Part I – The Boys Behind the Men


Ronald, what’s XL?” Silence. What I remember is my teacher pulling me by the arm up to the blackboard. She seemed angry at me and was tapping her chalk at those two neatly written letters. Then she took my head and, at least as I remember it, hit it against the blackboard. She probably pushed my face into those letters, perhaps thinking that the problem was my vision. I do not remember feeling any physical pain, but the shame and confusion were cataclysmic.

That moment was “the” defining moment of my life, for better and for worse. In that moment I knew that I would dedicate my life to never feeling that pain again. I would compensate for my stupidity by always being overprepared. No matter what, I would protect that little boy who was devastated that third-grade day. Those who knew me in school (throughout high school) probably remember me as always studying. I was teased and taunted relentlessly by the name “Ronnie worry.” That was also painful, but apparently not as painful as that third-grade moment of shame and wounding that has lived deep in my psyche.

Arnie has often thought of himself as less academically smart than me. I have never bought that lament. Arnie was not in my third-grade class and was not introduced to Roman numerals in the hands-on way that I was. We did not share this trauma. Despite any outward appearance of sameness, our worlds diverged from this point on. Arnie faced boredom and feelings of inadequacy every day at school. I knew every morning that I faced the possibility of annihilation.


I am the older brother by eight minutes. After my birth, the doctor and my parents thought that was it, they had a son. And then without warning, Ron, who was supposed to be my placenta, blindsided everyone in the delivery room. And then there were identical twin boys.

Of course, I knew there were two of us, but I wasn’t talking much at the time and certainly didn’t want to ruin Ron’s surprise. So I just lay there patiently, waiting for the hubbub to die down. It didn’t for a long time. Amazingly, I was already displaced. Ron was getting all of the attention. And Carolyn, our older sister by two years, had the Chutes and Ladders experience of falling completely off the family radar screen in order to make room for us. She’s been a lifelong recovering sibling of identical twins.

In theory, my elder-statesman status of a whopping eight minutes should not have mattered much, in the grand scheme of things, but eight minutes’ difference is a long time if you’re soft-boiling eggs, and it has proved to be a long time if you’re hatching twins. I’m the older brother. Ron is the younger, the baby. I have outwardly led. He has inwardly led. I have looked to him for help reconnecting to my inner life. He has looked to me for help meeting the stresses of the outer world. This dynamic, although certainly not an absolute one, has had a constant presence in our lives, especially in how we met Earth’s Best and journeyed our way through that experience.

I suspect because twins are just so irresistibly cute and were supposed to have names (back in 1951) that were also cute and catchy, my parents did their duty and named us Arnold and Ronald. In retrospect, it could have been worse, like Silly and Dilly or Pinkie and Winkie, but being Arnold and Ronald attracted a certain attention that I was not fond of. It sounded like a package deal. We were two people, but we were often seen as one unit — Arnold and Ronald.

Back to Excerpts