When I was in elementary school I knew a pair of twins, Sarah and Norah. Looking back, I’ve tried to figure out which one was good and which one was bad; which one would go on to have success and which one would become a drug addict living in a cardboard house under a bridge. I never figured it out.
They were both quiet girls; maybe one was quieter than the other. When you saw one, you wondered where the other one was, as if they came as a package deal. They never seemed upset when people couldn’t tell them apart. Then again, we were in the fourth grade and it was a novelty to us-and probably to them as well-to be around twins. I wonder what they would have been like in high school, if they would have rebelled not only against their parents but against each other.
In her memoir Her, Christa Parravani writes about her twin sister Cara who overdosed and died at the age of 28. Cara had been spiraling into hell after being brutally raped while on a walk in the woods with her dog. Even before the rape, Cara seemed the more fragile of the twins, the more outspoken twin, the more dramatic sister. Both girls grew up with a single mother who drifted in and out of abusive relationships.
Cara and Christa earned scholarships to prestigious colleges. The twins burned bright intellectually, always reading and furthering their education. Cara wanted to be a writer. Her stories are woven throughout the memoir. Christa wanted to be a photographer. I tracked down some of her photographs on line. The pictures tell their own stories, many of them portraits of Cara and herself. I can’t tell them apart. They’re beautiful women but there’s something going on in their eyes, defeat, exhaustion. Both of them looked utterly haunted. Both were pursuing their passions in the arts and in everyday life.
I became envious of Cara’s drive to become a writer. From the age of 13 I knew I wanted to be a writer. Well, I wanted to be the lead guitar player for Def Leppard. I didn’t know I really wanted to write until my eighth grade teacher, Mr. Fenbert , had me write a few stories for him. Somewhere in my 20s I realized I didn’t have the drive or the passion to be a writer. Sure, I’d churn out ten pages of meandering thoughts and then end up writing a journal entry that went like this:
So….found out how lazy I really am. The TV channel got stuck on C-SPAN and it was too much work to get up and cross the room to turn the channel.
Reading bits of Cara’s writing I could tell she would have gone places with her writing. Her love of it, of putting words onto paper, lit her up bright bright burning bright.
The twins mirrored each other in everyday life. They both married young and had rocky marriages. After the rape, Cara told Christa that her life before the attack meant nothing. All she was was a cold day in the woods, the frozen earth beneath her back, a beaten face turned towards the sky.
Her: A Memoir isn’t just about Cara’s death. It’s about what happens to Christa and who she is without her twin:
This is what she learned: there is one road of control and two choices: take control and kill the body, or live and struggle; ramble in conversations, stop mid-sentence, hide in bathroom stalls and cry. Cut your hair and dye it; waste yourself.
Christa nearly gives in and follows her sister into death and has some close calls. Her mind betrays her and she sinks into a deep depression. To blunt any emotions, Christa depends on drugs and alcohol, her actions mirroring her dead twin’s. There’s a point in the book where Christa is drinking and taking pill after pill and I was trying to do the math in my head: if she took 18 Xanax and drank half a bottle of vodka, how long will it take her to pass out and slip to the other side? I panic when I take 3 ibuprofen. I need to get to a safe place. Math is hard.
I used to think that having a twin would be a life saver. There would be someone who knew exactly what I was feeling and thinking. I could lean on her and without having to say a word, she would know how to comfort me. She would know how to keep me alive. She would know how to get me through anything. But then I started really thinking about it. Another me? A me with all these nonsensical problems? Another me who, when bored, has the mentality of a 5 year old? Another me prone to outbursts of bleak moodiness?
Oh hell no.
Life’s hard enough when you’re busy getting through the day to day part of it. Throw in the loss of a sibling and getting through each day becomes a monumental task. Along the way there’s boredom and anxiety. There’s tragedy and disbelief at how truly evil humans can be. There’s helplessness. There’s hopelessness. There’s survival. Christa Parravani’s Her is a testament to not only surviving tragedy but coming out the other side…maybe a little roughed up and scarred, but alive and fighting.