Over the sixth grade holiday break—1993, this would have been, heading into ’94—my friend Isaac Adelman began to suspect that something was off about his twin brother, Jake. They were identical, but lately Jake had been getting short of breath when we played half-court in their front driveway, and when we went swimming—nothing special in South Florida in December—Jake wouldn’t race with us or have a diving contest or anything. “I’ll be judge,” he said, glum and defensive as he climbed onto the green raft and gave himself a push toward the shallow end of the pool.
So Isaac and I saw who of the two of us could jump farther (me), and who could hold his breath the longest (me), and who could do the fastest lap, which was such a close call that we really did need Jake to judge for us, but Jake had fallen asleep. He was lying on his side on the raft, half curled up, with his eyes closed and mouth open, one arm across his face to block the sunlight, the other arm dangling in the water.
The pediatrician took X-rays. A sarcoma was putting pressure on Jake’s left lung as well as his heart. Everything changed in the Adelman house after that. For example, the twins had always shared one huge room upstairs, but now Jake was to be moved to the first floor, down the hall from his parents and next door to Claudette, the housekeeper, in what had been Mr. Adelman’s home office. To offset the sickroom atmosphere, Mr. and Mrs. Adelman splurged on electronics and toys. They got a three-disc CD changer with speakers, a new TV and VCR for each of their rooms, and every game system you could think of—Super Nintendo, Neo Geo, Sega CD, Game Boys for the long hours in doctors’ waiting rooms. They had lava lamps and Nerf guns and remote-controlled cars.
My mother encouraged me to spend time with the twins. They needed me, she said, to bring some cheer into the house and to offer my “moral support.” She said I made things feel more normal over there. And of course we would have offered to reciprocate, but Jake couldn’t go on sleep-overs, and she wouldn’t want the poor sick boy to feel left out if just Isaac came over, besides which she imagined that Mrs. Adelman must not want to split the boys up more than they already were, what with their room situation and Jake’s having been pulled out of school.