Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2003 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Covering for his twin
By Libby Lazewnik
This state of affairs neatly summed up Leib and Duvy Perlowitz.
For the nearly ten years that they'd resided together on this planet, the twins had always known what the other was thinking and feeling. They did practically everything together, and never tired of one another's company.
Which was why Leib was so disturbed when Duvy began to lead a secret life.
Not all of Duvy's life became secret. Only the parts that had to do with his schoolwork.
For most of his school career, Duvy had been what the teachers like to call a boy-who-has-not-yet-reached-his-potential. In other words, a lackluster student. While not quite failing, his grades only sometimes climbed up into the eighties. As for the nineties well, for Duvy those were like Mount Everest to an amateur mountaineer: Unreachable.
The problem, as his parents and teachers never stopped telling him, was that he simply didn't try hard enough.
The problem, from Duvy's point of view, was that sitting still long enough to learn anything was torture. He was a doer, not a sitter. His mind worked well enough, but most of the time he lacked the patience necessary to put it to work. Patience is something you can develop, if you try. But Duvy, as his parents and teachers never tired of pointing out, didn't try. He squeaked by, instead.
His twin, Leib, had what Duvy lacked. Patiently, he plugged away at his schoolwork until he came up with some reasonable results. If he was not the best student in the class, neither was he the worst. His marks, on the whole, were more than respectable. They could have been even better if he'd been able to convince Duvy to stop once a while and actually do some homework or study for a test. But Duvy didn't stop, and Leib was his closer-than-close twin who did just about everything with him, so Leib's studying was necessarily sketchier than it might have been.
Sometimes, when Duvy was afraid of actually failing a class, he would consent to sit down with his twin long enough to actually learn something.
Afterwards, the test successfully passed, he was back to his old ways again. But Leib didn't really mind. Somehow, together, they muddled through.
Until, that is, Duvy began his secret life.
At first, Leib didn't notice. It wasn't until the changes in Duvy's schoolwork started happening that his twin realized that something was different. Suddenly, Duvy was getting scolded far less often for forgetting to do his homework. Even more surprising, his test grades began to improve. Nothing dramatic at first. But enough to start Leib wondering. Thinking back, he realized that the changes had started at around the same time that Duvy's seatmate was changed. A new kid, named Efraim, joined their class, and was placed in the seat next to Duvy's.
Efraim was a good student. A verygood student. The material seemed to flow effortlessly from his teachers to him, and he seemed just as effortlessly to be able to spit back the information.
Otherwise, he was a quiet, unathletic boy who spent most of his recess breaks with his nose in a book. The last kid, you'd think, that Duvy would be friendly with. And yet, they were friendly. Watching from the corner of his eye, Leib could see his brother joking around with Efraim before and after class, and borrowing his seatmate's notebook now and then for a few minutes. Duvy seemed suspiciously up-to-date on his homework assignments after that.
"Duvy, have you been copying Efraim's homework?" Leib demanded, as they walked home from school in the crisp autumn dusk. Though the hour was not late, it was already nearly dark, a time when thoughts turn to things like supper. Duvy was clearly not in the mood for this kind of discussion. Curtly, he shot back, "What makes you think that?"
"'Cause you used to get bawled out for not doing your homework, and lately you're not. Ever since Efraim began sit-ting next to you."
"So what? Does that have to mean I copy his work? I'm perfectly capable of doing my own homework, for your information."
"I know that," Leib said dryly. "Only I never see you do it."
"I don't have to do everything at home, you know. There's other times. Lunch, recess..." Duvy's voice trailed off. He kicked at a pile of leaves at the curb, sending them scattering with a raspy sound. "Quit interrogating me, Leib. Let's run. I'm starved!"
With that, he launched into a sprint. With Duvy's head start, Leib was hard put to keep up. He had other questions he want-ed to ask, but he saved his breath for running. He would quit worrying about Duvy, he decided as they burst into the welcome warmth of home. For now, anyway.
But, the next day, Leib had something even more ominous to worry about.
"In general, I was pleased with the marks," their teacher said, handing back test papers. "Duvy, I was especially pleased with the improvement in your performance. Keep it up!"
Craning his neck, Leib saw the large "94" emblazoned at the top of Duvy's test paper. His eyes grew round as saucers. What a mark, for Duvy!
But what made the mark even more remarkable was the fact that Leib remembered very clearly the night, last week, when he'd sat studying for that test. Duvy, meanwhile, had spent the hour playing marbles on the floor of their room.
"Excellent, Efraim," the teacher praised, handing the new boy a paper that said "100" in proud figures across the top.
Leib looked at Efraim. Then he looked at Duvy, right beside the new boy, glowing over his "94". And Leib's heart sank, down to the bottoms of his well-worn sneakers.
Leib knew Duvy as well as anyone in the world. He knew him even better than their parents did. So he knew how to read the strange evasiveness in his twin's manner, when he asked Duvy in a voice that he tried his best to keep casual "So when'd you study for that test, Duvy? I don't recall you hitting the books lately."
Duvy shrugged and lined up another marble for his next shot. He was lying on his stomach on the area rug in their bed-room, with the marbles waiting in a row on the polished-wood floor. "I managed." He didn't meet Leib's eyes.
"You got a couple of '80's' on quizzes lately. But this mark was really something." Leib waited, but Duvy had nothing more to say on the subject. He squinted at his marble and flicked it - crack! at its target. A perfect hit.
Leib went to bed soon afterward, but he couldn't sleep. He was too busy worrying about Duvy. It was one thing to copy a fellow student's homework. It was another and far more serious, in Leib's book to cheat on a test. Because that, Leib was forced to admit to himself, was clearly what had happened.
He wasn't sure about the quizzes, but heknew that Duvy hadn't studied for that test. He hadn't magically known 94 percent of the answers, either. It was no coincidence that his grades had improved so dramatically from the moment he'd gotten his studious new seatmate.
Duvy a cheater? Leib could hardly believe it. He also couldn't bear it.
He chose to tackle the subject again on their walk to school the next morning. Steeling himself for Duvy's reaction, he asked bluntly, "You wouldn't cheat on a test, would you, Duvy? I mean, knowing how wrong it is and all."
Duvy was silent. His sneakered feet rasped through the fall-en leaves, with a sound like crunchy cereal when you pour the milk in.
"Duvy? You know what Daddy and Ma are always telling us. Nothing nothing is worse than being dishonest. Truth is the foundation of the world. Integrity is what makes a man a man. You know all that, as well as I do. We've heard it a mil-lion times!"
Still, Duvy didn't answer. Leib turned sideways to peer at him. The morning sun lay full on his twin's face, making it pale. "Duvy? Why won't you say anything?"
Suddenly, Duvy whirled to face him. "There is nothing nothing " he mimicked harshly "worse than... being a fail-ure!" Then he picked up his feet and ran as fast as he could, leaving Leib far behind on the empty street.
Leib's first instinct was to cover for Duvy. That, after all, was what twins did for one another. That was what the two of them had been doing, all their lives.
The time Duvy had gone fishing with some friends at dawn, planning to be back before his mother realized he'd left the house Leib had covered for him. He'd been downstairs long before his usual time that morning, pacing the living room and stopping by the window at frequent intervals to scan the street for a sign of his twin's return. Duvy had slipped inside just minutes before Ma had come downstairs to make breakfast. "Thanks for covering for me," he'd whispered. And Leib had nodded, his manner saying, "But of course!"
And that time that Duvy had eaten sixteen bags of potato chips on a dare, and then was stick to his stomach that night Leib had covered for him then, too. He hadn't said a word about the dare, even though his mother had wondered aloud what had brought on Duvy's condition. Out of a sense of twinly loyalty, Leib had held his tongue.
This... cheating (he could hardly bear to even think the word) was another matter. This ran the risk of harming not Duvy's body, but his neshoma (soul). Behaving dishonestly would not give his brother a mere stomach-ache. It would leave a scar invisible to the eye, perhaps, but far deadlier to the spirit....
That time Duvy had gone fishing, he hadn't actually been hurting anyone. Now, he was hurting someone, and badly. He was hurting himself. And that was something his devoted twin could not stand by and watch happen.
His thoughts had reached this point as he entered the building and began climbing the stairs to his classroom. Then a new thought occurred to him. Maybe if Duvy had another way to help himself do better in school, he wouldn't feel he had to resort to cheating. Maybe he, Leib, could help with that! His heart lifted. He'd talk to his parents about his idea, that very night.
"A tutor for Duvy?" his mother repeated, a puzzled frown between her eyes. "Did Duvy ask you to speak to us, Leib?" "No. I, uh, just thought it would be a good idea. To help him keep on top of his schoolwork and all."
"But Duvy's actually been doing better in school lately," his father remarked. "He seems to be buckling down at last. Did you see the test score he brought home the other day? I believe it's the best he's ever done."
His mother was watching him closely. "Leib?" she asked in a soft voice. "Is there something else you're trying to tell us? Are you the one who wants a tutor?"
Taken aback, Leib blurted, "Me? No way! I'm doing okay in school."
"Well, so is Duvy," his father said. "I'm afraid I don't real-ly understand where all this is coming from, Leib."
Leib couldn't blame him for not understanding. He wished he could clarify things for his parents. The words trembled at the tip of his tongue.
In the end, though, he turned away, not saying anything. He just couldn't do that to Duvy. He was still, first and foremost, a twin.
Leib had a plan.
He needed to be able to confront Duvy head-on about this cheating thing. So far, Duvy had been wriggling away from his accusations. What Leib proposed now was to watch his twin constantly 24 hours a day. That way, he would be in a position to know whether or not Duvy was doing his own home-work or studying for his own tests. Just in case he was wrong in his suspicions and how he hoped he was! he needed to see for himself how Duvy was managing to turn near-failure into success.
Putting the hawk's-eye on his brother was not hard to do.
They were together most of the time, anyway. Now, Leib would make sure it was all the time.
The vigil began.
There was not much danger of Duvy noticing anything unusual about Leib's behavior. They were together so much of the time that Leib's extra shadowing went unnoticed. For four days, Leib stuck to his twin night and day, noting every move Duvy made. None of those moves included studying for the Social Studies test they had on Day Three.
The test was returned to Duvy with a spectacular "96", and a glowing compliment from his teacher.
Stricken, Leib watched Duvy's pleased face as he accepted the praise. He felt as though he'd just fallen off a cliff. He was at the foot of the cliff, looking up at the place where he'd stood such a little while before, happy and secure. There was no way to get back up there again, he knew. The situation had changed irrevocably.
Before, he'd had his suspicions. Now, he was sure.
"I'm doing this for Duvy," Leib repeated to himself, over and over, as he made his way to his father's study.
Always, before, he'd covered for his twin. Now, he was still trying to protect him in a different way. From Duvy's per-spective, in a very different way.
"Yes, Leib? What can I do for you?" His father's voice was pleasant, mildly curious. Leib wished he didn't have to break the news that would wipe the comfortable look from his father's face. He wished a lot of things. But wishes weren't going to help anybody. Maybe hopefully what he was about to do, would.
He perched at the edge of the seat facing his father's desk, as though afraid that something on that desk was going to jump up and bite him. His father regarded him, waiting.
"It's it's about Duvy," Leib said miserably.
Ten minutes later, the deed was done. Leib had ratted on his twin. From his father's reaction, he knew that the reaction would be swift and strong.
He wasn't wrong. His parents conferred together, and then set up a meeting with Duvy's main teachers. Somewhere along the gruesome chain of events, Duvy confessed.
There would be repercussions. His overall semester grade would be penalized. He was going to have tutors and to take re-tests of all the exams he'd cheated on. And, of course, he was going to change seats, away from Efraim and temptation. All of these changes came in the train of Leib's talk with his father. But, for Leib, the biggest change of all was a private one, and it hurt him far more than any lowered grade or tutor-ing session was going to hurt Duvy.
He had lost his twin.
Not physically, of course. Duvy was still there, sharing his room and his class. But as far as Leib was concerned, he might as well not have been. There was one furious interchange, just after Duvy had been called upon to confess his crime. He'd turned to Leib a few minutes later, in their room, and cried out in mingled shame, pain, and fury, "How could you?" Those were the last words he spoke to Leib for a long time.
There were questions, and doubts. Leib tortured himself with them on his solitary walks to school, and when he was supposed to be asleep at night. Had he done the right thing? What kind of loyalty did a kid owe his brother? In its strange way, his act of disloyalty had actually been one of the most supreme loyalty. He'd done it to try and help Duvy and maybe he had helped him. But in the process he'd lost that special bond with his twin, a bond which meant as much to him as life itself.
There had never been a moment, from the day they'd both been born, when they hadn't been attuned to one another. On the same side. Now, they were like icy strangers. If Duvy needed to say something to Leib, he would ask Mutty or Chaim or one of their other brothers to relay the message. The whole family knew that something had happened between the twins, though only the oldest brothers had an inkling as to what it was. The others did their jobs as messengers, without under-standing or liking it much.
"C'mon, Duvy, quit it already! You can talk to Leib your-self," little Pinny protested at the dinner table one evening, when Duvy asked him to ask Leib to pass the salt.
But Duvy was not prepared to "quit it". As far as he was concerned, he'd been a victim of the ultimate betrayal. If he was suffering as much as Leib by the severed bond well, that was just another price he had to pay, as victim. And he would pay it, too. Gladly.
Thus spoke the voice of Duvy's anger.
The twins' parents, naturally, were not oblivious to what was going on. That night, seeing the acute misery in Leib's face and the different but just as acute misery in Duvy's, their mother decided that enough was enough. Something had to be done and, in her opinion, it was her husband who ought to do it.
"Go talk to him," she urged.
That was why Mr. Perlowitz was out on the cool, dark street with Duvy that night, strolling in the direction of the ice-cream store. The real purpose of that walk was the talk that would precede it.
"So," Mr. Perlowitz began. "Life's been a little rough for you lately, Duvy." It was a statement, more than a question. An opening.
Duvy hesitated. "Yeah."
"Tell me why you did it, Duvy. Why you cheated, I mean. I know it's not like you. Normally, you're an open, honest, up-front kind of guy. So why?"
The warm, matter-of-fact tone did the trick. It all came out then: How much of a failure Duvy had always felt in class, especially in light of his own twin's better performance. How he hadn't really believed he was capable of changing, ever. How the arrival of Efraim, with his perfect homework and test papers, had been like a gift lying right in front of him for the taking. How he'd tried to resist the temptation, and failed. "I guess that makes me a bigger failure, even, than I was before," Duvy sighed.
The father placed a comforting hand on his son's shoulder. "The fact that you realize that tells me that you're not a failure at all. You just made a mistake a serious mistake, but one that you'll certainly never repeat. Right?"
In the dark, Duvy nodded.
"And now," his father said, as they paced companionably along through the night, "about Leib."
Beside him, Duvy stiffened.
"You think he betrayed you, correct? 'My own twin squealing on me'. Hm?"
"Something like that," Duvy muttered.
"Tell me," Mr. Perlowitz said. "Why do you think he did it?"
Duvy opened his mouth and shut it again. All the usual reasons why people betray one another did not apply here.
Leib was neither bad, nor greedy, nor did he gain a single ben-efit from what he'd done. In fact, just the opposite: he'd lost his best friend.
"I don't know," Duvy said at last.
"Is it even faintly possible that he did it to help you?
Because he cares so much about you that he was even willing to give up his relationship with you, so long as he helps you to become the best person you can be?"
It was a walk of only two more short blocks to the ice-cream store, but it took even less time than that for Duvy to give his father his answer.
"Wait for me, Leib," Duvy said next morning, as Leib pre-pared to leave for school alone, as usual. "I'll walk with you."
Leib's heart started beating rapidly. They went outdoors, where the autumn wind greeted them with a blast of cool and a swirl of brittle leaves. Matching his pace to his brother's, Leib said softly, "I'm sorry, Duvy."
Duvy shook his head. "No, I'm the one who's sorry. About... you know."
And Leib did know. He always had, and he always would. And Leib did know. He always had, and he always would.
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© 2003, Yated Ne'eman