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The freeze is coming, and every morning I gather for what I think is the last time of the season, a bouquet of bright, bouncy nasturtiums from the garden. They are orange and yellow and red, and they are prolific. Every morning I pick all the mature blooms I can see, and by late afternoon, another bunch has matured. This crop, scattered throughout a 5 by 8-foot raised bed that grew onions, radishes, beets and peas over the summer, came in part from a seed packet and in part from seeds collected by a friend from her last year’s crop.
This year I’m gathering seeds from my own crop to dry, refrigerate and plant in the garden next spring. Each seed casing looks like a miniature wrinkled brain. Sometimes I find them still clinging to the plant in pods of two or three. Sometimes they have dropped to the ground and lie waiting beneath the spindly undergrowth and round green leaves of the nasturtium. Just one of them, successfully germinated, makes a plant with abundant leaves and, eventually, brilliantly colored flowers that look delicate but are tough enough to withstand the strongest storm.
This morning as I was picking nasturtiums and foraging for seeds, a stiff wind blew through the back yard, cold and carrying with it a shower of yellow leaves. It is finally October, and though winter is looming, out here in the middle distance, this month remains for me the miraculous season when my twin sons were born, 26 years ago.
Later this month, we will gather in New York where one of them has lived since he went away to college, to celebrate their birthday, twinfest.
They are identical twins, monozygotic, each from the same fertilized egg that split into two embryos. And though that means their genetic material is largely identical, it does not mean that they are the same. They are each as individual as every single nasturtium blossom — altered in their development at many different stages by external and internal forces, unique in their individuality and in their twinness.
I remember when I first found out I was carrying them. The famous obstetrician at the famous hospital where their father was training with another famous doctor dryly announced to me: “Humans are not built for multiples.” He put the fear of God and premature birth and underdeveloped lungs in me from day one. But they were hearty and they grew and tumbled and competed for space like champions, elbowing my bottom-most ribs, smashing my bladder and taking over my young, once slim body.
I carried them through a hot Nashville summer with no air conditioning. I was a small woman, and by the time I reached 34 weeks and they weighed a good 5 pounds each, people on the sidewalk did a double-take when they walked up beside me and saw the beachball protruding from my belly. My ten-year old daughter was mortified. My barely two-year old son balanced precariously on my knees, peering over the mountain of baby that separated us when I rocked him to sleep at night.
The twins hung in there to 36 weeks and were born on a Saturday morning in the crowded theater of a teaching floor at the famous hospital, the famous obstetrician addressing a room full of strangers’ faces from behind his surgical mask. I didn’t mind; I just wanted them to be born.
We took them home on a crisp October afternoon and put them in cribs in a glassed-in breakfast nook off the kitchen. In the early mornings when they were fidgeting, after they had been fed and changed, when we needed just a few more minutes’ sleep, we put them side by side in one crib together, their bald fists waving in the light of dawn. I slept for one more half-hour, the deepest of sleep, sleep unimaginable to me now, and refreshed, I’d return to them while the day was still quiet.
Here is what I remember. I walk across the wood floors, through the living room and the dining room, into the eastern-facing nook where the babies sleep. The morning sun through the un-curtained windows is blinding. A tall man in blue scrubs, their father, leans over the top of the crib, his face flushed with delight. The babies are stretched out belly to belly, their arms entwined around one another’s fuzzy heads. Outside, the densely forested slope of our back yard glows — ash, redbud, dogwood, hackberry and black walnut trees turned red and orange and yellow in the October light.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.