Growing up, there was me. But there was me, plus another two. No matter how hard I tried to forget, tried to erase the fact, there would always be two more. Two others with short blond bobs trimmed straight across, parted perfectly and pulled away from our round, freckled faces with grosgrain hair bows the size of two clutched fists, or maybe even the size of my teddy bear’s stuffed face.
Each afternoon, at the end of the school day, when Francine Wright, the lower school principal, called our carpool number into the megaphone at the pick-up line with her loud, high-pitched voice, the three of us would grab our monogrammed L.L. Bean backpacks and weave together through the lines of other kids sitting Indian-style, hoping she would call their name next.
We traveled in a group of three. We were always a group of three.
Well, actually, our parents separated us into two classrooms between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., placing me in the ocean-themed room with mermaids painted on the walls and fish that breathed bubbles of glittered paint, and walking Elizabeth and Maria to the classroom next door. But at the end of the day, when Flonnie, our babysitter, pulled up to the overhang outside Brookwood School, we would all climb into her baby blue Pontiac, all of three of us pushed together on the upholstered back seat fighting for a flicker of attention, competing to share a story.
As a triplet, you learn that it is easier to compete. Even at the age of four, you find that there is one thing you cannot avoid. You cannot avoid the fact that two other kids in your grade share your last name, wear the same jean jumper as you and, well, to most everyone, look exactly the same as you.
So instead of trying to avoid each other, you fight for attention.
And fight we always have. In terms of competition, though, Maria and Elizabeth have always preferred to fight as a team of two; as kids, they were the dynamic duo. Forget the Three Musketeers, three was an odd number and they only needed two. Two to pass the soccer ball back-and-forth. Two to play hide-and-seek. Two to steal my Barbie dolls, destroy each doll’s straight-across bangs with scissors and pop off their plastic heads only to flush them down the toilet.
No matter how hard I tried, three would always be an odd number and two was just easier. For most of my childhood, I lived life as if it were a game of Monkey in the Middle. And I was stuck in the middle. Between my two athletic, competitive sisters who were never bothered by a scrape on the knee or a snake in the yard, I stood running back-and-forth, attempting to cling to one of them, or, rather, cling to my identity as one of the three.
But at some point, I gave up on my fantasy for the three of us. Maybe I gave up when they locked me out of the house for what seemed like the hundredth time, or when Dr. Hancock wrapped my wrist in a hot pink cast after they double bounced me off the bed with just enough force to send me tumbling onto our bedroom carpet.
To their benefit, though, I am not sure they meant to leave me out. When Maria and Elizabeth locked the front door and left me pounding on the window begging to come inside, they did not know that I was going to tap the glass enough times to push my hand through. In that moment, I saw the rectangle window, which was about the size of my face, only as the indestructible, clear sheet that separated me from them. They had no way of knowing that the fragments of glass would leave a scar the shape of a wishbone on my inner wrist.
While I blamed my sisters each time I ran crying for a Band-Aid or a hug, my injuries were not entirely their fault. I was prissy, uncoordinated and obnoxiously loud. Actually, looking back, I think they needed to push me into the mounds of red clay behind our house on Patterson Still Road. I guess they were trying to force me out of my princess games and into reality, or, maybe, they just wanted to rough me up a little bit.
After scrapes, bruises, and enough cherry and grape suckers to make my stomach hurt, I decided that if they were going to play a game, I no longer wanted to be included. I wanted a game of my own. Somehow, as tears rolled down my face and dripped onto the scalloped collar of my favorite pink dress, I decided to fight for a new kind of attention. I knew their life was not for me. I knew I did not like jumping around in puddles looking for worms after an afternoon downpour, and I most definitely did not enjoy hearing laughs from the other side of the chain-link fence at T-ball games when I failed to hit that small white ball off the stand on my third and final attempt. Yes, everyone looked at us as the same person, but it did not have to be that way forever.
Today, at the age of 20, I can safely say that we are no longer the competing team of three that we used to be. We are different.
Maria is serious. She walks around, her eyes filled with such intensity and concentration that she appears to be projecting a shadow of hatred over the world or, at the very least, a distain for her immediate surroundings. As her sister, though, I know what thoughts are turning behind her clear eyes. I know that she is not only driven; she is sensitive, sincere and will always be mom’s favorite. In this exact moment of time, though, if I took a guess, I would say that she is memorizing the dates of all major battles in the Vietnam War, reciting the names of the generals involved in each invasion and retreat, and obsessing over the detailed sequence of events that led up to the war—all as noted in her tiny handwriting, each character so small that it would make the most detective eye squint.
She may be intense, but I know how Maria works. As she fills in the bubbles on her exam answer key with the 0.5 mm lead of her favorite mechanical pencil, she only has one thing in mind: perfection. While I would advise the unfamiliar to steer clear in a moment of such anxiety and personal pressure, I have learned, after several punches to the gut, what to do. I tell her to relax and reassure her that she will do fine. Actually, as a history major on the path to law school, I know she will be more than OK.
Elizabeth is another story. Well, I guess she prefers to be called “Liz” these days, but she is still Elizabeth to me. She is one of those people you want to be but cannot quite understand. A student-athlete at Washington and Lee University, she contains an absurd amount of brainpower and is filled with endless potential yet remains burdened by laziness. When we were juniors in high school, I remember preparing for a biology exam that was sure to cover more about the human body than I would ever need to know. Just minutes before the test, as I shuffled flashcards in front of my face and prayed that I would make educated guesses on the multiple choice questions, I found Elizabeth sitting outside Mrs. Sheftall’s lab surrounded by crumbled up pieces of notebook paper. As she sat on the cold floor, nonobservant of the surrounding mess and students filing through the halls, she flipped through her textbook with a speed that, to my estimate, threatened to rip a page corner with every turn. Yet, despite my color-coded study guide and sketches drawn with fluorescent markers and labeled with extraordinary detail, she would score higher than me. Always.
I wish I could explain her photographic memory and decipher the scribbles in the margins of her books, but I simply cannot—and, for some reason, I think that is how she wants it to be. She likes to be left alone. She prefers to wander through the wilderness, sleep in a tent below the stars, and identify each animal track, mineral and plant she finds along any isolated trail. She requires a full night of sleep and, if given the chance, will argue with the intensity of a politician, never backing down from her words because she knows she is right.
Today, the three of us have opposite personality types, a spectrum of friends and all-together different lives. Yet, no matter how hard we try, we are still the girls in the back seat of Flonnie’s 1981 Pontiac Bonneville snacking on Kit-Kat bars, sipping Sprite from chilled cans wrapped round with aluminum foil to keep the cold inside. To this day, without hesitation and only if necessary, we have no problem jabbing each other with bony elbows to fight for a moment of attention.
That’s the thing about being a triplet; you share time, stories, experiences and parents. You share just about everything. And when you cannot handle sharing anymore, you have to push away gradually, and with care.
Today, we each attempt to distance ourselves by attending different colleges or voting in separate states, but we know it will never work. Just as it played out when we were kids, the fact still remains. For each of us, there are still two more out there. Two more sisters, two different people that somehow, despite my best attempts, combine with me to make a whole.
I would be lying to say that they are not a part of me. We need each other. I need Elizabeth to explain the BCS standings to me when I’m trying to impress a boy with my college football knowledge. I need her to answer my call when I’m bored walking to class, and she needs to remind me that life is not always structured and perfect. After all, Elizabeth lives in a messy room that—despite her best efforts—will never be clean and drags soil into her bedroom’s cream carpet most afternoons after geology lab. She does not think to take her hiking boots off at the door. I need Maria to take me on lunch dates, and I need my sisters to ensure me that Alabama is going to win even if it takes a touchdown with 51 seconds left in the game.
Yes, I know there is something special about a relationship between siblings. I absolutely know this is true, but there is also something between triplets that, at times, seems to be an almost gravitational pull. A relationship between triplets is a magnetic relationship that takes shared moments—our first Barbie Jeep, Christmas mornings spent unwrapping identical gifts, birthdays spent blowing out candles on a single cake—and years filled with competition over grades, boys and our parents’ endorsement to develop. It is a relationship that seems to grow as we age together, fight with each other and face life’s memories, tragedies and friendships as they come.
While I am only 20 years into this developing relationship, I feel certain that one day, when I move to Manhattan hoping to establish myself as a writer at a publishing house or magazine across the street from Bryant Park, there will still be a string tied between my sisters and me. You see, that’s the thing about growing up with two the same as you (well, to a certain degree), you cannot avoid each other even when it is the only thing you want to do. You can only depend on the thread and acknowledge that it is there. And, at some point, I guess you come to see it as a lifeline. It is there to pull on in a moment of need, but, thankfully, there’s also room to loosen the line when necessary.