I was standing by a stairwell in which ever high school happened to be hosting that specific debate tournament. My boyfriend was close. His suit was slick and cold against my skin; while his hand, holding mine, was a supple inferno. (Why did he always have to be so enchantingly warm?) He smelled like a wood burning stove when the cast iron is cold and the embers are almost dead; with a hint of stale cigarettes, and outdoors on a foggy morning, and an old musty house…

We stood side by side peering over the railing, as he heatedly recounted some ludicrous argument the other team had made, which he (naturally) demolished in three neatly outlined sub points to his original argument (complete with evidence quoted in Newsweek by the leading expert). I wasn’t really listening. I never listened. I was too distracted by the cool suit and intoxicating scent and exquisite hands and galvanic eyes of the boy I loved. I don’t know what pulled me out of the trance long enough to notice her.

Was it the ears jutting out of her bland dishwater bob? Was it her limp hair dangling about her shoulders? Was it her thin frame clumsily adorned with the ill-fitting suit? Was it the flatness of her profile, or the way her eyes squinted, or the button tip inexplicably adorning her sharp nose? Maybe it was her knobby knees, or skinny wrists. Maybe it was her chicken legs or unfashionable shoes. Maybe it was just that she was extraordinarily plain.

Did she know how awkward she was? Or how funny she looked? Did boys like her? Did girls tell her she was pretty?

She captivated me. I was utterly and irrationally fixated on her.

“Why are you staring at her?” my boyfriend interrupted. I had been caught.

“She just looks weird to me,” I answer.

“How do you mean?” he asks, after pausing to examine her for himself.

“She is kind of … ugly, don’t you think?” I reply.

He just shrugs as we turn and walk back to the cafeteria.

As we approach the tables commandeered by our school, our debate coach bounds up to me and excitedly says, “Tanya, we just found your twin!”

I blinked at him. I have a twin. She was also in debate. She was sitting at the adjacent table.

“No really. This girl and Cindy (my actual twin) must have been switched at birth! It is unreal. She is a shorter version of you!” he exclaims.

I raise a confused eyebrow.

“Look!” he points, “There she is!”

My stomach lurched. My breath caught. Tears spilled from my eyes.

(You saw this coming didn’t you…)

It was the girl I had just called ugly.  

They were telling me that the girl I thought was ugly could be my twin.

I looked at my boyfriend, and predicting my question, he shook his head no. (But not in a no-you-don’t-look-at-all-like-the-girl-you-said-was-ugly way. It was a don’t-lose-your-mind-in-front-of-hundreds-of-high-school-kids-because-it-will-come-back-to-haunt-you-even-more-than-this-ugly-thing way.)

I asked my debate coach if he overheard my conversation and was trying to teach me a lesson.

It was his turn to raise that confused eyebrow as he walked away, having no clue what I was talking about.

I sat in the cafeteria and studied her during the time before our next round.

Everything I had thought was ugly on her, from head to toe, really was one of my defining characteristics.  Her beauty lay in the places we differed. The color of her eyes. Her graceful mannerisms. Her soft nature. Her dulcet voice.  (I sound like a pubescent boy on helium…)

I had to debate against her during the final rounds of that tournament.

I lost.