My sister Eileen gets accepted to participate on one of those extreme make-over shows. I'm not sure how she's managed to make the application video without me knowing since we're joined at the hip, literally. She says they're running a special on twins. "Like you know, a before and after, but at the same time, because one twin gets the makeover..."
"Yeah, I got it. I am in possession of a full brain, you know."
Eileen hates it when I make conjoined jokes. When the producer calls to talk about the filming, he asks her if we're for real. "Siamese twins? Wild."
"Conjoined is the more acceptable term," Eileen replies crisply.
We meet the plastic surgeon, who explains that I'll be placed on a gurney next to Eileen's in the operating room.
Eileen sighs at this news. "Can you keep her off-camera?"
"Well, at least we're facing the same direction. Imagine if we were coming and going," I joke.
Honestly though, I'd prefer to be face down--the sight of blood makes me queasy--but this is Eileen's thing and I want to be supportive. A nurse whispers in my ear that she'd be happy to drape me with an extra blanket. "The O.R. can be so cold," she says with a shiver.
I thank her and tell her I'll be fine. Given Eileen's proclivities, I've learned to sleep through anything and can pretty much doze off at will. When you share a hip, there's not much privacy, but there's also little chance of falling over. Except when Eileen goes on her benders and keeps us out all night, crying about her lot in life and how only freaks and pervs find her attractive.
Like I don't know this already? But Eileen's always been a bit of a drama queen.
Once the logistics are squared away, the plastic surgeon whips out his prescription pad. "Tell me what you want done," he says, running the tip of his tongue over his unusually full lips.
Eileen asks for the works like she's ordering fast food. "Give me one of those tummy tucks, a couple breast implants, and how about a little lipo, lid lifts, a nose job. Umm, can you think of anything else?" She turns to me, eyebrows raised, her dark eyes glinting.
"I don't know, why don't you just get me removed too while you're at it?" I snap, crossing my arms protectively over my 32A's.
"Really?!" Eileen squeals. "I thought you'd never ask!"
"Get Ben Carson on the phone. He's the master," the surgeon yells over his shoulder to one of the orderlies.
The show's producers love the new angle. Extreme Lipo, they call it. Some people get a little fat removed--we're removing a WHOLE PERSON, the promos shout. Advertising sales shoot through the roof. No conjoined twins have been this hot since Chang and Eng. Barbara Walters won't stop calling.
Before the Big Day, the producers call a few times to suggest I should go ahead, have a little plastic surgery also--you've been such a trooper, they say. "How about a boob job? Some Lasik? Or maybe fix those buck teeth?"
But I stand firm. "Just the hip," I say.
Secretly, I think my stubborn streak pleases them. They still get their big Ugly Twin / Transformed Twin Reveal. "And this conjoined thing is a real twist on the old Before and After Shot," they tell me as we're being prepped for surgery.
"So I've been told," I say, rolling my eyes at Eileen. Growing up, we used all sorts of coded glances, inside jokes, our own secret language.
"Beauty is sacrifice," Eileen says and looks away.
Ten hours and a couple of artificial hips later, and, wham-bam, we're now two separate people. "Thank god," my sister moans through her gauze bandages. "I thought I'd never be rid of you."
I tell myself it's the anesthesia talking.
After the bandages come off, we film the Big Reveal. The studio audience recoils in horror when I am pushed out on-stage as the "Before" and then cheers with delight when Eileen emerges as the "After." There's a smattering of applause as I'm shuffled back behind the curtains. I sign for my check and a production intern hails me a cab.
I watch Eileen sometimes on TV--she's the new girl on The View. On her first day, Whoopi says she'd hate being attached to Eileen. "I mean, I cannot believe how messy your dressing room is! What you must have put your poor sister through!"
Eileen says she's closed the book on that chapter of her life and then Joy asks one of those rhetorical questions she's always asking: "Hot topic? Not!" And everyone in the audience laughs. God help me if I didn't laugh right along with them. Those ladies are such a riot.
Rumor has it there's a movie deal in the works. Julia Roberts wants to play Eileen. I wonder who they'll get to play me.
BIO: Julie Innis's stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gargoyle, Prick of the Spindle, BLIP, Pindeldyboz, and The Long Story, among others.