Driving on a multi-lane highway
My sister and I were born one minute apart. Whenever I tell people this, questions inevitably follow: “What’s it like having a twin?” “Are you best friends?” “Can you read each other’s minds?”
Over the years, I’ve formed a sort of automatic response: I laugh, acknowledging the curiosity surrounding a concept that is foreign and fascinating to someone else yet normal and casual to me. I then reply with a simple yet intentionally worded, “Yeah, it’s fun. But I don’t know any different, so I have nothing to compare it to,” which is true. Having a twin sister is fun, and we’re the only kids in our family, so I don’t know what it’s like to have a non-twin sibling. But my answer isn’t the whole truth. My “nothing to compare it to” line is a buffer, a cop-out from having to explain to another person, or admit to myself, the tough side of being a twin.
Gracie and I have been compared to each other our entire lives. Who's older? Lilly. Who talked first? Gracie. Taller? Gracie, until a few years ago. More logical? Absolutely Gracie. More organized? Lilly. Kinder, gentler, more thoughtful? Gracie. Funnier? Definitely, 100% Lilly.
I compare myself to Gracie, too. I think there’s an inevitable tension between all siblings, twins or not, that stems from being constantly compared to one another. Older siblings carry the weight of setting precedents and doing most things first, all eyes on them. I know younger siblings who struggle in the shadows of their older ones, feeling like they need to keep up with, or even one-up, them. Perhaps the unique comparison of twins stems from the fact that differences cannot be blamed on any gap between exit times out of the womb.
In fourth grade, our dad sat with Gracie and me at the kitchen table helping us with our multiplication problems. Gracie knew the answers before my dad finished reading the question, while I sat in the chair across from her confused, finishing out the session in tears. My mom intervened post-math homework tantrum.
“What Gracie’s doing or how she’s doing it has no effect on you. Just focus on yourself. You’re driving your own car. In your own lane,” she told me. “Stay in your own lane.”
As I grew up beside Gracie, my mom’s advice continuously resurfaced. I was an anxious and emotional girl, nervous and concerned by way too many things around me. I sobbed my entire first summer at overnight camp due to unmatched levels of homesickness. In school, I forced myself to do well, gluing myself to my desk chair until I mastered the material without fail. I panicked at the unknown. I’d pass out every now and again, too, due to vasovagal syndrome — wherein random triggers, like needles, cause blood pressure to plummet. Simply put, I was a hot mess. Gracie, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber. She never seemed to flinch. She was riding down the highway on auto-pilot, as if wearing Chanel shades in a pristine Lamborghini. I, on the other hand, sputtered down the road in a peeling truck, beads of sweat constantly dripping down my forehead, hands clammy from the pressure. It didn’t seem fair.
“Stay in your own lane,” my mom said.
I did my best to keep my eyes on the horizon, but I couldn’t keep them from wandering. In high school, Gracie had her entire life trajectory planned out. She was going to study film in college and afterward move to California to be a screenwriter. She then perfectly implemented her plan of action. Gracie took film class upon film class, bought cameras to practice editing, attended film review clubs in Chicago and did summer programs on screenwriting. One summer, she took Advanced Placement Biology so she could pack in more directing classes during the school year. Gracie was cruising.
I felt like my car was going nowhere. I had no plans. I had no idea what I wanted to do in college, let alone after college. I also couldn’t admit to myself that I might also be interested in screenwriting. How could we possibly have similar destinations if I was seven thousand miles behind her on the road? I wasn’t doing screenwriting clubs or assisting the high school film teacher with his intro classes. On top of this, Gracie cracked out a 36 on the ACT going into senior year. First try, cold. I spent the entire year at my desk, working, clawing, test after test, for one more singular point. I began to feel small and unimpressive. I never measured up. Like everything else, I couldn’t help but compare my results to my twin sister.
“Stay in your own lane,” my mom repeated.
But I couldn’t. I wanted to desire a specific career path so I could do impressive activities in pursuit of it. I wanted to be easy-going and relaxed. I wanted the gracefulness that was quite literally embedded in my sister’s name. Gracie’s decisions, ambitions and fearlessness felt impossible for me to both achieve and simultaneously ignore.
As humans, it can be difficult to stay in our own lane without looking around at the others. Research suggests that about 10% of human thought is comparative. Yes, our individual lives may occupy singular lanes, but windows exist for a reason. There are other cars on the road — you can’t ignore them. As a matter of fact, in driver’s education, we were taught to check our mirrors every five seconds. Some cars are even equipped with blinking light systems that alert you of the positions of vehicles in neighboring lanes. Whether it be for safety, for motivation or just from plain-old intuition, we compare.
Beyond being necessary to acknowledge, I think the other cars can also be helpful. Watching Gracie’s car has given me strengths in areas I was admittedly lacking in. My willingness to experiment — to go to overnight camp, write short plays or befriend different types of people — is inspired by her open-mindedness. My grit and drive to succeed have been shaped by Gracie’s natural academic ability. It’s undeniable: Flooring the pedal on my sputtering truck in order to keep up with her Lambo has certainly been a character builder.
We cannot simply keep our eyes ahead of us. If I adhered strictly to my mom’s metaphor — if I didn’t check over at Gracie at all — I don’t think I’d be driving at the speed that I am now or be as willing to swerve around in my own lane. Had I locked eyes on the horizon my entire life, I wouldn’t be who I am now. Gracie inspired me to work on my shortcomings rather than run away from them.
I recently read that poet Amanda Gorman has a twin sister, Gabrielle Gorman. Gabrielle is also unbelievably impressive. She’s worked on digital marketing campaigns for TOMS, directed a short documentary and was presented with the Aaron Sorkin Writing Award, among other feats. I wonder if, when Amanda struggled with her speech impediment, she shared my sputtering truck sentiment. Did she get inspiration to keep going from Gabrielle as I did from Gracie? Maybe seeing each other’s cars pushed them along, too.
Since I’ve been at the University of Michigan, I’ve lost sight of Gracie in my mirrors. I’m navigating the hustle and bustle of Ann Arbor and she, the tree-lined roads of New Hampshire. Not only have I left my lifelong bar of comparison, but I’m navigating unfamiliar streets — dance teams, newspaper columns, new classes (including film) and new friends. They say being on the open road alone grants perspective, and I’ve found that to be true. No longer surrounded by Gracie and everyone else who has been driving around me since grade school, I’ve been able to focus more easily on my lane, and I like the freedom.
Now that I’m on my own, I realize I had spent so much time checking the mirrors that I was failing to see what was right in front of me, and what has always been within me. The summer that Gracie did Northwestern’s Cherubs Screenwriting Program, I was at overnight camp. The summer she took AP Bio, I went on a teen tour with my best friends. While perhaps less impressive on a resume, those experiences were right for me: a social, fun-loving girl, without a specific dream that needed to be pursued immediately. My road has been fun, comedic and even impressive in a lot of areas. I should’ve been confident in my route and enjoyed it, looking forward and trusting my own directional abilities. Maybe one day I’ll screenwrite too, and it doesn’t matter if I’m seven thousand miles behind Gracie. I’m exploring other routes, seeing amazing sights. There’s no race or finish line.
Moreover, everyone’s lane gets bumpy on occasion. Gracie went to college far away with no friends. She recently came home due to a mononucleosis-strep throat-bacterial infection trifecta. I now check on Gracie over Facetime — not to see if we’re equidistant on the road, but to make sure she’s doing okay in her car. Everyone’s Lambo feels like an old truck sometimes.
So I’d like to revise my mom’s advice to: “Check your mirrors, but trust your own lane.” Glancing at other people and taking a check-in is healthy. We grow through comparison and better ourselves through competition. But we also must be confident in our journey as well.
Different drivers have different needs. People take pit stops, switch lanes, speed up, slow down. Right now Gracie and I are taking separate routes, and perhaps it’ll stay that way for a while, or maybe we’ll merge, and I’ll be able to check over at her Lambo once again. Maybe we’ll even have the same destination, and we’ll both end up with creative careers like Gabrielle and Amanda, raise kids at the same time or grow old in the same place. There are multiple lanes for a reason: so that the road is wide enough for two cars. I’m glad to have her on my road, I’d be lost without her. But I’ll also keep my eyes on the horizon in front of me. I deserve the trip.