Let’s Try Swapping Crappy Lives or 3:59

359I was bored one day and I tend to get into trouble when I’m bored (because I morph into a 5-year-old and pull all the pots and pans out of the cupboards for a homemade drum kit) and decided to do research for a blog post I was writing on a book about twin sisters. And I discovered something. They should rename Google Crack Cocaine because that’s what it is. I’m never capable of looking up one thing on Google. I look up one thing and that leads me to five other things (and more than half the time none of the things are remotely related) and the next thing I know it’s dark out and I’ve forgotten to get dressed and go to work. Well, I make it to work but I usually spend the morning thinking of all the stuff I learned.

So the last thing I was looking up was twins and Google was kind enough to lead me to Doppelgangers and every other kind of myth about twins (or my favorite, something called Capgras Delusion which sounds hilarious but is a condition where you think someone you know has been replaced by an identical person pretending to be a loved one). Little did I know that the information on Doppelgangers would soon come in handy….

In Gretchen McNeil’s novel 3:59 Josie Byrne’s life is falling into chaos. Her parents are getting a divorce. Her scientist mother is working long hours on a top-secret experiment, ignoring Josie and becoming a completely different person. Josie’s boyfriend Nick has become withdrawn and distant. People are being killed along a wooded path, their bodies torn apart and scattered. Parents divorcing, a distant boyfriend, and unexplained murders. That’s enough to make me want to find a portal to another version of my life.

Jo’s life, on the other hand, is over the top wonderful. She has a boyfriend named Nick who lavishes her with adoration and her parents are happily married. There’s just one thing. Josie and Jo are Doppelgangers and their lives overlap every twelve hours at 3:59. Seeing that Jo seems to have this fabulous life, Josie wants to swap lives for a day. Jo agrees. And what happens next is no Parent Trap. 

Josie finds out that Jo’s “perfect” world has shadowy creatures that hunt at night and eat people. They swoop down and eat them up. Gross but cool. Josie tries on Jo’s life for a day but is ready to get back to her own world, her own life (no matter if it’s screwed to hell and back). One major problem: Jo has sealed off the portal. She doesn’t want to go back to her own life. Jo’s kind of a jerk. I wanted to use another word but I get into enough trouble on a daily basis for using that word so I’ll save it for a rainy day. When I haven’t gotten into too much trouble. Stop laughing.

Will Josie be stuck in the other world, hunted by the gruesome but awesome shadow monsters or will she make it back to her own world? The mysteries in this book go way deeper than this, however. There are mad scientists, parallel universes, teenage angst (which seems to happen in all parallel universes), gory dismemberments, redemption, insane asylums, and forgiveness. Who knows, maybe we all get a case of Capgras Delusion now and again. I hope that’s my co-worker over at the copier. It could be someone pretending to be her.

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister

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.

her

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.

Amen.

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.