to it. That said, I appreciate your desire to delve into my specific tale of the macabre, much as I relish the telling of it, believe me. So in that spirit, I will keep my prologue necessary and brief.
My mother was born Doris Beth McKenzie, here in southeastern Ohio, where after a great self-imposed circle-route of life, she still resides, in the same place from where I write to you now (I cannot be more specific in locale, out of respect for my own privacy, as well as the privacy of my family). As my sister Chloe would say on many occasions, “my mother’s name is Doris, I shit you not.” I never thought much of my mother’s name, although I know others still make great comedy of it, mostly derived from Doris Day, whom I never understood. All I know is it has something to do with those named Doris being paragons of WASP-ish domesticity, and the irony here is that my mother seems to fit that billing with a frightening accuracy. Doris never had career ambitions, nothing ever so lofty as creative fulfillment or passion for world experience. I mean, she left southeastern Ohio and then returned to southeastern Ohio. Who does that? Doris does.
Doris would have never left southeastern Ohio were it not for my father, Richard Nelson Appleby. Richard (never “Dick”, even my mother would never call him that, though she would have every right to) actually attended the same high school as Doris, the same class even, but they hardly knew each other while there. Richard was smart, came from wealth, had only average popularity but decent enough WASP-y looks to date regularly, just never date my mother, whom he simply ignored. Doris, for her part, was average in looks and wits, for she was “Doris” even back then. She dated boys only “by accident,” she would later tell me, which I took to mean she made out with boys only when she was drunk at parties. But my father, being my father, graduated near the top of his class, then immediately left town, moving to Malibu to attend Pepperdine University. He had his whole life mapped out, and say what you will of him now, at least he never deviated from that vision. He got what he wanted. He’s an entertainment lawyer, and he still lives in Malibu, on the beach.
So how did me and my sister happen? I suppose everyone could ask themselves the same question (it’s a God-damned miracle that any of us exist at all). My father returned home for the holidays, as one does in one’s undergraduate years. Back then my mother was attending the local university here in southeastern Ohio, studying for a degree in communications (to this day I have no idea what that degree actually is, and my mother can’t communicate anyway, so, what the fuck?). My father went with some old buddies of his to a party, where I guess my mother had a few drinks in her, and… Dear Lord, I won’t write anymore on that! Suffice to say, Miss WTF Communications Major swooned over local-boy-made-good Mr. Malibu Pre-Entertainment Law, and I suppose that was good enough for my father at the time. He swept her up and packed her off to California, where she abandoned her studies mid-degree to adopt a full-time profession of dutifully adoring Richard. I guess you could say that my mother was at her peak of man-drawing ability, in both looks and temperament, and I can only assume that my father liked the attention. Also, having a young wife freed him from the So-Cal distractions — other women and parties. Back then I’m sure he only really cared about his career. Women and parties would come later, once he matriculated, and then of course of a much higher standard than he could have pulled as just another homely college student.
I can’t analyze this any further, I feel I’ve gone too far already. I’m sure my story here is accurate, but speaking of my parents so is starting to make me queasy. The only germane data concerns myself and Chloe. We were born, and I’m unsure and not desirous to know if we were intentional or wanted or not. How does that matter? I’m also unsure as to whether my father’s unholy reaction to the event was based upon a man’s stereotypical apprehensions to childbirth, or upon the discovery of twins, or upon some change in my mother, or… I cannot delve. From the beginning of our time, Chloe and myself were too preoccupied with our own shared dilemmas to care a whit about our parents’ gesticulations.
I’ve already alluded to the embryonic folie a deux that originated when we first gazed upon each other for the first time. This is the gaze that locked us together eternally. It is there, a given, a force as real as gravity. But this may be where my own understanding of the science ends, for now it branches off into some unknown calculus, as locked together the young Anna and Chloe push and pull their way from infancy through childhood and into the adolescence we both experience today. It’s easy to say that perhaps we are two halves of one whole, that one-half plus one-half equals one. But this mathematic is errant. It’s more like one plus one equals one, an equation at odds with the very laws of nature. We were forever doomed to be an aberration, an affront to nature’s anarchic decency, and as such I believe we behaved as such, growing up. I guess upon reflection I can pity my parents for putting up with such a thing, yet in time they hardened and rationalized and coped, morphing into the irrelevancy that I favor so.
You know the “twin’s thing.” You can read the other’s thoughts, finish each other’s sentences, sense when the other is in danger or, conversely, ecstasy. From childhood, I knew that when my sister crashed on her bike, I would sit up, pull my nose from my book, and feel a sting deep in my heart that I would feel again and again intimately: the other was in pain. At the age of six, I would question my sister about it, and ask her if she felt the same thing too. “Yes,” she would reply, “now fuck off” (I think “fuck” was Chloe’s first word). So early thus was set the pattern for our relationship: I was fascinated, she was annoyed. I wanted to pull, to discover more about this other me that sat before me every day. Chloe wanted to push, horrified at what she saw, this constant reflection of herself. I guess it’s fair to say that I established myself very early on as a sort of moral compass for the two of us, and I can hardly blame Chloe for running from me, I mean, who wants to be confronted at every waking moment with such a partial and intimate magistrate, even if my intentions were to me benign? So, even from an early age, I was the accepting, while Chloe denied me to the fullest.
Yet this friction between us never bothered me, a fact which surely annoyed Chloe even more, as she tried in her sisterly ways to get me to follow her examples of repulsion, to get me to hate. My love for her never wavered, never through the emotional and physical abuse she hurled my way, the name-calling, the insults, the punches, shoves and slaps (which I must say for my art I reciprocated in kind). And of course abusing me became Chloe’s own form of self-abuse. Rile against me, and I would reflect it right back at her, with no consequence whatsoever, with no gesture except love, albeit amidst scattered blows. But mine was tough love and only love. There was no hate in my early youth, of that I was sure. I was a simple reactionary vessel, no more, no less. How confusing this must have been for six-year-old California Chloe! In my own perverse way, I was amplifying even more Chloe’s own tendency toward her demons, and this is what Chloe came to know, came to experience every day. How could Chloe compete with me, the one she perceived as weak and beneath her? This surely tore at Chloe, and in order to cope she had to develop new tools. She would push from me further, and excel in ways I could not. She advanced athletically, with prowess in gymnastics and dance. She vowed early on to appear externally as differently to me as she could, wearing different makeup, sporting different hairstyles. She tanned herself while leaving me my natural pasty white. She honed her extroverted tendencies, didn’t fuss with academic study, made friends by the boatload, was flirting by age eleven, wore clothes deemed California-chic, spoke the local El-Lay dialect, and paraded it all in front of me as if to prove herself and her consciously self-formed superiority over me (really, I think she got more from our father than I did). So of course it infuriated her when none of her superfluous trappings seemed to bother me in the slightest. My gaze always told her, “we’re alike, you and me, we always were and we always will be.” Nothing pissed her off more than this, that no matter how hard she tried, she could never escape me. She saw in me utter failure, a version of herself as everything she despised. I was a moral compass, alright. For Chloe, I was about-face, one-hundred and eighty degrees.
I myself never put such purposeful and arranged thought into my persona, ever. I was content to simply fall into being, for I didn’t have the energy to invent myself in such a sentient way. I had a tendency toward an interior life, so I followed it. I read. I forsook the usual entertainments of people my own age, the toys and dolls and later the modern electronic media. Now I understand that we live in a time where all people must be labeled, branded, that I indeed must have developed into some sort of weird nerdy wall-flowered introvert, or, Heaven forbid, some permutation of a new age Goth, given my growing tendency toward the emotionally spiritual — but trust me, this is not how I see myself at all, now or then, for I never really did try to “see myself” to begin with. The only person I ever peered into was inevitable: Chloe, my one and true self/other. No matter what our surface differences, we are and always will be, the same. It feels like it has taken a lifetime already for us to achieve a mutual recognition of this awareness. But here we are. Myself in my current state of extreme physical deformity. And Chloe, transformed into the shimmering flower that always bloomed within.
I have again jumped ahead. Let me finish this pre-history to say that the California family unit survived, only just, into our sixteenth year. It was then that our father Richard, having seemingly achieved his career goals (representing C-list has-beens in search of settlements), turned his energies toward realizing the social status he secretly craved all those years. Which is to say he partied and slept around a lot. He divorced my mother swiftly and without ceremony, mostly because my mother got her own ample settlement out of him. Richard didn’t care. Doris and the kids were moving “home” to southeastern Ohio.