Author Christa Parravani on life after losing an identical twin
In the gripping memoir “Her,” Christa Parravani describes what it was like to grow up alongside – then lose to a drug overdose – her identical twin. And she begins with a startling statistic: after a twin dies, the surviving twin’s life is immediately at risk. The hauntingly honest tale of Parravani’s destruction details why.
Beginning with memories of her sister and their single mother, their lives are all later forever changed when her sister, Cara, who used to call Christa “her,” is brutally raped while walking her dog. For the first time, Christa can no longer share in her twin’s experience. She is unflinchingly honest as she works through the aftermath, even wishing to be attacked to be able to better understand the unraveling of her sister, who masks her pain through drugs, eventually turning to heroin.
When her sister dies, Christa is haunted by seeing her daily when she looks in the mirror, and even when she hallucinates. In her attempts to understand her sister’s spiraling (which starts by eating one of her pills, found wedged in a crack on the kitchen floor) she follows in her footsteps, losing her marriage and nearly her life.
She told Metro about using the book as a way to crawl out of that space – to pen the memoir, she incorporated some of her sister’s writings, found under her bed in a Tupperware container.
Was it strange to try and explain having a twin, something that has always been familiar to you but that most others cannot understand?
It was a challenge for me. Being a twin, it isn’t an unusual experience, but for everyone else, it’s completely unusual. What I needed to do was figure out what normal might feel like and go from there, and try to jump off and explain what that closeness was like. … I decided the best way to do that was to tell the story of our love for each other.
How did you decide when to use Cara’s writings?
When something would get really difficult for me, it felt too emotional or I’d gotten to a place where I felt like I couldn’t go on because I was exhausted, I was sad or I just kind of plain missed her, I thought, here’s the moment to allow Cara into the book. In the beginning of writing, she was appearing a lot. As time went on and I got more confident in my abilities as a writer and I got further from the grief, I found I needed to rely on her less and less.
Did you make a decision to be so unflinchingly honest? Was this part of the healing process for you? It seems like you held nothing back.
I wrote the book as if no one would ever read it. It was sort of a love letter to my sister. It was a way to tell her that I loved her and not to be forgotten. I was writing to her, and I had never imagined that there would be people reading it. In order to write a book that tells truths that are necessary, you have to forget about embarrassing yourself.
Do you ultimately feel you understood your sister any better because of going through much of what she did?
I hope so. This book allowed me to have this honest relationship with my sister that the rape had not allowed us to have in life. I saw her beauty, as far as her kindness. Cara was boundlessly kind. It was hard for me to be able to understand that when she was alive, because she was unraveling so quickly. … Through my breakdown and the grief I endured losing her, I missed her so much that I really found myself turning into the kind of woman that she was. I think that what happened to me is that the closer I came to my sister through writing this book, the farther I was from her in my real life. I was able to shed those qualities through writing. I think I realized at the end of this process that my sister was saving me, even though she wasn’t here any more.
Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison.