Just Caroline

They shared everything -- clothes, Slurpees, birthdays, dreams. A story of starting over, alone.

Part Two

June 13, 1999|By Lisa Pollak | Lisa Pollak,SUN STAFF

Chapter Eight

The Roommates

Soon after the start of her junior year, Caroline made a sign and taped it to her dorm-room door. It was Sept. 16, 1998.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY," it said. "Thanks for being such a great friend. Love, Caroline."

Who knows why Jenny and Caroline hit it off so quickly; why they were so good at sharing space; why they liked talking in bed before going to sleep. But the roommates agreed: It would be wrong to say they bonded just because they were twins. It would be too simplistic.

And, still, this fact was impossible to ignore: Caroline, who'd lost a twin, had chosen to live with one. Jenny's sister was in North Carolina, hundreds of miles away, but she was a presence in Caroline's dorm room, as real as the broken heart on a chain around Jenny's neck, as close as a phone call or e-mail when Jenny had a rough day.

"I didn't want her not to talk about her sister," says Caroline. "It's who she is. It's not something she could be able to let go of."

Of course, it was hard sometimes, living with a constant reminder of what she was missing. But to Caroline, Jenny was more than just a twin. She was a good roommate and a good friend. She didn't know what Caroline was going through, but she understood what Kelly had meant to her in a way most people couldn't.

As close as they became, Caroline rarely opened up about her grief to Jenny, and Jenny respected her silence; like Caroline, she didn't like crying in front of other people. But, sometimes, when Jenny got to telling stories about her childhood, it seemed only natural for Caroline to tell stories, too. Funny stories, about the time Caroline and Kelly poured sugar in the fishbowl to give the fish a treat; and how their Dad told them that while they were sleeping, he reapplied the freckles that had fallen off their faces. Stories about the silly things people said to identical twins.

"Are you twins?" someone would ask Jenny.

"No," she would retort. "She's my best friend; she just happens to look exactly like me."

Funny stories didn't make Caroline cry. They made her laugh. And being able to talk about Kelly made it easier, somehow, to hear Jenny talk about Catie. But in the days before Jenny's 20th birthday, Caroline couldn't help but wonder how she was going to survive her own first birthday without her sister, then only four months away. For Jenny, not being with Catie on their birthday was one of the hardest parts of being separated.

Which is why, when Sept. 16 arrived, Caroline went all out. She decorated the door, helped plan a party, gave Jenny an Indigo Girls CD, jokingly telling her to memorize the song "Romeo and Juliet," because it was one of Caroline's favorites. And then, that night, Caroline and a few of Jenny's friends treated her to barbecued chicken, salad and Oreo birthday cake.

In the middle of the party, Jenny got up to call her sister. It was 10 p.m., their prearranged time, but it wasn't Jenny's first conversation with Catie that day. The first was earlier. Much earlier. At 1:30 a.m.

Exactly 20 years after Jenny's birth, Catie had told her sister happy birthday.

Three minutes later, Jenny Cree did the same.

Chapter Nine

Memory

If only it were so easy: If having a twin had really prepared Caroline to lose one. But nothing -- not confidence, not friends, not support groups, not books, not all the stubbornness and strength and insight in the world -- could have.

Nothing could have silenced the relentless voice in Caroline's head -- she's dead, she's dead, she's dead -- or shut out the flashbacks to the day she found Kelly's body, or stopped the pain that Caroline could only describe as torture, because it didn't go away, and didn't let up, and changed, unpredictably, from one moment to the next.

She struggled to remember her life before Kelly died. Caroline felt sure she'd known how to make herself happy even when she wasn't with her sister, but how? Last summer, without the comforting din and distraction of college, Caroline found herself bored for the first time in her life. She tried to be productive: writing, reading, doing housework, going out with friends. But some afternoons she didn't feel like doing anything but lying in bed, letting the phone ring without answering it.

Nothing could have prepared her, either, for the feeling of being isolated while surrounded by people. Caroline had her friends, parents, classmates, co-workers, a roommate she'd connected with, and yet there were times she felt so detached, so removed from her own life, that it was as if she were watching a movie.

"I would say to myself, Why am I so lonely?" she says. "My friends are right here. We're doing fun things. We're not sitting around moping."

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