Separated at Birth in Mexico, Reunited at Campuses on Long Island
As soon as Tamara Rabi arrived at Hofstra University, she noticed the bizarre behavior. People she had never laid eyes on would smile, wave and greet her as an intimate. Then, met by Tamara’s blank stare, they would walk away. A few friends claimed to have spotted someone who looked just like her. Someone else from Mexico, she figured.
So when a friend of a friend showed up at her 20th birthday party and could not stop gawking, insisting that Tamara looked just like his friend Adriana Scott, it was mildly annoying but not a surprise. As the other guests dug into ice cream cake, the friend’s friend persisted. Adriana had also been born in Mexico, he said. Like Tamara, she was also adopted. And the two young women shared a birthday.
Thus began the real-life unfolding of a fairy-tale story line, a paradigm that has inspired psychological studies (nature vs. nurture), movies (”The Parent Trap”) and at least one sitcom (”Sister, Sister”).
Adriana, raised Roman Catholic in a house with a white picket fence in Valley Stream, on Long Island, and Tamara, raised Jewish in an apartment near the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, are twins. Because of problems in the adoption process, they were separated at birth.
For the twins and the women who adopted them as infants, the discovery has been a wondrous but complicated gift. The twins’ adoptive fathers both died of cancer, one of several uncanny parallels. Neither knew she had a twin sister, and Tamara’s adoptive mother, Judy Rabi, also did not know. Adriana’s adoptive mother, Diane Scott, knew, but did not know how to find her daughter’s twin.
With the help of the insistent party guest, Justin Latorre, Tamara and Adriana had their first contact — electronically — a few evenings after the birthday celebration.
The two exchanged instant messages on their computers: Tamara flanked by friends in her dorm room at Hofstra, Adriana with her mother at home. They learned that both were 5-foot-3 3/4, ”and it makes the difference,” and that Tamara loves Chinese food, and Adriana doesn’t.
Mrs. Scott had long feared the moment she would have to tell her daughter the secret. Would Adriana understand how difficult it had been for her and her husband, Peter, to return to New York from Guadalajara with one twin and not the other, a heartbreak brought on by roadblocks in the adoption process? Would she understand that her parents had kept secret the knowledge that she was a twin to spare her, at least for a while, a frustrating search for her sister?
That evening, Mrs. Scott had a more immediate question: Was this Tamara from Hofstra really the one? She had at least one clue, the belief that the other baby had been adopted either by a rabbi or by a family named Rabi. So, her eyes fixed on the computer screen, she told Adriana to ask Tamara’s last name.
”Rabi,” came the reply.
”When I saw it coming up on the Internet, that last name, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is it,’ ” Mrs. Scott said.
For Tamara, confirmation came when Adriana sent a picture of herself by e-mail. Had it not been for the teeth straightened by braces and the absence of a birthmark near the right eyebrow, it could have been a snapshot of Tamara herself.
”The picture came up and our jaws dropped,” said Christie Lothrop, 19, one of Tamara’s suitemates. ”We didn’t know what to do.”
The twins agreed to meet the following Sunday in a McDonald’s parking lot near Hofstra, a world away from the Guadalajara hospital where they had last been together. Tamara brought two friends; Adriana, a junior at nearby Adelphi University, brought one.
On the way, each twin panicked and suggested turning around. The friends would not have it. Identical twins separated at birth find one another on Long Island and then chicken out of their reunion? Forget about it.
Soon they were face to face, sisters who had grown up as only children. ”I’m just standing there looking at her,” Adriana recalled. ”It was a shock. I saw me.”
The group went somewhere else for lunch, where the twins sat side by side nibbling at chicken fajitas as their friends ogled at the similarities in their expressions, their gestures and how both rested for a few minutes midmeal, then resumed eating.
Later that day, at the Scotts’ house, Tamara had trouble tearing her eyes away from what appeared to be her alternative past. There she was, captured on videotape, in a commercial for toilet paper. There she was, in a white frilly dress, for communion at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. When Tamara finished a sentence with, ”and, dah dah dah dah dah,” Mrs. Scott burst out laughing. It sounded so familiar.
Still giddy, the twins and their friends drove into Manhattan to meet Tamara’s mother, who had been skeptical about the whole story. That ended when her daughter walked in with a look-alike clutching childhood photos. ”It was just incredible,” Ms. Rabi said. ”You just blink your eyes and say, ‘This can’t be real.’ ” She ran to get her neighbor, who bore witness to the fact that it was.
The following weeks were a whirl of breathless e-mail, eye-popping surprises and constant retellings to anyone who would listen, which meant everyone. The twins paraded each other through their respective campuses, and to their part-time jobs. A Hofstra student interviewed Tamara for a class assignment, and a senior communications major asked to do his final project on the twins.
Tamara, who shares a name with a character on ”Sister, Sister,” had for years been asked from time to time, ”Hey, Tamara, where’s your twin?” Now she had an answer, although DNA testing has not yet been done.
But the twins and their mothers have also experienced other emotions, subtleties that those on the listening end of their story could not be expected to quite understand. What, after all, is the ”right” reaction when you are an only child who suddenly has a twin sister with your voice, your olive skin and even a pair of silver hoop earrings similar to yours? And as a widowed mother, how do you feel watching your only child bond with a sibling?
From the start, Adriana said that finding a twin was a dream come true. In the weeks after their first meeting, she called Tamara often and invited her to parties, or announced that she was near Hofstra, and did Tamara want her to stop by. She placed a picture of both of them in a silver frame decorated with the word ”sisters” that she had bought for a photograph of her sorority. She gave Tamara an identical frame.
For Tamara, though, life was more complicated. Her adoptive father, Yitzhak, had just died on Nov. 11, about three weeks before the big reunion. Finding Adriana was a joyous distraction. ”We were feeling so bad, and then that happened, it kind of took us to a different place,” her mother said. But the grief was still raw, and the convergence of the two life-altering twists was overwhelming.
Tamara did not always return her sister’s calls, and she declined more invitations than she accepted. ”It was hard to find out how to have a sister in your life when you’ve never had a sibling,” she said. ”We’re not as close as people feel we should be.”
Slowly, hesitantly, and sometimes still giddily, they are getting there, settling into their strange, unexpected sisterhood.
They have discovered that as children, they occasionally had the same haunting nightmare in which a loud sound fades into softness and then gets loud again, and that they both love dancing and started lessons when they were young.
When Adriana told Tamara about an audition for Entertainment Tonite, a D.J. company looking for dancers to help energize parties, they decided to go together. At the audition Wednesday night, the twins danced side by side, their ponytails swinging in sync as they followed the choreographer, Dayton A. Mealing.
Afterward, they told him their story. ”I would have freaked,” he proclaimed. ”Awesome.” And when it comes to dancing, ”they’re both awesome.”
The twins were hired, said Mili Makhijani, 22, of Entertainment Tonite. Dancers are usually told to spread out and do different moves, Ms. Makhijani said. Not Adriana and Tamara. ”These are the two,” she said, ”that are never going to separate.”