I have done most of my post-doctorate work alongside Dean Eroslide as he ran Harry Loaine School for Boys. It was a tiny little establishment, set up in a series of pathways and cottages that made up the dormitories and the 'holistic' and 'traditional', designed to accommodate Dean Eroslide's philosophy of natural living: 'clean and untouched life energy regulates all chakras and promotes a positive educational environment'. Needless to say, Harry Loaine School for Boys was a parent's last resort, when everything from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Interventions and to Involuntary Hospitalization was never enough. The Dean had no degree of any sort other than a few licenses for Chakra healing and Reiki, so the entirety of the upkeep of the facility remained on the shoulders of these desperate parents--and of course the government kickbacks the School received for keeping me as a full time Child Psychologist and my colleague Dr. Harriet Lones-Swain as the Psychiatrist. Drugs weren't cheap, and there was no way the family's insurance would cover the stay and the drugs at the same time. The three of us wandered in and out the cottages, checking on the boys to ensure they weren't harming themselves or others, Dean Eroslide would wave his expensive looking medallion to check the Energy levels in the room and Dr. Lones-Swain hurried after the rowdy adolescents to check blood pressure and scribble things on on her notepad to hand back to me.
'I have referred Randy to your office to discuss his feedback on Lithium' they usually stated, or 'Michael will be in your office for Light Therapy tomorrow at 0600.' The notes were always business, hastily scribbled as she had to wade through the sea of young men to check their vitals and avoid standing around for too long lest she enjoy curious little hands and eyes. "Detoxification of the mind," Dean Eroslide would always explain when Dr. Lones-Swain complained about the lack of security. "A never ending cycle, Ms. Swain. We all desired to be loved, have food, and enjoy the female body. It's a cleansing, to remove all the impure thoughts and accept it. Unfortunately this release of energy comes out in the physical." and he would put his large hand on her pointed shoulder and grin a curved little line that perfectly blended passive-aggressive and pacifistic. Dr. Lones-Swain and I often had a laugh wondering how we should properly diagnose our employer. Needless to say, Harry Loaine School for Boys could be properly separated into three categories: The Boss, The Shrinks, and The Populi. Little did all three of us know that we were soon incoming a fourth and very special group.
Dean Eroslide told Dr. Lones-Swain and myself to meet him outside the School gates to greet a new family, general regulation for us to show that we were welcoming and accepting to the incoming students. However, it was quite different than other greetings, as we were forced to wake up an hour before sunrise to catch the incoming taxicab.
"Russians! Born and raised in the city of Tomsk! Not only are we having our first generation of distance education students, we will be able to transmit our innovative education community across all cultures." Dean Eroslide shouted as he shuffled across the cobblestones in his satin slippers and the robe he must have had imported from somewhere. Dr. Lones-Swain remained by my side, scribbling notes down and aligning her paper to prepare for the incoming students.
Driving up the curved pathway came a cheap looking airport van, puttering out billows of exhaust from its backside, or was it just the result of the driver's cigarette smoke? I went to greet the family with the Dean, my colleague staying back to take notes. "The Simonovs," Dean Eroslide introduced, shaking the hand of pudgy Peter Simonov and kissing the rosy cheeks of Irina Simonova. They smiled tired smiles and passed greetings and chatted to each other about how it was a pleasure to meet and they hoped that this would be the final solution to helping save their two boys. It was only when the plump Mister Simonov stepped to the side to gaze upon the cottages did I get a look at the School's new students. "Doctor, meet Victor and Vitaly Simonov," Dean Eroslide called out before he led the parents off for a nice dewy morning tour.
The boys were small, I remember vividly. Possibly born premature as their limbs were long and spindly but their heads were small and they were still so short they were confined to car seats. They looked up at me, with their wide brown eyes that gave me the chills, I was startled out of my trance when Dr. Lones-Swain tapped me on the shoulder and suggested that the children probably hardly knew any English.
"Ah...uhm, privyet," I stuttered out, no formal training in Russian but I did watch a lot of old anti-Communist propaganda in my youth.
They watched my lips together, and I noticed their small hands holding each other by the wrists as they sat together in the backseat. I smiled, the poor children were probably very frightened to be here. Might as well take them out of the foul smelling rental vehicle.
"I'll unstrap them, you get their boots and bags," Dr. Lones-Swain interrupted, and immediately the boys' large ocular orbs shifted to her. Deafness, I assumed, it explained the silence. I circled around back to grab the bags, one large suitcase that flopped to my feet. Dr. Lones-Swain was unstrapping the boys from their car seats and watching as their hands never parted. I heard my colleague 'aww' and coo at the pair as they struggled to put on their heavy boots with one hand, and I had to admit that it was pretty funny. We helped them together, and when they were properly dressed they got up and stepped out of the van together. Their knees knocked together and they peeked about curiously like newborn deer. Their round faces turned and darted to observe all the scenery as Dr. Lones-Swain led them up the cobblestone pathway, her hand in one of the twin's shaking one. I knew we'd probably have to give the two boys name tags once they were properly settled.
The four of us met up with Dean Eroslide and the Simonov parents and they told us about the twins. "Very over-attached. They never go anywhere without the other, not even to the restroom. They even slept in the same bed together and kept their hands clenched onto the wrists. "As far back as we can remember," Mister Simonov explained. "Always together, but never speaking. We have started to use hand manual gestures to see what they want. They have not been to school because they cannot be separated."
"Have you tried pulling them apart? Not encouraging the behavior?" I asked simply, sitting next to my colleague as she wrote everything down.
"So much, we even went as far as to physically pull them apart. They screamed and kicked and even bit Irina on her wrist. Vitaly even ended up going to the bathroom all over himself." Mister Simonov pleaded to the Dean. I watched the Dean, he nodded and twirled his pen through his fingers as they pleaded with him to help.
"We heard your School was perfect for the troubled, our boys may be ill. No price is too much," Mrs. Simonova pleaded, her large hands pressed together as if in prayer. I looked at her tired face, her dropped shoulders and her raccoon eyes. What a poor woman. Could the poor boys really be such a trouble?
"Twins are naturally bonded in such a way. It's been proven in many studies," Dr. Lones-Swain interrupted, snapping the Dean out of his trance and causing him to sigh loudly. "But Ms. Swain, wouldn't you think that it is a little unhealthy to encourage a behavior?" he then set his pen down. "Mr and Mrs Simonov, we will help your peculiar twins. And they will be back to enjoying the brisk Siberian winters once more! Completely separated."
I watched the twins the entire conversation, they held onto each other and stood close to the door, exchanging glances and occasionally giving each other a brush against the shoulder. It made me smile, surely it was just a phase. It wasn't hurting them that much, they looked very healthy, and even though they just gazed about the room...I assumed they were very happy. Dr Lones-Swain and I exchanged glances as the Dean called the boys peculiar, and she went as far as to get up from her seat and go to the boys. "I will go with Doctor Williams to give the boys their examinations. Do you wish to tell them goodbye?" she asked politely.
The parents exchanged glances, hesitant on their answer. And, probably out of sheer respect and parental obligation, they got up to see the twins. Mr. Simonov gave the boys a pat on the head and Mrs. Simonova tried to kiss her sons on the face but they shied away, cringing and pulling away from her and pulling closer to each other until their arms were wrapped around each other in embrace. They watched in fear as their parents hovered around them.
I was immediately nudged by Dr. Lones-Swain who showed me her pad of paper, the infamous M.D. scribbling double underlined read 'ABUSE' and a made a sort of sigh and tilt of my head in agreement. Poor children probably only had to depend on each other. The parents shook my hand and said their goodbyes as they were escorted out of the office and we took the twins to the Infirmary to get their physicals done. Dr. Lones-Swain and I agreed that it was best that the boys do their physicals together. We made no move to try to pull their hands from each other. Their vitals were healthy, they were at a low body weight and a few inches too short for their height, but that was nothing more than what a regular diet could solve. The twins watched us with intensity as I wrote down the stats that Dr. Lones-Swain read out to me. And as fast as they were escorted in the room they were escorted out and taken to the room they would enjoy during their stay at Harry Loaine School for Boys.
The cottages were just small houses, and within those houses were rooms, rooms boys would share and were regularly checked. Cottages were organized based on age, behavior and the severity of their disease. A highly specialized organizational technique that I developed--despite the Dean complaining that I was "disrupting the natural harmony of a cleansed life spirit". But it kept the children from fighting or bullying each other. The Simonov twins would be placed in Cottage L304-C, a cottage closest to the main building and housing children from ages 8-11. These boys were no threat to each other, so they were placed with the children with mild cases of autism and the selective mutes. We moved a child out to give the boys their own room, and they did not object when they were informed to take the top bunk of the bunk beds. We watched in awe as they climbed the ladder with their hands still together, and they smiled down at us once they were on the soft bed. My colleague unpacked their clothes to put in the wardrobe and I told them about all the fun things they could do: swim, play in the park, go to the gymnasium, or enjoy one of Dean Eroslide's holistic cleansing rituals on the lakeshore, which involved yoga and deep, diaphragmatic breathing. They exchanged glances at each other and then back at the two of us. We asked their roommate to show them around the School and take them to meal time, but do not ever, ever take them apart.
Due to extenuating circumstances (a young teenager bashing his head into the wall and declaring that the School's mascot Hari Gold the Marigold was the Messiah and he was destined sacrifice his blood as an offering) I was unable to see the Simonov twins until a week into their stay. I spoke to the Dean who reported that they had often come to the lake to swim, but even in swimming they never parted. "A troubling sight, watching as they flopped and nearly killed each other. Their desperation and dependence on each other is...really disturbing." he told me. I made a note on my pad as I watched them play together, taking turns building a castle of blocks.
"Can you tell me which one is Victor...and which one is Vitaly?" I asked curiously, and I ended up laughing as they innocently pointed to each other. It was uncanny how similar they were. Reflections, really, doppelgängers or a soul bound to its human host. They moved flawlessly, excelling in all aspects of life including eating and putting on their clothes (if they needed to change their shirts they simply exchanged hands) and failing only in parts of life that I assumed was due to cultural differences (I did not believe that the boys had learned to swim or knew how to practice the Dean's spiritual grounding techniques). After some talking and juggling of my words I figured out the one on the left was Vitaly and the one on the right was Victor. I politely asked if I could give them name tags and they agreed, so I taped pieces of white paper to their shirts.
From then on, I spent days trying to understand their silence. Dr. Lones-Swain said she could not detect any form of deafness and they could understand and read, at a very high level at that. We did not try to pull them apart but we asked the boys to close their eyes and try to pretend as if their sibling was being pulled away from them; they screamed and pulled each other close, shaking in fear. The terror in their eyes, like a rabbit hiding from a hawk, pained me. And the Dean's insistence on getting rid of this little dilemma was not helping.
"Vitaly, Victor," I began, finally able to identify them after a year of study. Vitaly always held his brother's wrist underhanded, his arm twisted and he had a small chip on his front right tooth. Victor could never sit still in haircuts and always had an uneven set of bangs. "I would like you to open your hands. You can still touch your brother, I would just like you to loosen your grip. Touch each other with your palm, like this." I demonstrated with my colleague. They looked, frightened, but I hoped that I had earned their trust enough that they would agree. The boys exchanged silent glances, their big eyes giving me the answer I had expected, but surprisingly I watched as Vitaly timidly loosened the grip on his brother. They kept their eyes locked and unblinking--his brother slowly followed suit until they kept the tips of their fingers on each other's open wrists. I looked at Dr. Lones-Swain, who smiled at me and praised at how good they were doing. They did not smile, and they did not move, they kept their hands and eyes locked. I thanked them for a good job and told them that they could go back to normal. They relaxed, and the boys grasped each other and hugged.
I got along with them well, they were bright boys with large smiles. They would drag me outside so they could point at al the flowers in the garden, or they would sit in my office when I wasn't with a client and play games together. They clung to me whenever they met the Dean, who eyed them and their physical bond. Some of the other boys started to notice this peculiar pair and thus began to call the boys 'The Siamese'. I made sure to keep a special eye on Cottage L304-C, just in case some of the rowdier boys tried to bother them.
"The other boys are starting to think we are promoting some form of Siberian incest!" Dean Eroslide shouted when we went to go report to him the progress. He was wide eyed and stressed, his normally flat hair was greasy and sticking out. Dr. Lones-Swain crinkled her nose. "I am sorry to say, Dean, but teenage boys say stuff like that," I tried to reason, but he slammed his fist down. "I need you to figure this out and get rid of this problem! I won't have people spreading rumors!" And he pushed out of his seat and wafted the smoke from his incense into his face. "Please, take all your resources."
We had to send a letter to Tomsk to inform the Simonovs that we wished to sedate their sons, for which they quickly agreed and mailed back the paperwork. The boys were taken to the nearby hospital. Dr. Lones-Swain and I remained by the boys sides as they were placed on a local anesthetic and slowly drifted off to sleep. The nurses kept their eyes on the heart monitors and blood pressure machines as the two of us went through the process of parting their hands. Their knuckles were white from the tight grips they held so we did our best to pry their fingers away. We gave the signal to the nurses once the fingers were lifted, to pull the beds apart, and we looked upon bruised wrists.
"Such horrible desperation. But they must love each other very much...what is this?" the nurse called out as she felt the alerting beeps from the heart rate monitor. The boys were free from each other, and with that came an elevated blood pressure, their heart rate was skyrocketing and there was an incredible paleness that washed over their faces. The anesthesiologist checked their airways and reduced the anesthetic. "No luck?" I called out, leaning down to check the boy's heart, it was throbbing, pounding so hard he felt as if it was going to pop out of his chest.
"Put them back together," I heard my colleague say, and while I was hesitant I moved out of the way and positioned the Simonov boy's arm in place so the nurses could push the beds back together. And, like a venus flytrap would close around an insect, their fingers closed around each other's wrists and we watched, in silent fear, to see if it alleviated them of the symptoms. And sure enough, after ten minutes the boys were back to their stable heart rate patterns, perfectly in sync with each other. We left the boys in the hospital to recuperate as we went back to the School to discuss this finding with the Dean.
"So you're saying that these boys use each other?" Dean Eroslide said, dumbfounded.
"Doctors all over the world promote biofeedback," Dr. Lones-Swain explained. "It helps a person understand their own physiological well being and become aware of their body in order to keep it regulated. These boys have a serious heart condition that belongs in a hospital and not a boys home. They are simply using each other for this biofeedback. Many twins report being able to sense their twin's biological change, they probably use each other to keep their heartbeat stable..."
But we knew we lost the Dean when we mentioned they would have to go to a hospital. He turned his back to us and swirled his finger over the top of his desk. "These boys just require more healing, cleansing of the body," he began. "SOme detoxification, acupuncture. They must be suffering from toxins building up in the digits; spiritual gout."
"Sir, I would like for them to stay in th--"
"Let them stay in the hospital while we notify the Simonovs of their boys' condition. I will inform them." the Dean interrupted. I was surprised, for someone who believed in pure, spiritual cleansing he was very accepting of the boys being subjected to experimental drug testing and research. Nevertheless, we left and let the Dean notify the family.
Now, I cannot be so sure starting from the date of this publication, how exactly this occurred, but it was three months later when we received word about the Simonov twins and their return to Harry Loaine School for Boys. The Dean was telling me that the hospital stay had gone well and they were returning for rehabilitation and cleansing. Needless to say, Dr. Lones-Swain and I were horrified when we came across the two boys walking up the cobblestone path missing all of their hands. They walked, swaying and shivering in fatigue and illness, their arms stopped at the wrists and bandaged up. The Dean escorted them up the path and through the gates. I asked her to take the boys and I confronted Dean Eroslide.
"What is this, some joke?" I shouted a little louder than I expected, as it caused the Dean to flinch and the boys to look back.
"The boys were suffering from paralysis in their hands, injection, toxins poisoning their body and trying to escape. It was only the right thing I could possibly do for the boys. And now that they are free from poison...the proper healing can be done." I was disgusted, and told him that by obligation I would be telling the government of both the United States and of Russia about this injustice. And even though he did not look concerned, I knew that nobody would let this school remain open once they found out about this.
I found Dr. Lones-Swain with Victor and Vitaly in her office. She took their temperature and blood pressure. I knocked on the doorframe and she looked at me with sadness in her eyes. The boys looked at me, and then at each other. "I will be right back," she whispered quietly, and they gave a compliance nod and wrapped their hand-less arms around each other in comfort.
"There's no possible way this is legal. They are not well. Without proper personal biofeedback how are they supposed to take care of themselves?" my colleague whispered to me as we stood outside her office. I could not respond to her, I did not know how to respond. I just told her that I was going to call the authorities and social services.
That was the last day of my employment at Harry Loaine School for Boys. I left my letter of resignation and packed all of my clothes so I could return back to the city. I hadn't told the Simonov twins goodbye even though that evening I did call Dr. Lones-Swain to request she tell the boys goodbye. Whether or not she took care of that favor I do not know.
PS. Seven years after the date of this publication I received a call from Dr. Lones-Swain for the first time since the day I left. She told me that it wasn't until recently did the Harry Loaine School for Boys shut down due to numerous government violations and allegations of abuse and molestation. Dean Eroslide was arrested on these allegations and charges are still pending. When I asked about the Simonov twins she told me that the boys had suffered multiple panic attacks and serious heart palpitations. The "doctor" that Dean Eroslide hired to do the surgery had lost his license many years before the incident and was currently in jail for an unrelated malpractice suit. When I asked her about Victor and Vitaly's biofeedback training she informed me that the boys died from infection from the amputation one year ago. She herself was writing up her report on the case study with these boys and she needed my permission to mention my name. When I asked her if she ever told the boys I said goodbye, she simply responded: "I never told them you left. It would've hurt them as much as losing each other." I have had no contact with the Simonovs but Dr. Lones-Swain says that they have moved to Moscow. She has kept the boys' ashes, as their bodies were left unclaimed and were going to be buried by inmates. She had the boys cremated. "Only one urn. It just feels right."