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SOUL Survivor
Gary Smith
December 02, 2002
For almost two years Washington State receiver Devard Darling has been haunted by the need to find the spirit of his deceased identical twin, lifelong teammate and best friend, Devaughn.
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December 02, 2002

Soul Survivor

For almost two years Washington State receiver Devard Darling has been haunted by the need to find the spirit of his deceased identical twin, lifelong teammate and best friend, Devaughn.

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Somewhere in the clang of manacle and chains and the stench of a slave ship's lower deck, such understanding began to be lost. And so one day in the second month of 2001, as Devaughn Darling lay dying in front of his twin at the end of an off-season football conditioning workout at Florida State, Devard had to begin his search on his own, without figurines or ceremonies to see him through the trauma. On his own, amid a tribe whose principal ritual occurred in stadiums thronged with thousands of people worshiping strength and speed, youth and vitality. God only knew how he'd find his missing half-soul, how he'd keep his brother's memory alive, but it would have to be with a football.

Of course, he had a loving family trying to console him. Of course, he had sympathetic friends and teammates from Austin-Fort Bend High School, just outside Houston—where the twins had become blue-chip prospects sought by large universities across the land—and new friends at Florida State, where the Darlings had displayed their promise as freshmen: Devard, the 6'3" wide receiver with 4.3 speed; Devaughn, the 225-pound linebacker who devoured quarterbacks. But all who knew the twins knew it was impossible to know the depth of Devard's loss; their attempts at empathy felt futile. This was one mind in two bodies, says their aunt Yvonne Moncur. A chemistry like you've never seen between two human beings, says their high school teammate Nick Nichols. For God's sake, marvels their cousin Frank Rutherford, they even had to take leaks at the same time. They were harmonized, synchronized, two hearts that beat as—

Wait a minute. If one heart had failed under the glare and bark of a football coach, couldn't—wouldn't—the identical one fail as well? How could Florida State risk it? Sorry, son. Take off your helmet. No more football, Devard.

Find your half-soul some other way.

******

This is a ghost story. The ghost isn't Devaughn, the dead twin. It's Devard. Sometimes it's the living who haunt. Have you ever loved someone enough to do that?

The place where they began: Maybe that's where Devard's spirit would find what had been ripped from it. A few months after his brother's death he flew to the Bahamas, where they had lived their first dozen years. He went to their old home in Nassau. He stood in front of the two-story house with the big backyard and the plum tree that their godfather had planted—the wise sapling that forked into two trunks, one for each twin to perch on—and stared, watching their past unfold. It wobbled and blurred through his tears, but he could still make it out.

It's a Sunday, and they're so damn happy to have each other all day, because it's the year of that failed experiment, in which grown-ups tried to pull them apart. The year school administrators placed them in separate second-grade classes to help them become individuals—miserable individuals—and their mother, trying to heed the experts' warnings about blurred identity, attempted to dress them differently. No, Mummy, they protested, with that lovely Bahamian lilt that turned the phrase into a question. We want to keep dressing the same, Mummy, so just buy two of everything and put it in the same drawer. Can't we be in the same class again, please, Mummy?

The school would surrender at the end of second grade. Mummy? She lasted only a day or two, melted by those four sad brown eyes, so they're back in matching outfits, right down to their football undies. It's a force larger than her, has been from that moment on the delivery table when Devard came forth and the obstetrician's eyes popped: What's that wrapped around the newborn's ankle? A...hand? Yes, a hand—here comes another one! One heartbeat, the dumbstruck doc kept saying. That's all he'd ever heard.

Thank goodness cousin Enith Darling spotted that tiny birthmark on the bridge of Devaughn's nose and concocted the ditty that the extended family would repeat to tell the two apart—Vaughnie's got a mole/And Vardie's got a cold—because even the twins can't look at photographs and tell themselves apart. Truth is, it doesn't much matter. Each answers to both names, no worries. Same pals, same birthday cake, same sick days, same toy bank to stash their allowance, same adorable hip shimmy when the reggae starts. Same glow on their faces and on those of everyone who meets them—so why pry them apart?

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