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Elizabeth Ellen interviews Christa Parravani: the Interview That Almost Wasn’t photo

Over a year ago now, maybe almost two years ago, I read Christa Parravani’s memoir, Her. I have a probably not uncommon fascination or curiosity of twins. (Having been raised an only child, I have a curiosity about all siblings; how they related as children, how they relate as adults; how the relationships change, become closer or more distant; why.) I was interested in how ‘we,’ society, label certain relationships ‘codependent.’ I felt – based on the term being used by Oprah and others in the media at the time  I had been in a ‘codependent’ relationship with my mother, as a child, and with men as an adult. But I didn’t really know what that meant. Or if I believed in such a thing: codependency. I still don’t. It just seems like another easy label, a broad answer for something very specific. A negative/reductive/simplistic connotation to something very complex, that can’t really be reduced to a single word.

Her is a beautiful, tragic, complex story about the death of one twin as told by the survivor. It’s about best friendship and sisterhood and the shared experience of being artists as well as twin sisters and best friends and addiction and what happens to both twins when one is the victim of a rape. It’s an, at times, hard to read, compelling, sorrowful book. One can’t imagine having written it because one can’t imagine having lived the life that is contained within it, to have endured the loss that is at the center of it.

Christa and I have spent over a year emailing back and forth about her book and about these questions and I thank her profusely both for writing this book and for her patience with my questions and with me.



Christa, your sister and you went to the same undergrad university (Bard). Was there ever a question of going to separate schools? Was this ever a concern of your mother or teachers or yourselves? Had you been in the same classrooms throughout elementary and high school? I ask as I remember my mother telling me she had desperately wanted to go to the same university as either her best high school girlfriend or her older brother and her parents forbade either. In fact, they went to the parents’ house of her best friend and essentially told them their daughter couldn’t go to Northwestern because my mother was going there and if she did, they would pull my mother out. I think the reasoning then was to support individuality? Independence? Was there ever a discussion of this sort of thing (separateness/independence) in your family, re you and your twin sister, Cara?

We knew it was weird to go to college together. So our senior year in high school, 1995, I applied to Skidmore. During our campus visit there, the guide gave us an extensive tour of the horse stables and riding facilities. We were girls from a family with few books and no money for luxuries. The place made absolutely no sense for me. I was rejected, thankfully.

Bard, on the other hand, offered a challenging liberal arts curriculum and had—has—an excellent writing program. I was a girl obsessed with Emma Goldman, Robert Creeley and Zora Neale Hurston. I wanted to be pulverized by books, to be ripped apart and rebuilt by them. When I interviewed at Bard, they asked me to describe the metaphysical condition of a pinecone; Cara was asked something similar, though the specifics escape me. We knew it was weird to go to college together. We understood we’d be “the twins” there. At separate colleges, we could have been more independent of each other, and we wanted that, too. But how could I not answer the call of the pinecone? How could I ask Cara not to? We’re not talking about pinecones, of course. Our mother slung hash in diners. All of us wanted what was best for both of us. Bard just happened to be the perfect fit for Cara and for me.

Also, a part of me has to wonder if us not splitting up for college was not so much a function of our twinship as of being daughters of a first generation Sicilian Italian mother. Family came first in our home. Blood is serious. Relatives don’t part. So there was never any real discussion about separating us. Not in grade school, or ever.


You say, “I wanted to be pulverized by books, to be ripped open and rebuilt,” in talking about why you chose Bard for undergrad. What was it at eighteen, do you think, that made you feel that passionately about books? And can you be more specific about wanting to be ‘ripped open and rebuilt’ by them?

I was fortunate to have good teachers in high school. They put great books in my hands. Sula. This Boy’s Life. The Things They Carried. Van Gogh’s Letters. These were worlds of suffering that the authors had rendered with beautiful clarity. And they’d gotten out! They’d written those words! That fact was sacred. It could be a map. I didn’t know if I could write books, but I knew that if I listened and read well that I might have a chance for a life better than my mother had. I recognized that those books contained powerful prose that was transformative in the way that it articulated the writers’ world views. It was that shift of perception, a move away from the darkness of their lived experiences, and into a world of words, a place of agency that interested me. Words were torch lights.

When I read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings I was sixteen years old. I’d grown up on a southern Marine Corps base with an angry, neglectful stepfather. I was nearly thirteen when we moved back north and my stepfather left us. But when I was eleven and still living on the base, I was sexually assaulted for a string of months by my next door neighbor. The man was well over seventy years old. He put his hands on me while I babysat his two toddler aged granddaughters. Their mother knew what kind of man he was; she needed someone between him and her girls so she hired me. I was the unlucky one.

I couldn’t speak up. I couldn’t tell my parents. I couldn’t tell Cara. I couldn’t tell him to stop. I took it, and then I kept the rage born from his assaults and grew it in my spirit like poison fruit.

I’ve never told that story publicly. But like Angelou describes, I was afraid of what my voice would do. I was certain my stepfather would rip the man from limb-to-limb, “beat him to the bloody side,” as he often said.  Angelou’s book was pivotal in my life. It showed me how much I hadn’t been alone. It told me it was okay to speak up.


When did you know you would write this book? Before your sister died? after? When did you actually start writing it? had you taken notes months/years before? do you keep a journal?

At Cara’s funeral I had the idea that I might like to write, a sensation born out of the shock and trauma of the out-of-body experience of grief. I was a shell of a person, incapable of eating, sleeping, or marital fidelity, let alone constructing a sentence and narrative. When Cara died I lost it; I kept on losing it for three years. There were suicide attempts, near starvation, psychotic hallucinations, hospitalizations, a painful divorce, and then a bungled love affair. I saw my sister when I looked at myself in the mirror. Her haunted laugh emerged from throat. I was living in a ghost story that felt like performance art.

One night, I sat hunched over my computer in my tiny Massachusetts home, clutching a bottle of pills. I’d cheated on my first husband. Cara was gone forever. I was completely alone. I wanted to die, too. Should I take the pills? I weighed ninety pounds then. How many would do the trick? I decided to search death. But no, not just death; twin death.

I typed: what happens when your identical twin dies? I’d wondered: are you still a twin if your twin is dead? Will I die like Cara died since I was born as she was born? I’d just given an interview for the New York Times about Cara’s death (why they interviewed me I still have no idea). The only thing that popped up on my search was that fucking article. The only information I could find on the subject I’d already lived. There was a giant, miserable picture of me starving to death on the front page of the Style section. I laughed out loud.  It was a dark moment, but comically so. Even though I was suicidal I could see it: I had a story on my hands, a whopper. I just needed to survive to tell it.

Eventually, I got better. By late 2009 I was keenly interested in exploring what it meant to live in a state where I felt undead; I was alive, but Cara possessed me.  I had the sensation of living in the third person. I was detached in a way that allowed me to take a ceiling view of my life.

Writing provided necessary distance—though I must add that I’m not at all interested in, and have never have been interested in so-called “therapeutic writing.” That’s not what I’m taking about. I was on a mission to connect story lines, to find meaning in behavior and action, and to craft a story. By the time I got to writing Cara’s funeral it no longer gutted me: the casket, the pancaked foundation on Cara’s corpse-face, the chiffon black dress she’d worn both at my wedding and in her casket, the grievers, the cheap flowers, the hysteria, my greatest fear come true; all those observations became possessions of the true-life character I made for myself. A nonfiction writer depicts a version of herself, the one that serves that narrative and pledges honesty. That’s the contract she makes with the reader. It isn’t confession. It’s connection.

People who knew Cara and me warned me against writing. They worried that by writing I was in the final act of trying to become Cara (Cara had been a writer). “You can’t be her,” one of Cara’s teachers had said. “You’re you.” She hit the nail on the head. That turned out to be the exact point I was trying to make with Her. For years I’d felt I was both of us, that I carried a dead girl on my back.

I hadn’t meant to be a vulture picking at Cara’s bones. But that’s what writing about her felt like, at first. How dare I speak for Cara? I had to try to get over that to write well.


You say, “I hadn’t meant to be a vulture picking at Cara’s bones. But that’s what writing about my twin felt like, at first. How dare I try and speak for her? I had to get over that to write well.”

How did you get over that? Was it just a matter of time? Or was it something more specific you did or that happened, some sort of transformation or letting go? I ask as I think most writers can relate, particularly those of us who write ‘personal or semi-autobiographical’ fiction, to feeling vulturistic when we write about other people in our lives or who have been in our lives in one form or capacity or another. It can feel daunting and even immoral to try to ‘speak for them,’ whether or not they are alive or still in our lives.

I don’t know if did or will ever got over it. For the time while I was writing Her I certainly had to forget I felt that way.  Worrying over how people will perceive what you write can be a form of disastrously silencing procrastination. I refused to do that dance.  But still, from here, I can feel my survivor’s guilt lurking. That voice says I made my new life on a dead girl’s misfortune. Both things can be true in writing. Isn’t that fabulous? I can feel a range of things about having written about Cara: guilt and exuberance. I brought her back with me for a time, and I brought her to others. I think she would have loved many of my readers. I get so many letters from readers that make me think that. But I did expose Cara without her permission. My biggest worry is that I gave her a junkie’s legacy. I still ask close friends, “what would Cara think about all of this?” They tell me the same thing, “Cara would love what you made.” And, “If you had been the one to die, Cara would’ve written that story; she would’ve thrown you under the bus.” And then I think: do my friends think I threw Cara under the bus? Probably not. But it’s funny because that bus-throwing quality  was part of what made Cara and me vastly different artists. In real life Cara was generous to strangers, and she was spiritually deep in a way I will never be. Yet on the page she had no mercy for me.  I’m always thinking about the way I represent/represented her.


Did you ever consider telling this story in a novel as opposed to a memoir? How or why do you think nonfiction lent itself better to the telling of this story?

The project began as poetry. The first thing I ever wrote about Cara was a sexy ode to Abraham Lincoln. Cara was obsessed with his presidency. In my poem she allows Lincoln to undress her. The pair meet at night in a blizzard beneath a street lamp. Lincoln undoes the buttons on Cara’s long red cloak (she had a beautiful one made of wool). The poem was funny, playful, mournful. It was a container for Cara’s anger, sexual prowess, and love of country. It was an articulation of the power of her death to hold our shared history.

Once I’d reached beyond grief-writing, I knew I could sustain something longer, and our story demanded that. The only journal I kept during those years were poems scribbled in a black marbled composition notebook. I wrote them at my then boyfriend’s house, in mental hospitals, and on airplanes. The poems embrace the surreal in a way that still pleases me. They stand on their own.

Eventually, I turned to memoir because I wanted to stay in scene. I craved space. I believe in the connection between poetry and memoir. It’s no coincidence that some of our best memoirs have come from poets: Mary Karr, Nick Flynn, Lucy Grealy, Mark Doty, Maggie Nelson, and Sarah Manguso—that list could go on-and-on.



I’m curious how much of what happened (your sister’s drug use and death and then your own drug use and recovery) you attribute to your sister’s horrific rape. I didn’t really get the sense of how…of if Cara had tendencies toward depression/drug use prior. I want to say I had the general sense that being a twin, an adult identical twin, lent itself toward loneliness and depression (as a result of living separately as adults), and that the rape exacerbated these feelings to an intense/unavoidable/life-threatening level? Is this accurate? Was there already a pervasive undercurrent of sadness before the rape, as a result of being adult women living separate from each other/your twin/the person you loved most? 

Confession: this Q/A sat on my desktop for nearly a year while I tried to figure out how to answer this.

Truth: We had a hard childhood. Both our father and stepfather were abusive. Our mother worked long hours. Cara and I may have been too close, but sometimes we felt like we only had each other. We were enmeshed, competitive; always duking it out, like twins do.  We had hard young lives. We grew up in poverty. Both our father and stepfather were abusive. There were other tragedies and troubles that fueled our teen angst, too. Those fused our possibly unhealthy connection. But we came by our troubles honestly. We were enmeshed. We were competitive, always duking it out, as many twins do. But we girls were also full of light and curiosity and goodness. We loved one another.

This is what I have learned in the near decade since Cara’s death: there is nothing as life altering as a man taking his mouth and biting the fuck out of your back, raping you from every position he can turn your body, dragging you by the hair over a forest-ground littered with glass. That act made everything, including our twinship, irrelevant. Edgardo Hernandez (Cara’s rapist) had single handedly erased our young years.

Cara survived the rape, but she was gone from me and from herself. I don’t know what would have happened to us if Cara hadn’t been raped—I am certain that violation killed her. The question piques my interest on a level outside of twinship, really. Because what I feel you’re asking for is a kind of explanation for the terrifyingly natural unraveling of a woman at the hands of her torturer. To ask whether Cara would have suffered if she hadn’t been raped is to try and tidy the truth. It’s a question that begs the unspeakable: this could have happened to any person. It could have happened to either you or me. Perhaps Cara veered in the direction of darkness. And so what if she did? What if both realities are true? That doesn’t damn her to death or addiction. Had Cara not been raped, I like to believe that she would currently be living a perfectly respectable life in suburbia, haunted by her own ambition, her failures and successes at motherhood, in work, and in love.  It’s unimaginable, really. Right? If a single act has the power to kill a young woman, we’re all vulnerable. Asking whether she would have suffered anyway seems like a question along the lines of what length of skirt she wore.


I want to address my question (in full disclosure, I sent you these questions just prior to writing my essay last fall which got me dropped from an anthology and made me not so popular in certain circles, and to be honest, I thought you hadn’t replied because of my essay and that I would likely never hear from you again, so I was very happy when you did email me to say you were still answering my questions for this interview and I want to thank you again for continuing to talk with me about very uncomfortable topics and for answering very uncomfortable questions) that asked you how much you thought your sister’s rape contributed to her depression/drug use/death versus how much the loneliness of being an adult twin contributed to her depression/drug use/death. I don’t think I should have attempted to compare the two. Or to ask you to try to quantify. Or to put the two in the same sentence or the same question even. I think I already understood, though did not express this understanding in my question, as I should have, how one might lose her will to live or her will to care about anything or her will in general after being the victim of rape. What I did not understand, and what I was really asking, and should have asked separately, was if you believe there is a correlation between deep depression and being an adult twin, and, specifically, if you believe a part of your sister’s depression could be attributed to this, to being an adult twin, ‘separated’ so to speak, from her sister.

You did the best you could. It’s hard not to look for a why. One of our largest problems in the discussion of sexual assault is victim blaming. It’s such a part of our culture we sometimes can’t see ourselves doing it. I did it. I told my sister, "why did you walk your dog there! Alone! There was trash and junkies and crime!" I’m ashamed now for having said that, but I was so angry with her rapist then and he wasn’t there to throttle. So I attacked the place, Cara’s proximity to him. Her choice. Not my finest moment. I want to to do all I can to try and free survivors of that worry. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests rape is underreported for fear of victim blaming, and police are often guilty of it.

I can’t speak for all twins. I wish I had the answers. But honestly, I just don’t know. I can’t parse it out anymore. I do remember a time in my twenties when I crossed a footbridge in New England. It was the dead of winter. I loved freezing Massachusetts (I still do). There were ice chunks floating atop the gray half-frozen water. I looked down. I remember at that moment being stunned by the idea of a person ever wanting to die by their own hand, wondering about all of those people including my sister who might desire to jump. Cara was sick with a depression I couldn’t fathom. It wasn’t part of our twinship and it had nothing to do with me. It was the rape. Though it was maddening for Cara to see me vibrantly alive—viewing me that way was like seeing the her that could have been. That was about our twinship. And perhaps that distancing, that looking in at the possible happy her fueled her illness. Or maybe it didn’t. I wish we could ask her.

I’m certain though that we were the women we were together because of the home we came from, and because of Cara’s rape. In many many ways we were the only stable people in each other’s lives.  And it’s too much to ask a single person to carry that burden. Imagine a pair of twins marooned on an island. That’s as far as their world goes. That was us. That’s what I know. But I do know many twins who have happy lives. They’re alive, forty and have kids, and wrinkles, and spouses, and dogs. Or they’re poets or photographers or painters. They’re out there living. Normal. Happy twins. I promise.


I am fascinated by your story for many reasons but most significantly because I think we are accustomed in our culture to seeing films/reading books about obsessive love between a man and a woman (or a man and a man or a woman and a woman), sexualized love, romantic love. I have not, however, read books or seen movies about obsessive love between siblings or between, say, a parent and a child, or any other sort of nonsexual love. In every other way, however, you and Cara exemplify what we refer to as ‘obsessive love.’ You slept together, bathed together, married together (you basically say you married young because Cara married young, a year or so earlier)…at one point, while you are on your honeymoon, Cara calls and says she misses you, asks to come to where you and your new husband are staying, and you allow this (because, we assume, you missed her as much as she missed you, despite being on your honeymoon). Cara had told your husband on his wedding day that you would never love him as much as you love her. What was it like to live out this sort of obsessive love with your sister, in a culture in which this sort of relationship is not representative of the norm? did you ever feel … odd or freakish? Did you in any conscious way(s) fight against it? did you, for example, feel guilty allowing your sister to visit you on your honeymoon, knowing this might impact your relationship with your new husband? or were you not conscious of these ‘boundaries’ you were crossing? That this was ‘abnormal’ behavior?

I was in my early twenties when I married my first husband. I had no concept of the responsibility of the sanctity of marriage, neither was I able to muster the devotion to my husband that a good marriage requires. But then again, Cara was raped only two months after our wedding. It was an impossible time to be newlywed. I tried to be both a lover to my husband and a savior for my sister. I couldn’t go to bed with my husband without imagining being raped by Edgardo Hernandez. I lost my ability to receive pleasure because I was simultaneously guilty and traumatized. And Cara was confused and conflicted too. There was a dance we did: Cara would tell me every graphic detail of her rape, hold it up, beg me to see it, to know. Then she would turn away and hide in drugs and silence. She was gone.

I failed to be a good wife and a good a sister. I hadn’t had the kind of experience, role models, or guidance that would have prepared me to navigate such a situation well. I still remember the vivid shame of being twenty-four, how angry and resentful and chained to Cara I felt. How was I to know that that was the time that remained for us?

After publishing Her and having some time as a mother, I understand that we weren’t raised in the most stable home. We did the best we could at the time. I see that. I only wish we she were still here. I’m not angry. I just want her to hold my daughter, you know?

Maybe it was freaky to be melded the way we were, but that’s just how it was, and as troubled as I was to be attached to Cara I also adored it. Your description of our relationship is wonderfully accurate; I don’t regret a moment of our ridiculous love affair. If I had to do it all over again, I’d invite Cara on my honeymoon again. Hell! I’d be thrilled to have the chance to have invited Cara to barge in on my second marriage. 



In undergrad at Bard, your sister studied fiction and you studied poetry. Later, in grad school, you studied (and taught) photography, and often your sister was the subject of your photographs. I got the sense you switched to photography as a way to incorporate your sister into your art, into the act of making art, as another reason to see her, an activity to do together. Was this a conscious choice/decision? Rather than, say, writing, which is a solitary activity?

I was a junior at Bard when I first picked up a camera. I’d been studying poetry, primarily, up until that point. Cara studied fiction. She told me point-blank that she didn’t want me to write about anything that had happened in our lives; she wanted to save that material for herself. For Cara, there wasn’t enough room in the world for two Parravani writers. Briefly, I’d dated a man who was a photographer. His interest was photographing identical twins. He took many photos of Cara and me. He followed us around with his Mamiya and 4x5 for over a year. I didn’t fall in love with him, but photography had me. It held every possibility of poetry; it had the power to articulate the wordless. Soon, I started taking my own pictures. I was enraptured with Henri Cartier Bresson’s Decisive Moment, Sally Mann’s seemingly mother-cloistered sexuality projected onto her children, of Arbus’s twins and freaks and giants. I felt I knew Billigham’s nutty, drunk father. There was very little not to love about picture making. I took the plunge. My Nikon and I had an impressive run. Taking a picture is not unlike writing a poem or essay. The meaning reveals itself as you go.

By the time I started taking Cara’s picture, I had moved to New York, worked for Mary Ellen Mark, and was admitted into Columbia’s MFA program in Visual Art.


What are your relationships to writing and photography today? Have you felt less passionate about photography since your sister’s death? It also seemed, while your sister was alive, you were consciously avoiding feelings of competition between you and your sister as far as writing, since she wrote, had sort of ‘claimed’ writing as her art. Did you deaden your passion for writing while she was living (for her)?

I worked prolifically in photography after Cara died. The sanest thing I did was photograph. Right away I made a series of images based on Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology. I used the costumes from my own high school production of Spoon River (the poems are often performed as a play in high schools). I dressed friends, family, and residents at MacDowell in too-small outfits for shoddy theater. Spoon River is a collection of poems of voices of the dead buried on “The Hill,” a graveyard in a fictional Illinois town. I’ve always chased the relationship between the literary and the visual. And those photographs, though made in the heat of grief, are the best I’ve ever made. They were the platform I used to intellectualize my loss. After I finished my Spoon River I had no desire to make pictures. I’d try to muscle out with my camera. But it was too heavy for me to carry at such a low weight. My pictures weren’t good. They were out of focus. Depression had whipped me so hard that photographs were soft. And I missed Cara on the other side of my lens.

That’s how Her began, really, as an excavation, a tilt. It’s nearly the same subject as Spoon River and Kindred (pictures I made of Cara). The thing that changed was the form.

I used to think that I couldn’t write because Cara wrote. Twin logic. And I did stop writing when I was in college for that reason. I never had to deaden my desire to write. I had a little whisper inside me that gave me sentences and words and ways to look at the world. Back then, my whisper informed my photography. I loved that about the form.


It’s been 9 years since your sister died. What is your relationship to her currently? How much of a presence is she in your day to day life? You talk in the book about seeing her in your reflection after she died. is this still the case? How separate do you feel today from Cara and is there a certain sadness to feeling (I assume) more ‘whole’? similar to the ‘sadness’ one feels upon recovering from a love affair? (there is the overwhelming sadness/depression immediately after it ends/the person leaves and then the sadness that can last a lifetime, as you begin to forget details of the relationship/of your time together, as you begin to ‘heal’ and to ‘feel’ less, with regard to that person and your memory of him/her.)

Publishing has changed my relationship to Cara. Time has too. As has my relationship with my daughter. I miss Cara everyday. I doubt that will change. But more than sorrow I feel how much the world has been cheated of her. How much my daughter has been cheated of her. How much Cara cheated herself of her talent; Cara would be up to good things had she lived.

While writing Her I was bound to the story of our lives that was in direct service to the best version of Her that I could write. I have a range of feeling beyond the page now. Cara could be funny, kind, cruel, missing, kooky, sour. I no longer think of her chronologically. There is no beginning, middle, or end. She’s lives in memory. Everyday I wonder how to tell Josephine about who she was. I’m afraid of that a little. It’s a complicated thing trying to explain to a four-year-old that my sister who looks exactly like me is dead. I don’t want Josephine thinking of me as mortal just yet.

I still hear Cara’s laugh when I laugh. I hear her when I do an Om in Yoga. Her voice is still inside of mine. I used to be haunted by that. I published a book that used her words and her story, a text that put our voices in unison. Suddenly, I’m an ambassador for her legacy, a job I never intended to take. It’s good to be reminded of her daily, physically. It keeps me in check. I’m always looking out for what’s best for her.  I wrote without her permission, so I’ll gladly take hearing her. And If I didn’t hear her? I don’t know. I’d miss Cara even more than I do now.

I want to thank you for writing this book and for writing it so honestly. It must have been very painful to write. (Very) recently my only child (a daughter) left home for college, which was extremely hard for me at first, because we had become so close in the last few years (we had always been close as a single mother and only child, but were close in a different, new way, as she matured into adulthood, in the way best friends or sisters are, I suppose). I think your book was a great gift to me in the weeks leading up to her going to university, something I could relate to, when I thought there was nothing relatable (to my experience). A friend of mine had said, “I don’t know any other mother/daughter relationship like yours,” and I wasn’t sure how to take that (in a ‘good’ way or ‘bad’), if it was a criticism or a compliment or merely an observation. There have been many times, in recent years, I chose to spend time with my daughter over everyone/everything else, over spending time with friends, my husband, doing readings, writing … and I think that is…my grandparents, let’s say, would have been very against that, would have called it ‘unhealthy.’ What are your thoughts, now, on what we term ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ (in) relationships?

I pay very little attention to “healthy” and “unhealthy.” We love the best that we can at the time.


Currently you are married to the writer Anthony Swofford, whom you met after Cara’s death. Do you think a relationship with Anthony would have stood a chance when Cara was still living? That is, your first marriage seemed … perpetually affected by your relationship with Cara (and again I’m not sure how much of this was due to the rape vs due to the effects of being an identical twin). I guess what I’m asking is if you think you and Cara would have, at some point, … matured/developed more autonomy, so that relationships with others, husbands/friends/children, could have thrived? Or do you think ultimately you would have ended your years living alone with Cara, in some sort of Grey Gardens type manner? And is either way preferable?

Can I not answer all of this? I like to keep some measure of privacy with Tony. It’s good for both of us and for Josephine.  I know I would have eventually loved and loved well even if Cara had lived. If anything, our relationship instructed me on how to fully know a person, and how to give space and still be present. I like to think if she’d lived we would have mastered that hard balance with one another too.


Finally, do you think you would have or could have written this book if your sister hadn’t died? Meaning, almost always, people write books at the end of ‘affairs.’ Be it after a breakup or divorce or death. Do you think you could have told this story, this honestly, had Cara lived?

I couldn’t have written Her without Cara’s death. That’s what the book is. It’s a reckoning. Without her death there would be no Her. I wouldn’t have suffered an identity crisis of the magnitude that I did. But I do believe I would have written other books. Honest books. Dark books. Books about photography. Books about being intertwined. Books and about love and loss and the poverty of grief. Books about marriage, and sex, and motherhood. There are more books coming from me. I’m on the other side of death. It turns out that life here is endlessly interesting.


image: Paul Rich