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HALWAYS THERE Michele Nichols

Rachel and I were identical twins, but we didn't grow up the same as most twins. Although we were identical, we were different. Very different. I suppose when we were younger, we were more alike, but when Rachel was 2 she got scarlet fever. It left her partially deaf and wholly different from me. She was labeled "handicapped" and shipped off to a "special" school with "special" kids, who were actually handicapped.
Meanwhile, I was left at home alone to go to a normal school, to be a normal kid. But to Rachel, it must have looked like I was "special." I got to live with Mom and Dad, and have all their attention. As far as Rachel could see, I was an only child -- a "perfect" child.
Life was never easy for my twin. After the fever, Rachel's health was poor. Besides being partially deaf, she now had epilepsy, suffering seizure after seizure in a "special" school with "special" people, away from her family and home, away from love.
Growing up, I tried to help my twin, to be there for her, but it was hard. She always turned away from me, especially as an older teen, when she finally moved back home to stay.
I tried to warn her against the guy she was dating -- the guy she "stole" from me. I think she only set her sights on him to have something I wanted, since I'd had everything she desired when we were growing up. But this guy was not good. Certainly not good enough for my sister. But the more I tried to convince Rachel of this, the more she clung to him.
"We're getting married," she announced one day. "So, don't worry about it," she
spat. "You can go back to being an only child." It hurt that she said that and felt that
Two months later, she married him. Right away, I could see he was hurting her -- maybe not physically, but definitely mentally. Still, she stayed with him. Together, they moved to the other side of the country. Soon after, they had two children, and she finally seemed happy, really happy. Being a mom, she had little people to love -- people who loved her back. And she got her nursing degree -- more people to love.
Although her life with her husband was rocky and painful, it seemed she was doing well, so I loosened the worry-reins on my sister a little and gave a sigh of relief. That is, until I got a call from my dad telling me Rachel was in the hospital due to an overdose. When I flew to the hospital, I learned her husband had left Rachel months ago, but my twin had refused to tell me.
I took her in my arms and told her she could tell me anything. I would always,
always, always be there for her. And I felt she believed me. I hoped so, anyway.
I stayed at her house for as long as I could, watching out for my delicate twin and caring for her children. When I left, I worried I would never see her again. But it seemed silly. She'd had a moment of weakness, but she was back on her feet, back to living for her children.
"Call me if you need anything -- anything," I said.
And she promised that she would.
A few months later, she called to ask me to watch her children while she had surgery on her small intestine.
"It's just minor surgery," she had said apologetically. "I wouldn't bother you, but
you're kind of all I've got."
"Rachel, of course I'll come," I said. "I'm glad you called."
And I was glad, so glad. Glad she called, glad I could help.
The surgery was a success, but she had a heart attack during the night and died
alone in the hospital.
Once again, I had failed her. All our lives, I had tried to be there for my twin. But she had died alone. I feared she died thinking that no one was ever there for her.
I was filled with deep despair ... until the day her lawyer handed me a note that
Rachel had written to me. She explained why she had made me the guardian of her two beautiful children: "Because you were always, always there for me -- always."

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(From "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More")
Reprinted by permission of Michele Nichols. (c)2009 Michele Nichols.
(c)2008 Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.