This (sin­gle­ton)

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Amy Steven­son

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.

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