We never tried to switch places, nor fool our girlfriends, because we were physically different. I was a little taller than him, and my hair wasn’t as curly.
My mother used to say we were an unexpected miracle that November 21, 1980. She didn’t know we were twins until they performed the Caesarian. I was the last to be discovered in her womb, when the doctors believed the birth was over. They had suspected there was another baby, though, when they noted that my brother Emilio was small, but my mother’s belly was enormous.
Her first tears were of surprise, when she saw the double life that appeared before her eyes. Unlike our physical features, these two lives had more similarities than differences over the course of our more than 40 years of history together. We were friends and rivals in the positive sense of the word, as often occurs between brothers.
We enjoyed literature. He read Neruda when he was in love, and I read Cesar Vallejo when I felt sad. I borrowed the Chilean poet’s verses from him when it was my turn to fall in love, and he bowed his head, declaiming “There are blows in life, so harsh… I don’t know!” [first line of a famous poem by Cesar Vallejo] when his spirits fell.
Poetry was always part of our brotherhood. We’d write verses on yellow paper, sitting on the roof of our house, until the day when I interrupted this process and decided to become a journalist. I turned my hand to prose, while he was already forming his first literary group. He called it “Children of Mombacho”, for the volcano that could be seen from Nandaime, my mother’s birthplace, located 67 kilometers from Managua.
Something curious occurred with another aspect of our lives. After being dressed alike as children, later a desire grew in us to be different, until each one had forged his own identity.
In elementary school, I was the disciplined one, for example, and in high school I continued as such until I became one of the best students at Loyola, the Jesuit school. I liked to wear long, loose shirts, because that was my way of being different, even though the rest of my world revolved around academic goals.
Although Emilio had his own challenges, he always dressed elegantly, to the point that it didn’t surprise anyone when he became a lawyer. Those who loved him had already been prefacing their greetings with the sonorous title of “Doctor”.
When we entered the university, I wanted to be a rebel, while he became through dedication one of the best attorneys I’ve even known. With affection and irony, I began calling him “Luzon Peña”, because he was able to recite whole passages of that author’s Criminal Law book and analyze it brilliantly. With that same persistence, he studied Administrative Law and Criminal Processing. He became a law professor, and was also one of the best.
In contrast, once in the university I challenged my memory by recalling telephone numbers and quotes from beloved books, while accumulating knowledge of whatever I could in the task I imposed on myself of describing reality, which is how I see the work of journalism. I still recall the phone number – 2331125 – of the yellow rotary phone at our home in Las Mercedes, Managua, the paradise of our childhood. I later memorized phone numbers from other sources, and I continued feeding my memory with these until the national phone system increased the number of digits and I lost the ability.
Over time, despite our efforts to try and be different, we began to resemble each other more and more. Gestures. Details. I began to dress more formally, not his preferred suits and ties, but at least we weren’t poles apart. At forty, we already liked the music of our parents, and we faced the world as Cabistan’s, down to the marrow: inventive, crazy, poets; and in the case of women, strong and shining.
I recall these details on this September 8, 2021, still surprised by news of my twin’s death. I share them for whoever may find it of interest, and especially for his son Isaac – who lost his father so early in life – to read in the future.
Up until now, the most sorrowful years for the family had been 1990 and 1991. That latter year we had to recover the mangled corpse of my uncle “Flaco” (skinny), after an accident. It had been barely two months since the death of my grandfather. Uncle “Flaco” was Manuel Salvador Cabistan Bonilla, the closest twin in my immediate family. His brother, Manuel de Jesus, had died of meningitis as a small child. “Flaco” was 36 when he died.
The death of my grandfather Eduardo, followed by that of the last of her twins were hard blows for my Grandmother Tere. Her husband’s wake fell on December 7th [Nicaraguan holiday celebrating Maria’s conception]. In the house, we sang to the Virgin Mary. The coffin on one side, the virgin on the other, and in the middle, our religious faith.
Since 2020, amid the national tragedy caused by the pandemic, my mother and her siblings have received more blows. We lost Esther and Eduardo, our oldest aunt and uncle; my Aunt China, the nurse, two months ago; and now my twin. I was left speechless when I heard the news, but I have some words I want to say to Isaac, amid the grief: “Your father, my son, was a great human being and attorney.”
When I’m able to return to Nicaragua, I’ll visit his grave, and I’ll tell Emilio – accompanying my words with flowers – how much I miss him.