When they were children, they tried to drown each other repeatedly. Towheaded youths, pressing each other into the ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, while their mother sat clueless, ensconced in a cabana, a silk Hermes scarf covering her bobbed hair. They were testing themselves. Who could stay under longer? Who was stronger?
When their mother finally noticed their antics, Cameron was dragging a barely breathing Tyler up onto the shore, his chest rising little more than a centimeter. The sun was fading quickly, and it was August. Soon they would be heading back to Greenwich, their Range Rover would be driven to the ferry, and they would take a small plane, piloted by their uncle, to Connecticut.
Carol Winklevoss came running toward her two sons, one prone on the sand, the other breathing heavily, wild-eyed, but still strangely confident. Her scarf blew from her head in the strong, late summer wind. She cursed and fell to her knees next to Tyler, listened to his breath, her ear close to his mouth.
“He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine… ”Cameron kept insisting. His arms crossed over his chest, petulantly angry at 13.
His mother glared at him. “He is not fine,” she said. “Go for the lifeguard. Up at the visitors’ center. Run.”
Cameron ran. His tan feet slamming into the sand, a whirlwind kicked up behind him. He plowed through sandcastles, dodged towels, sprinted desperately up toward the visitors' center. He didn’t feel guilty. Tyler had asked for it. They both had.
He came back moments later with the lifeguard running alongside him, barely keeping pace. Tyler was sitting in his mother’s arms, his lips tinged blue. He was barely conscious.
“Lay him back onto the sand,” commanded the lifeguard.
Mrs. Winklevoss placed Tyler’s body gently down; she smoothed a ringed hand across his forehead and murmured softly at him. “Good boy, shhhh. It’s going to be okay, just lay still. Shhhh, good boy, best boy…”
The lifeguard took Tyler’s heartbeat, and standing above him, Cameron took his own. The lifeguard listened to Tyler’s chest, and Cameron tried to hear his own breath, but couldn’t against the crashing of the waves. Tyler coughed suddenly and salt water spilled past his lips. The lifeguard checked his pupil response.
“How do you feel?” He asked.
“I’m fine,” said Tyler, his voice raspy.
“He’s fine,” said Cameron, in tandem.
“Does he need to go to the hospital?” asked Mrs. Winklevoss.
“I don’t,” said Tyler.
“He doesn’t,” said Cameron.
“He probably should,” said the lifeguard.
Tyler looked pleadingly at his mother. She frowned.
“Is there water in his lungs?” she asked the lifeguard.
“There might be.” He shrugged, no stranger to dealing with people like the Winklevosses, who did what they wanted, no matter the consequences.
“Mom. I just want to go home.”
Mrs. Winklevoss sighed. “Okay, but we’re going to have Dr. Englehardt over to take a look at you later. No buts”
The lifeguard brought Tyler to his feet, and Cameron came over to help him walk up the shore, back to their home, and its welcoming worn exterior, grey from years of weather, those destructive Cape winters. He placed his arm around his brother’s waist, and draped Tyler’s own arm over his shoulders. They were exactly the same height, golden from the sun, and freckled across the shoulders.
“I’m going to fucking kill you,” Tyler whispered in his ear. “You have no idea what’s coming.”
+ + +
They had separate bedrooms. They had always had separate bedrooms. As newborns they’d shared a nursery, but by the time they were out of bassinets, they had their own, adjoining rooms, each decorated with a different theme. Cameron’s was clouds and trains; Tyler’s was a country lake and leaping trout.
It was different on the Vineyard. On the Vineyard they shared a bedroom. Two boat-shaped beds running parallel, a lighthouse shaped nightstand between them. That night, after Tyler’s sink-or-swim, after Tyler’s down-for-the-count, after the incident, they were sent to bed early. Neither would say what had happened. Cameron would never admit his guilt—after all, the game was shared—and Tyler would never admit his defeat, his weakness, not even to his mother, and her kindly, WASP heart.
In the dark, Cameron relished the sound of Tyler’s breath.
“I didn’t need help,” said Tyler.
“Mom made me get help.”
“Because she was worried about you, Ty.”
“I hate you,” Tyler said, dully.
“That’s bullshit,” said Cameron.
“Just you wait,” said Tyler.
+ + +
It was 5:00AM when Cameron was shaken awake and dragged from his bed.
“Get the fuck up, Cam.” Tyler kicked him in the side.
He stood, reluctantly.
Grabbed by the shoulders, he was shoved bodily toward the brimming bathtub in their shared bathroom. The water was freezing, augmented by ice taken in bowlfuls from the freezer. Tyler had prepared.
Cameron fought back, sleepy in his boxers and pajama shirt; he tried to shake Tyler off of him. It was November. Literal months had passed since the accident down the shore. His face was plunged into the water, Tyler’s hand gripping the back of his head. He tried to kick out a leg at Tyler’s groin, but his brother moved to the side. His faced was pulled up from the water. He could barely breathe through the cold. His gums were stinging.
“WHAT THE FUCK,” he sputtered.
“See? SEE?” said Tyler. “This is what you get. This is what you get.”
“I don’t understand. I don’t...” Tyler shoved his head back down into the water, this time past his ears. He burbled against the ice cubes, clawed back at Tyler, who grabbed both his arms by the wrists and held them together, rendering him helpless. He could hear Tyler through the water, admonishing him in an angry whisper about strength and shared responsibility. He couldn’t breathe.
Tyler pulled him up again.
“No more, please. Please... I can’t.”
Cameron flipped him around. Stared hard at him.
“Do you need a doctor?”
“Do you need mommy?”
“No, and fuck you,” Cameron said through numb lips. “You baby. You almost drowned in the ocean . You’re trying to drown me in a bathtub.”
Instead of trying to drown him again, Tyler punched him full in the face.
+ + +
They’d been in competition and cahoots for as long as they could remember. They were mirror-images, literally. When Tyler broke his arm, Cameron considered breaking his own arm in sympathy. They played duets together on piano and cello. They built extensive outdoor forts. When they got older, they fucked the same girls, and the girls never knew the difference. They didn’t care. They were, at times, one and same.
“I drown, you drown. I suffer, you suffer.” Tyler was speaking to him when he woke up, in his own room in his chestnut bed, clouds painted on the ceiling, by hand.
“I die, you die.” Cameron added, staring at those fluffy clouds.
“Yes,” Tyler said. “Exactly.”
“I won’t fuck up again.”
“You can’t. There’s no space for fuck-ups in this world.”
“I know,” Cameron said. “Don’t you think I know?”
Tyler came touched his face. It stung.
“I gave you a black eye. Sorry. I put ointment on it while you were out.”
“It’s okay. Come and sit.”
Tyler sat on the edge of the bed.
“No, Ty. Come next to me.” He patted the bed.
Tyler pulled back the heavy, plaid quilt and slid into bed next to his brother. Cameron dragged him close, an arm around his waist, and pressed their adolescent bodies together. Soon they would be out of junior high, and possibly boarders at the prep school. This wouldn’t be possible then.
“That was a nice touch -- with the ice.”
“Thanks,” Tyler said, against the pillow, a mumble. “I try to be inventive.”