There is no force in the world that is stronger than the bond of blood. The bond of blood is that of parent to child and that of sibling to sibling. And of all the possible bonds the strongest is that between twins.
That’s why it’s so damn hard to even lift my fingers to write all this down. Because all our bonds have been broken; every bond of blood has become a blood-drenched bond.
And all of it is my fault. My parents warned me not to violate one of the unwritten rules of German culture – that if your last name begins with ‘S’ it’s first name cannot begin with ‘S’. SS, one of the initials that stands for the eternal German sin.
I thought that was folly. I thought if my child grew up outside the country nobody would mind.
“You are ruining his life.” Said my father.
That’s how the bond between my father and me broke.
Sammy and Jimmy. We chose the names because we liked them and because they sounded alike; they sounded like brothers that would be a team for life.
And they were a team. They did everything together; they even had their own secret language for a while. Sammy and Jimmy always took the fall for each other – a missing cookie? Both claimed to be the culprit. Someone forgot to write their homework – both claimed not to have done theirs. Ripped pants? Of course both wore it during the day.
Watching them made me proud. Watching them reassured me that I had done right.
They were smart. I say that with pride, but also because it’s true. They learned reading faster than any of the other kids in their class; they excelled in every subject.
We had a ritual for their birthday. We went to the bookshop and each could choose the smartest and thickest book they liked. Not the books for children or teens – the real, expensive, solid books; the ones they could stack on their shelves with pride.
They always chose the same type of book; they coordinated their purchase just like they coordinated the clothes they wore, the sports they played, and the friends they made.
On their thirteenth birthday we went to the bookshop again. I wanted to help them be more independent and sent each in one direction – Sammy to the left, Jimmy to the right. At first they didn’t want to; they wanted to stick together like always. I wanted to be a good father, to help them be independent and mature.
That day, without my knowledge or intent, I committed my second sin; I broke the second bond of blood.
Jimmy came back with a book on economics. Sammy came back with a book on philosophy.
Each read their books and then they exchanged and each read the book of his brother. But somewhere through that first book they changed.
Since the divorce, at the time they were just ten, I always made sure that we my sons and I had dinner together, just like I hoped that my former wife and my former daughter too had dinner together.
The all-male dinner table was the place where they asked me the questions young boys ask and told me the worries young boys have. And it was also the place where I first notice that they broke apart, that they had different opinions.
Jimmy began to lecture us on economics – price points, demand curves, later even game theory.
Sammy began to bombard us with philosophical thought experiments – if you shoot a man that would have died anyway, but in the process save ten others, are you still a murderer? In a world without color, could you understand the concept of red? And of course, his favorite: If your brain was exchanged with another man’s brain and then one of your bodies would receive a million dollar and the other would be killed – would you rather like your brain receive the money and your body to die, or the other way around?
We argued about the body switch experiment. Sammy said it was fantastic and everybody would choose to kill his own body and give money to the new body with the mind. Jimmy said that all this was nonsense; he said that none of that would work and any reasonable person would give the money to himself.
In my memory that’s the first real fight they ever had; the first real issue on which they disagreed.
At first I liked these changes and the variety in conversation they brought. I thought it was healthy that they had become separate – and, after all, they still worked together most of the time.
Maybe they would have found neither economics nor philosophy – maybe together they would have chosen books about something altogether different, like medicine or law. Either way, I can’t change the past. No matter how much I would give to be able to do it, even if I would give my own life for it – I can’t change the paths on which I pushed each of them by sending them in different aisles.
Sammy went into a downward spiral. His passion for philosophy led him to a passion for magic and then one for alchemy. He spent days and weeks hunched over old books, silently laughing to himself. He barely paid attention to school or friends anymore.
Jimmy seemed to become more open and social but mostly stayed similar in character to how they both had been. Then, shortly before their sixteenth birthday, from one day to the next they seemed to have become different people.
Whatever I tried, I just couldn’t help Sammy get back on the path. While Jimmy aced every test he tried, Sammy failed the first test of his life, then a second, then a third.
I asked Jimmy to help Sammy and as far as I could see Jimmy tried very hard to help. But all their tutoring sessions ended with fights; with Sammy shouting at Jimmy that it was all his fault and that he should go away.
Despite his efforts I think Jimmy helped even less than the two tutors I paid and the many hours I myself tried to help Sammy get back on track. Honestly, if anything, I think all those efforts made the situation all worse.
Sammy was bitter and angry most of the time – while Jimmy was cheerful and helpful in every respect. Sammy gained weight; Jimmy gained muscles. Sammy failed exams; Jimmy jumped through them with ease. Sammy locked himself in his basement, rereading old books; Jimmy went out and made new friends every week.
With 19 Sammy dropped out of school – while Jimmy went on to university. Sammy was fired from job after job – while Jimmy, a few months into his second year of studies, founded his first company.
Jimmy sent money and books for Sammy, he wrote letters of reference, and called in favors with old friends – but Sammy was on the wrong track and nothing Jimmy or I tried made Sammy any less angry or unsuccessful.
I remember the phone call I had with my own father, shortly after Sammy had lost another job because of ‘laziness.’
My own father said that it was my fault, that I had made a mistake by giving Sammy the initials SS. He thought that that’s how I destroyed Sammy’s life; that the shame and guilt had driven Sammy to failure; that I had set him up to be an evil and vile person.
I have to admit, nothing ever got to me that much; nothing ever hurt me more than to have my own father tell me that I ruined my own son’s life.
It hurts as much to admit that, in one way or the other, my father was right.
With 22 my son Jimmy sold his first company and founded a second.
With 22 my son Sammy got into a pub fight and lost one of his eyes.
With 24 my son Jimmy found the love of his life; with 25 they got engaged.
With 24 my son Sammy found a girlfriend that screamed at him for the tiniest things; with 25 he got a criminal record for beating her.
With 26 my son Jimmy sold his second company for more than 300 million dollar.
With 26 my son Sammy steered his second hand car into oncoming traffic.
Jimmy and his wife came to the funeral; so did Sammy’s mother and sister and I. Sammy’s girlfriend didn’t even send a card.
The women went to bed early. Jimmy and I sat at the dinner table that seemed too big for just two.
We sat silently for most of the time while one gin after the other disappeared in my throat.
“I miss Sammy.” I finally said.
“I miss my brother too.” Jimmy said.
“I guess your grandfather was right. I messed him up. It’s all my fault.”
“You didn’t mess Sammy up.” Jimmy said.
I shook my head.
“You remember,” Jimmy said. “All my alchemy books?”
I emptied another glass of cold liquid in my mouth and enjoyed the gentle tickling burn it left in my throat.
“They had some interesting stuff about twins; that we are connected by a bond stronger than anything else; a bond that is strong enough to even allow you to switch your bodies and to change fate. We had that bond.”
“You loved each other.” I said.
“Jimmy and I tried a technique from one of the books,” said Jimmy. “When we were fifteen.”
“Promise not to hate me.” Jimmy said.
“I could never hate you.” I said.
I didn’t know that was a lie.
“Do you remember how I always told you about the philosophical thought experiment? The one where you have to imagine that you can switch bodies?”
“That was Sammy, not you. You didn’t believe in it.”
“Right.” Jimmy said.
There was a thin smile on his lips.
“One of the alchemy books said that the fates of twins are linked; they are connected and they can influence and balance each other. And it gave instructions.”
“Instructions for what?” I asked.
“Do you remember the outcome?” Jimmy asked. “The outcome of the thought experiment?”
“Instructions for what?” I repeated.
“What’s the outcome?” Jimmy asked.
“One gets rich and one dies.”
“Right.” Jimmy said. “Instructions for that.”
“As said, twins have this bond. I proved that to Jimmy when we were fifteen.”
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.