I know this math intimately.
In 2001, my identical twin, Cara, was raped by Edgardo Hernandez, a stranger, when we were 24. It was a violent act that destroyed her. And then it almost destroyed me.
After her rape, Cara took drugs in quantities that would prove to be lethal, doses she felt she needed to help her forget. She died from an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl, a pain medication, on a late spring afternoon — June 13, 2006. And even though her death was an accident, no one who knew Cara doubts that Hernandez, though he didn’t murder her, took her life nonetheless. It just took four years, seven months and 26 days.
Cara said it best from the witness stand during her rapist’s sentencing: “Edgardo Hernandez is the worst kind of thief. He did not steal my wedding rings, yet my marriage has dissolved. He did not take my legs, yet for over a year I was afraid to leave my house, to walk around in broad daylight. October 18, 2001, was the day I died.”
My sister died from a rape. She is that rape’s core victim — its axis of suffering, of torment, of woe — but she is not its only victim.
I don’t know how our mother, who raised us alone, has managed to endure. Mom was the one who bandaged Cara’s badly injured back where Hernandez bit it during her rape. Mom double-bolted the apartment door to lock us safely inside. And Mom was the one who found Cara’s body when she died. Mom was the first and last person ever to touch my sister.
But she was not the only person touched by her. Cara’s teachers at Guilderland High School in Upstate New York and at Bard College loved her. Her graduate professors and fellow students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst loved her like family. Her husband loved her, and when that marriage ended after her rape, her boyfriends loved her. These people were hurt when she was brutalized. All of them lost her when she died.
My sister once outran a mountain lion in a Santa Cruz forest. My sister wrote the draft of a novel. My sister meditated at an altar in her living room adorned with shiny plastic grapes and pictures of those she loved, alive and dead. The sound of her laugh was the purest music I knew, a certain melody that she convinced me even the dead could hear.
And she possessed a power over me. Researchers speculate that, when a twin dies, the surviving twin’s life expectancy is shortened. I barely survived Cara’s death. The agony of losing her was inescapable. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw her. Whenever I spoke, I heard her. And then, because I missed her so and wanted her back, I tried to become her.