LAST year I became an only child. I say this in the least dramatic way, meaning that both my sisters have left home.
One left three years ago, aged 17, for study in Townsville. The other left in September for Japan. My life has changed.
I should clarify: we are not ordinary sisters. We are triplets, identical. Monozygotic. The label has defined our lives — my life — how people see us and how we interact with them.
Explaining how life is different as an identical triplet is impossible. I could say that being one is just like having two siblings who happen to look like me. I do not think you would believe this, nor would the statement be accurate. My sisters and I are closer than any other siblings I know. They are attuned to my mannerisms, my likes and dislikes, my humours, to how I think. They are my confidantes, my shields and soundingboards, my advisers on everything from crises to clothes. Nobody in the world knows me like they do; there is nobody I trust or love as much.
Yet we do keep secrets. We fight like ordinary siblings — perhaps less often, though I think tensions run deeper and erupt more forcefully as a result. Our relationship is thus complex and contradictory. We see ourselves as members of a group but constantly assert our ability, and our right, to be independent. We do look different (we insist), more so as we grow older. We have different interests, different talents. We attended different universities and are pursuing different careers.
My sisters’ leaving was always going to happen. It was a natural and expected milestone. An opportunity, too. Being a singleton has forced me to become truly individual: to make my own decisions and be more organised. I did hide behind my sisters, before. I let them speak and act for me. I don’t think I could say that now. Their absence has challenged me but also given me space. I needed this, to ask the question: ‘‘Who am I?’’
And when I need them, my sisters aren’t so far away. What is distance, really? I spend hours talking to them on chat, on Skype, I write lengthy emails and haunt them on Facebook. But no communication can replace their presence. I know the sound of three people walking together in step. I haven’t heard it for a while. I miss it. I miss setting the table for five. I miss sharing the paper on Saturday mornings. I miss our late-night conferences, the ones that — in those last months, at least — always seemed to happen around a suitcase.
Now there is no one to make me a cup of tea when I’m writing an essay at midnight, no one to catch buses with. No one to make me laugh over Listerine, like my sisters can, or vex me quite so much. And who else can I share a glance with, and know that we’re thinking almost, roughly, possibly the same thing?
I see my sisters in the mirror, sometimes, just for a moment, if my head tilts at a lucky angle. They enter my conversations every day. New acquaintances remark on my use of the royal ‘‘we’’. I say this unconsciously, forgetting that people do not — cannot — know about my sisters. Whether we are together or apart, we share so much: I cannot speak of one without the other. They are like other facets of myself.
I am not just me but one of three. My sisters and I are travelling, parting, growing. I cannot stop this, nor do I want to.
The future calls. But my siblings are in my thoughts, wherever they are.