They say everyone has a double, a doppelganger, someone who’s their mirror image. What if you just met your double? What if you were a thirteen-year-old kid who’s gay and you just met your double?
The first section of the brochure that Coach Kavanaugh gave me was okay. It described the game of football, explained that it’s U.S. football and not soccer, and how high school football is organized into freshman, junior varsity, and varsity teams in the schools in our district.
The second section read like a promotion about how playing football teaches kids sportsmanship, helps them become responsible citizens and work with others, and yadda, yadda, yadda. It seemed to me this had been written as a feel-good piece for kids, like me, to give their parents to convince them that it’s just a game.
The third section talked about the objectives of the game, offense and defense, plays, and scoring. This also seemed like a section for parents since it didn’t go into any detail, just the basics.
The last section of the brochure explained what organizations set the rules for high school football. The National Federation of State High School Associations establishes the rules for all high school sports in the United States, and the California Interscholastic Federation (C.I.F.) is the governing body that oversees the rules in, of course, California.
A twenty-two page Sports Handbook came next. It listed all of the sports at Wilson High, both team and intramural, the coach or contact person for each sport and their phone number; all kinds of different eligibility requirements like academic eligibility and C.I.F. eligibility and lots of others; The Wilson High School athletic code; an anti-bullying policy that seemed to be the same as the one my folks and I had to sign when I registered to attend Wilson High, except this one added how you could be removed from a team for bullying; transportation and fees for sports played at locations other than Wilson High; tryouts and practice participation — that’s what I’ll be doing, trying out for freshman football; accident and medical insurance; injuries; disciplinary violations; quitting a team; ejection from a game; awards; media including newspapers, radio, TV, and internet; disputes; code of conduct and behavior of athletes; code of conduct and behavior of parents and guardians; rules of sportsmanship; and lots more.
Next came the forms that had to be signed by the athlete and their parents or guardians. A Consent form for the specific sport I’d be participating in, freshman football; an Acknowledgment form that we’d received the Sports Handbook; an Agreement form that we’d received and agreed with the Eligibility Rules, Athletic Code, and Anti-Bullying Policy detailed in the Sports Handbook; a Steroid Policy form; a Disabled Accommodations Needed to Participate form; a Transportation Release form; a Transportation Payment Agreement form; a Proof of Medical Insurance form; a Proof of Accident Insurance form; and a Physical Examination form that had to be signed by the doctor and by the parents or guardians. Oh, yeah, and the Concussion and Head Injury form.
If they wanted to scare the athletes and their parents or guardians about how dangerous playing football and other sports can be, the Concussion and Head Injury Form would send you running to join the chess club. Seven pages of details that sounded like they’d been taken from Freddy Kruger’s script (yeah, I watched ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ on TV and let’s just say I wish I hadn’t). It ended with the Concussion and Head Injury form that listed seven things I had to agree to and initial and then sign along with the signatures of my parents or guardians. Woof!
Oh man, like my grandmother says, that’s going to make Mom think I’ve gone off my rocker. Especially that last one about death. The next two pages were fun to read too.
The first page, the Concussion Information Sheet for Student Athletes and Their Parents or Guardians, listed twenty-one symptoms that could show that the athlete might have a concussion, from the specific like headaches and nausea or vomiting, to the very unspecific ‘doesn’t feel right’ and ‘feels sluggish’. As if that’s not enough, it also listed fourteen signs that if a teammate, coach, or parent observed on an athlete it could indicate he or she might have a concussion, from ‘loss of consciousness’ to ‘vacant facial expression’. Here’s my favorite on this page: “Even though most concussions are mild, all concussions are potentially serious and may result in complications including prolonged brain damage and death if not recognized and managed properly.” My mom will be planning on locking me in my room until I’m eighteen after reading that. Thinking about it, I might volunteer to be locked in my room until I’m eighteen! Brain damage and death? Whoa!
The second page had this printed at the top, which to me really made sense: ‘Student athletes displaying any signs and symptoms of a concussion should be removed from play immediately.’ “When In Doubt, Pull Them Out.” Then it listed C.I.F. Bylaw 313 that covers concussions and a summary of California state law AB25 that requires that the athlete and their parents or guardians read, agree to, and sign the Concussion and Head Injury form.
The last four pages were “Heads-Up: Concussion in High School Sports” fact sheets. One for the parents and one for the athletes, with both English and Spanish versions. A line at the bottom also made sense to me: “It’s better to miss one game than the whole season.”
I finished reading everything Coach Kavanaugh gave me, and I put it in a neat stack to bring downstairs. Then I stretched out on my bed to rest for a few minutes.
Mom knocked on my door jamb and stepped into my room. Even when my door is open, like now, my folks always knock before coming in.
“Tony, dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. I wanted to give you a heads-up so you’ll be ready.”
I laughed, then said, “I’ve just read a heads-up page in the material that Coach Kavanaugh gave me. It’s a coincidence that you used that term. I just finished reading all of the material for participating in a sport at Wilson High. You’re going to have a lot to read. It took me almost a half hour. Anyway, I’ll be ready for dinner.”
“It’s probably going to take me and your dad more than a half hour to read and understand what’s involved.”
“I think so,” I added. “There’s a lot of stuff there about concussions. It’s apparently a big deal now.”
“Well, we’ll talk about this later. Now, why don’t you wash up for dinner and come on downstairs. And why don’t you bring the material with you, and leave it on the desk in the den.”
“Okay.” Why do moms use the ‘why don’t you’ thing? It implies I had a choice. But I knew that I didn’t have a choice. Her ‘why don’t you’ really meant ‘do it.’
During dinner Mom had me retell the story about Kiernan Mach so Dad could hear what happened. He asked if the school enforced their anti-bullying policy as a result of what he did.
“I suppose that’s a good policy. So how did that rumor get started?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess Kiernan told his two hangers-on, Austin and Lance, and they told someone and they told someone else and by tomorrow it’ll be all over the school. Well, at least among the freshmen. The kids in the other grades wouldn’t care what happened to a freshman, even if he’s a bully, unless he did something major, like burning down the school or doing something else that would get him expelled.”
Dad shook his head. “I can see things haven’t changed much since I was in high school.”
“I agree,” Mom said. “Kids are still kids and lots of them aren’t very bright when it comes to bullying and things like that.”
“So, how was your second day at school?” Dad asked, and I was the focus during the rest of the dinner conversation.
After dinner Mom and Dad went into the den and began reading and talking about the stuff Coach Kavanaugh gave me, and about me going out for the freshman football team. They didn’t invite me to participate, and they closed the door so I couldn’t overhear what they were saying. I went upstairs to my room and IM’d Todd.
hi twin bro hay?
imok ru bzn?
no b iggp f cm in 5 k?
I ended the call and looked at the message. I wondered what my folks would think if they saw this. It’s clear to me, but to them it probably looked like what my grandmother would have called ‘gibberish’ which means nonsense. I’d have to explain it to my folks by spelling it out like this:
I placed an Instant Message to Todd and he responded, “Hi, twin brother. How are you?” I replied, “I’m okay, are you busy now?” He replied, “No, but I gotta go pee first. Call me in 5 minutes, okay?” and I replied, “Okay” and ended the Instant Message. That, I thought, they’d understand.
Five minutes later I called him.
“Hi, twin bro. So, what’s on your mind?”
“I read the material that Coach Kavanaugh gave me. Makes me wonder why I ever thought about going out for football.”
“Why? What’s in what he gave you that’s changed your mind?”
“I haven’t changed my mind. It’s just the stuff about concussions that’s scary as hell.”
“I gave it all to my folks to read, but there’s this one line that goes something like, ‘Concussions can cause brain damage and death.’ My mom told me that on the 60 Minutes TV show they did a thing about concussions and how serious they are. That’s for guys in the pros, in college, and in high school. It counts for younger kids in elementary and middle school, too.”
“I remember reading about some pro football players who are in bad shape from concussions, and a guy on the U.C. football team got a bad concussion a few years ago and had to quit the team. I think he dropped out of school too. His name is Jahvid or something like that. So, when are you and your folks going to sit down and discuss if it’s okay for you to go out for the freshman team?”
“I don’t know. They’re in the den reading it now. I’ll try to get it back and bring it to school with me tomorrow so you can read it too. I want your opinion about whether you think I should be going out for football or not.”
“That’s cool, that you want to get my opinion.”
“Hey, we’re almost-twins and we think so much alike that it’s critical for me to get your opinion.”
There was silence for a few seconds and I wondered if my call had been dropped. “Hey, Todd, you still there?”
“Yeah, I’m here. It’s just what you said. I’ve never had anyone tell me anything like that, that it’s critical for you to get my opinion about whether you go out for freshman football or not. Do you really mean that, Tony?”
“Damn right I mean it. I know you’ll think it through just like I’m thinking it through, and you’ll have good reasons for what you tell me. If everyone else says yes and you say no and explain why, that will be as important as my own decision.”
“I love you, man. Like a brother, I mean.”
Todd laughed. “So you love you too, ‘eh?”
“Of course. We should love ourselves, don’t you think? And I love you too, man. Like a brother, of course. And maybe more.”
“Maybe more? How more?”
“More like a best friend.”
“Aw, is that all?” Todd busted up laughing.
“If I’m a dufus you’re a dufus too. Remember, we’re twins.”
“Nope. Real twins, just with different mothers and fathers. I’ve been reading about identical twins and how they think about things. We’re the same, in my opinion. Think about it, Tony. Just little things like what we decide to wear each morning. And we mostly like the same kinds of foods. And music, and video games, and probably lots of other things. And there are some things, like tofu and spicy foods that are different between us, too. Just like identical twins.”
“So we’re a new category of twins, and maybe the first ones in the world. Twins with different mothers and fathers.”
“Yup. It’s going to be interesting if we can do the DNA testing for our Biology project. I’m excited to see where our DNA is the same and where it’s different.”
“I wonder if we’ll get enough information out of the DNA report to see those kinds of similarities and differences. Or whether we’ll be able to understand the report.”
“I don’t know. That’ll be part of the project, figuring out what the report means. But first we’ll have to find out the amount of detail that we’d get in the reports from the different DNA testing companies so we know which one to pick.”
“Hmm.” I stopped to think for a few seconds.
“What’s ‘hmm’ mean?” Todd asked.
“You know, we are different, we could be a new category of twins. Maybe we could contact the DNA testing companies here in the Bay Area, the ones here close to where we live or where we can get to on BART, and see if they’ll do the testing for free just to see what our reports look like. They might be interested in that, from a scientific point of view.”
“That’s a great idea. You know, we have to put together our project proposal and turn it in to old lady Weir in a little over a week. Let’s keep notes about these ideas we get for the project. And some time soon, maybe at one of our first Tuesday and Thursday sleepovers, we can make a detailed list of our similarities and differences.”
“I’ll do a draft of a proposal we can send to the DNA testing companies, with our pictures and our birth date and details like height, weight, hair and eye color, that sort of thing.”
“Okay, sounds like we’ve got a great start on our Biology project. It’s going to be a slam-dunk A for each of us. But thinking about projects, I have to get on my story for the next issue of the Roundtable. So, let’s say goodnight and I’ll see you at school tomorrow morning.”
“You want to meet before school?”
“Sure. How about in the quad near the outside service window at the cafeteria. Maybe I’ll get something to tide me over between breakfast and lunch.”
“Works for me, Todd. See you in the a-of-m mañana.”
“Ooo! I love it when you talk dirty!” Todd laughed and said, “See ya, Tony,” and ended the call. I turned off my cell and plugged it in to charge overnight. I turned on my PC and signed on to my Facebook page. Nothing much there, mostly stuff on my wall from some girls who’d friended me, chatting typical girl stuff. I friended them then signed off and went to YouTube and visited some channels I liked to follow, and after about a half hour I shut down my PC and turned on my tablet. I went to the Kindle app and read a couple chapters of Better Nate Than Ever. After a few minutes I was laughing my ass off. That is a very funny story. At the beginning of the next chapter I set a bookmark and turned off my tablet. I always set a bookmark when I close the Kindle app. Just in case it doesn’t remember exactly where I’d stopped reading, I can still find it using the bookmark.
I went downstairs, curious about what my folks were doing about the stuff I’d given them to read. They weren’t in the den because the door was open. I checked the living room, then the kitchen, but they weren’t in either. I assumed they were in their bedroom. Mom would be getting ready to go to the hospital for her midnight to eight a.m. shift. I checked the time. Almost ten thirty, time for me to go to bed and get some sleep. Seventh period tomorrow I had the football class and I’d actually learn about playing football. Freshman football.
When I got to school Wednesday morning I looked for Todd in the quad next to the cafeteria.
“Hey, Tony! Over here.”
I walked to where Todd stood in line. We were both wearing jeans and grey hoodies.
“We did it again, Todd,” I said.
“That’s too strange. I purposely picked something that I thought you wouldn’t wear. A hoodie on a hot day. So why did you pick a hoodie?”
“For the same reason you picked a hoodie. I thought it would be something you wouldn’t wear.”
“You know what? I think we should just stop worrying about what we might be wearing and go with whatever we pick.”
“I agree,” I said. “I don’t have the stuff that Coach Kavanaugh gave me. My mom left me a note that she wants to talk to some of the other doctors at the hospital about what it says. She promised to bring it home with her and we would talk about it when I get home this afternoon.”
“You going to get something to eat?”
“Nah, I’m not hungry. Besides, by the time we get to the window it’ll be time to go to homeroom,” I told him.
“I suppose, but if I leave the line now there’s no chance at all. Right?”
“Right. What are you going to get?” I asked, as the line inched closer to the window.
Someone tapped me on my shoulder, and I turned around. It was the kid standing in back of Todd, a really tall redhead guy.
“Excuse me, but please don’t crash the line. You want something, please go to the end of the line. Okay?”
“I’m not crashing the line because I’m not getting anything to eat. I’m just standing here with my twin brother and we’re talking while he waits to get something to eat.”
“Sorry, it looked like you were crashing. So you guys are twins?”
Todd turned around. “Yup, identical twins. I’m Todd and this is Tony.”
“My name’s Scott. Sorry for hassling you. You know, you guys are the first identical twins I’ve ever met. You do look exactly alike. But I guess you hear that all the time.” He grinned. “Must be cool to be a twin. Do you guys fight much? My brother and I fight all the time. He’s older than me and thinks he owns our room.”
“That sucks. No, we don’t fight, do we, Todd,” I said, and Todd shook his head agreeing that we didn’t fight. “I think it’s because it would be like fighting with myself. At least that’s how I look at it.”
“That’s how I look at it too,” Todd said. “We’re lucky, we don’t have to share a room.”
“Heck, we don’t even live in the same house,” I said.
“Your parents are separated?”
“No, it’s not like that,” I said. By then we’d arrived at the window. The line had moved a lot faster than I thought it would.
“What do you want, Scott? My treat,” Todd said.
“An OJ. But you don’t have to buy it for me.”
“I have to because I have an ulterior motive. I want to talk to you, and I have a favor to ask you. After I get something to eat and we find a place to sit. Is that alright?”
“Sure.” Scott looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I just shrugged. I had no idea where Todd was going with this.
Todd bought three bottles of OJ, one for each of us, and a breakfast burrito for himself. We walked to the grassy area between the Social Studies and Language Arts buildings where there were a bunch of small picnic tables that sit about six kids each. We found an open table and sat down.
“So, what’s the favor you want to ask me?”
“You probably haven’t noticed, but you and I are in the same English class. I also know who you are. You’re Scott Sanderson. You went to middle school at St. Anselm in Chicago. I know that because my cousin, Rodger Crowder, also went to St. Anselm. The two of you were on the basketball team when you were in the seventh and eighth grades. In the eighth grade you were rated as the most promising basketball player expected to enter Loyola High this year. But you’re not at Loyola High in Chicago, Illinois. You’re here, at Wilson High in Hillview, California, half-way across the country. Am I right?”
“Yeah, that’s right. You said you recognized me. When did you see me before?”
“You came to Roger’s house last summer when my folks and I were in Chicago on vacation. We played three-man horse. You two whupped me good. I said you should have a handicap for being twice as tall as I was.”
“I remember that. Stand up for a minute.” Todd and Scott stood up, and Scott stared at him. “Yeah… I recognize you now. You’re a lot bigger than I remember, though. Taller. You were real skinny and had a buzz cut then, and now you’re broader and your hair is long.”
“Yeah, and you’re taller too, Scott. A lot taller.”
“I’ve grown almost five inches since last summer. I was about five-ten back then. Now I’m six-three.” Scott grinned. “You two want to play three-man horse? We can get together after school today.”
“Uh, no thanks,” Todd said. “I have important things to do after school today. Like I have to make sure all my socks match and are folded with the outside out, and I need to adjust all of my shoelaces so the ends are equal.” Scott laughed. I just groaned.
“So, why are you here?” Todd asked, “Roger said you were a lock to go to Loyola High.”
“I was, until my dad got a promotion and we moved here.”
“Are you going out for basketball? Does Coach York know who you are?”
“Yes, and no. I’ve been waiting for my transcripts so we can fill out the forms so I can go out for basketball. Also, I was told that we have to provide some sort of proof that I moved here because of my dad’s job and not because I’ve been recruited by Wilson High to play basketball.”
“You’re kidding about the proof thing, right?” Todd asked.
“Nope. When my mom picked up the registration paperwork here she asked if I’d be able to go out for the basketball team. A woman in the office told her about the transfer rule. I think it’s because we moved here just two weeks ago. My folks hadn’t bought a house yet because our house in Chicago hadn’t been sold. Someone bought our house a month ago so my folks had to get serious about looking for a house around here, and we finally moved ourselves and our furniture and stuff from Chicago into our new house two weeks ago. Then there was some confusion about whether I’d be going to Lehman High or to Wilson High because we’re near the edge of the attendance areas for the two schools. So, finally, here I am at Wilson High.”
“Sounds like me,” I said. “I live on Oakmead Court just off Trimble. Trimble is the dividing line for the two high schools’ attendance areas.”
“I live on Trimble Avenue,” Scott said, “about two blocks from Oakmead. We’re neighbors, Tony. That’s cool.”
“You must live on the east side of Trimble. If you lived on the west side you’d be going to Lehman High,” I told him. “We’ll both be on the same….”
Todd interrupted me. “Excuse me, please! Let’s get back to basketball. When are you going to let our basketball coach, Coach York, know you’re here at Wilson High School, and you’re going to go out for basketball, and, most important, who you are?”
“I’m not sure,” Scott replied. “I didn’t want to create a lot of noise until I decide what to do.”
“What do you mean, ‘you’re not sure’ and ‘until you decide what to do’?” I asked.
“My mom didn’t, actually doesn’t, want me to go out for basketball. After high school I want to go to medical school and specialize in sports medicine. She thinks playing basketball will interfere with getting straight A’s and that getting straight A’s is a big deal for getting into med school. My dad and I disagree. I had a straight-A average at St. Anselm, and that’s from first through eighth grades. So we’re wearing her down.
“Now, I still don’t know what the favor is you wanted, Todd. You’re Todd, right?” He pointed to Todd, who nodded.
“I’m taking Journalism, and I’m on the staff of the Roundtable, the school newspaper. The favor I want to ask is, when you decide to join the basketball team here I’d like to write the article for the paper before you tell anyone else. Is that okay?”
Scott grinned. “Sure, why not? We’re getting to know each other, and I think it’ll be better for someone I know to write about me than have some stranger do it. I can make sure all of my bad traits are left out of the article, right?”
Todd grinned. “Absolutely none of your bad traits will be included in the article. It’ll be just the facts about your basketball career and what position you play and what your stats were like at St. Anselm the past two years. And I’d like to phone the coach at Loyola High and ask him about you and try to get him to tell me something about Loyola High missing out when you moved here.”
“That’s all good. I can give you the articles from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Tribune, and I have my stats for all of the games St. Anselm played against other schools. And I’m just kidding about my bad traits. I don’t have any.” He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.
Our conversations were interrupted by the first bell, and the three of us stood up.
“What homeroom do you have, Scott?” I asked.
“Ms. Holbrook in room L-207.”
“It looks like we all have homeroom in the Language Arts building,” I said.
“I found out that all freshman homerooms are in that building,” Scott told us.
“So we learn another interesting factoid about Wilson High,” Todd responded.
I asked Scott, “What period do you have lunch?”
“That’s when Todd and I have lunch. A bunch of us sit at a table in the back corner next to the windows. Unless you’re already sitting with some others, why don’t you join us?”
“That’ll be great, thanks. I brought my lunch and I’ve been eating outside by myself. Mostly so I wouldn’t have to answer any questions about playing basketball. But I’d like to sit with a group of kids and get to know more people.”
We entered the building and went to our respective homerooms to start our third day as freshmen at Wilson High School.
When we got seated at our regular table in the cafeteria to eat lunch, Frank recognized Scott. They had the same Biology class third period and World Geography class seventh period.
Finally the conversation changed to basketball. Scott told us he had PE eighth period so he could go out for basketball. He said he thought about it during homeroom, and he decided to go ahead and try out for the team. He planned on meeting with Coach York during his PE class. Todd reminded him about writing the article for the Roundtable.
Scott sat across from me, so after all of the introductions and school and class discussions were finished, I asked him where his dad worked.
“He’s a doctor, a Reproductive Endocrinologist. He’s in charge of the western region for Galahad Fertility Centers.”
“What do they do?” Todd asked.
“They help couples who want to have a baby but are having problems. It’s complicated, and according to my dad the treatments often use advanced microsurgery and there’s a lot more to it. The company also has a sperm bank and an egg bank.”
“Sperm! We can learn about sex from Scott!” Todd whispered to me. I ignored his comment, but I couldn’t help grinning.
“My mom is a doctor on the staff at Redwood Hospital,” I said. “She works in the emergency department. A lot different than what your dad does, I think. She’d probably be interested in talking to him about what he does.”
“He likes to talk about what he does, especially with other doctors. To change the subject, I have a question about you two. You said you’re twins but you don’t live together, and your folks aren’t separated, and Tony, you said it’s not like that. What did you mean?”
We told him a condensed version of our doppelganger story, and waited for his reaction.
“Wow, that’s really interesting,” he said. “My dad would love to meet the two of you. He did a study on twins that got published in some research journal that’s about twins. His article had to do when in-vitro fertilization is used there are often multiple births and those are twins or triplets or whatever. But usually they aren’t identical twins or triplets.”
“Could he get us a DNA test? We’re going to do our Biology project on an analysis and comparison of our DNA. We need to find someone who can do the testing for us, with a complete report of the differences and similarities between my DNA and Todd’s DNA. And who will be willing to tell us what the reports mean. He might be interested in the results of our DNA tests.”
“Maybe. I can ask my dad about that tonight. I know that a division of Galahad does DNA testing. They do a DNA test on every baby that’s born using their services. That way the parents know that it’s their sperm and their egg that made their baby.”
“That part sounds… weird,” Todd said. He turned to me, “Hmm. Maybe I don’t want to know about all of those inside details about sex.”
I laughed. “As if!”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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