The following is an excerpt from “Her: A Memoir,” which explores a young woman’s
battle with depression and identity following the drug overdose death of her identical
twin. “Her: A Memoir” was named a best book for 2013 by Amazon and the Wall Street
I used to be an identical twin. I was Cara Parravani’s twin.
I forgot who
I was after my sister died. I tried to remind myself with a trinity mantra. I whispered
my mantra to the woman who stared back at me in my morning mirror: I’m twinless.
I’m a photographer. I’m Christa.
I saw my sister when I tried to see myself. We were
28 when Cara overdosed: we had the dark hair we were born with; we had angular faces
and we fancied red lipstick; we had knobby knees, slightly crooked eyeteeth, and
fingernails bitten down until they bled. We had a touch of scoliosis: grade school
nurses pulled us into their offices for yearly back checks. Cara had a steppage gait
that caused her right foot to drag a little behind her left, an injury she sustained
during a car accident in college. My stride is steady, but my posture is horrible;
Cara stood straight as a pin — her shoulders were proud and strong and she held them
back. I slouched. She said I went round like a little worried pill bug; I’d roll
up into a ball tight as a fist. We both flinched at the smallest sounds: slamming
doors, quick gestures, and laughter if the pitch was too high. We had looks and fears
I gazed at myself in the mirror after she died and there she was. Her
rusty brown eyes, frightened and curious as a doe’s. In the mirror I’d smile at myself
and see her grinning back. She was a beauty. And her square waist, narrow hips, and
round breasts were now mine. I’d imagine all of my sister’s regality and blemishes
as part of my reflection: I saw Cara’s weak chin, her cherry lips pricked into a
bow, lipstick smudged at the corners of her mouth. I’d hold out my arms and turn
them, exposing my bare forearms. I’d see each one tattooed with a flower from my
wrist to my elbow. The stems of the flowers started at my pulse and grew up to the
crook of my arm, blossomed. Cara had gotten these tattoos after many tough years,
images that decorated and repelled. She had wanted to make sure she was rough enough
around the edges, that she seemed impervious to danger, but the part of her that
needed to be dainty and female selected flowers to mar her body. She designed a garden
to conceal the evidence of her addiction. Her right forearm she marked with an iris.
Its rich purple petals became the target for the puncture of heroin-filled needles.
Her left arm she’d drawn up with a tulip. Tulips had been our grandmother Josephine’s
favorite flower, and the tattoo was meant to pay tribute. Near the end, Cara had
run out of good veins. Her tulip’s soft petals became blighted with track marks.
Both of her flowers were drained of ink, which had been slowly replaced by scars.
My reflection was her and it wasn’t her. I was myself but I was my sister. I was
hallucinating Cara — this isn’t a metaphor. I learned through reading articles on
twin loss that this delusion — that one is looking upon their dead twin when really
they are looking at themselves — is a common experience among identical twinless
twins. It is impossible for surviving twins to differentiate their living body from
their twin’s; they become a breathing memorial for their lost half.
On my face I
saw the thin scar our mother’s carelessly long fingernail had made on the apple of
my sister’s cheeks.
I remember the origins of all our scars.
We were three years
old when Cara got scratched, on the way home from a petting zoo. The three of us
— Mom, Cara, and I — rode unbuckled in the hard-shelled covered carriage of my uncle’s
pickup. Mom held us close as the truck bumped along. We were almost home when Uncle
jammed the brakes to avoid an animal in the road. The truck stopped so short and
fast that the three of us slid forward. I stayed under Mom’s arm but Cara catapulted
toward the metal hatchback door. Mom grabbed for her quickly and missed; Mom’s fingernail
sliced straight as a surgeon’s scalpel into Cara’s cheek.
The scar that remained
was ordinary — it healed as harmless as a paper cut, but in a dotted line. It was
difficult to see unless the light hit it in such a way that the scar would gleam,
like a row of flat stones set out to dry in the sunshine after a downpour.
Christa Parravani is an assistant professor of English in the Creative
Writing Program, where she specializes in memoir and essay writing,
20th century women’s fiction and visual art and literature. She holds
an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University-Newark and an
MFA in visual art from Columbia University.