By Annie Riedel
I am a twin. For twenty years of my life, I had a sidekick, a partner in crime, a built-in best friend. And then, three months and five days after our twentieth birthday, my twin sister died.
People tend to think it’s pretty cool that I’m a twin. And then they tend to think it’s pretty cool to ask about what it’s like to be a twin. A bold question to ask someone who only ever knew the life of a twin. When people would ask us that question our answer was always, “we don’t know, what’s it like not being a twin?” I’ll never know what it’s like to not be a twin, but now I do know what it’s like to not have a twin. The short answer? It sucks.
I could say a lot about Martha and her amazing spirit, but adjectives can only go so far. She was funny, and kind, and all the other things that a great person should be. But she was also so unapologetically herself. There’s so many stories I could tell, anecdotes that capture who Martha was, but instead of any of those, I’m going to tell you about moths.
I hate moths. A lot. So much, in fact, that I’ve never not evacuated the premises when a moth is present. Martha, though, was a fan of all creatures, big and small, including moths. Taped to the wall in my room is a photo of Martha on one of our many family camping trips. She’s holding a moth and smiling, proud of what she found. Not pictured: me probably screaming and running away. At 21 years old, I have never had to deal with a moth in any capacity. I got the hang of other bugs, spiders and flies, but I’ve never learned to handle a moth. If there was ever a moth in my room, Martha would come to the rescue. Even when she was going through cancer treatment, hooked up to what we called “fanny pack chemo,” walking around with toxic chemicals around her waist and pumping through her body, she was always ready to help me get rid of a moth.
This was always our dynamic: Martha was brave and never let anything get in her way, and I was a bit more timid, comforted only by the fact that my twin sister would never let anything hurt me. She was my shield, and in return I helped her spell big words and wrote her name on school assignments until first grade. Seems like a pretty fair trade.
There’s a video of Martha and I opening presents on our fourth birthday. We each got the same thing–as is the twin birthday standard–and had extremely different reactions. I started yelling, “I always wanted this. I ALWAYS wanted this!” Martha, on the other hand, had only one thing to say: “Mom, I need some scissors right now.” What was the gift that made us have these reactions? A pair of shoes, of course. I don’t think I really had “always wanted” them, but they were pink and therefore they were perfect, and there had been a pink shoe-sized hole in my life up until that point. They still had tags on them, and Martha absolutely had to get those tags off. She also just loved using scissors.
So, my mom handed Martha a pair of scissors (not safety scissors, either), and she began snipping away, holding the scissors in a questionable manner but handling them like a pro. After finishing up on her shoes, I asked her to take the tags off mine, because “I don’t know how to use these yet but Martha does.” Four years old and she was already solving my problems for me, fighting my battles, using scissors so I wouldn’t have to.
“Mom, I need some scissors right now” is a very Martha thing to say. Martha was full of these hilarious statements, so when we were thirteen I started making a list of Martha’s greatest quotes. Though nothing can top four-year-old Martha requesting scissors with the urgency of a surgeon, I’d like to share some of her greatest quotes since then.
First, a classic: “I’m gonna go shoot those seagulls with my slingshot.” I don’t remember exactly when this was said, but I’m sure Martha proceeded to terrorize some seagulls in a way only she could.
Later in the list we have, “I bought another knife off amazon. Don’t worry it’s really cool, this one’s worth it… I have an addiction.” The addiction she was referring to would be her knife collection, which started when we were around ten years old. My dad got us each a small Swiss Army Knife so we could learn how to whittle. I pretty much immediately lost interest, but Martha had a knack for it. From there she moved on to bigger and better knives, each one ready to take on a new crafty challenge.
And speaking of crafts, a quote that captures Martha’s curiosity and creativity in a uniquely Martha way: “Ya know what I want to do? I want to make a metal foundry just so I can melt down all my aluminum cans and have a giant sheet of aluminum.” And if it wasn’t a major fire hazard and my mom didn’t want a metal foundry in the backyard I’m sure she would’ve done it.
The last quote on the long list is from two days before Martha died. My older brothers and I were visiting her in the hospital. The decision to stop treatment and go on hospice care had just been made. And yet when we walked into her hospital room she was smiling. She was still herself. None of us wanted to address the fact that our sister was dying, so Martha was the one to break the silence. She asked us if we had any questions. It was a question only Martha would ask in a room full of somber faces. Even at the end, she wanted people to learn, to know things, to be curious. My brother Sean was the first one to answer. He asked if she was scared. She said not really, and that she was more curious about what happens when you die. Then she asked if we were scared. We all said yes. She looked at us and said, “it’s gonna fucking suck, but it’s gonna be okay.” Only Martha would be one to comfort her family as she lay dying. I wrote down that quote, it would be the last one to be added to the list.
In the days leading up to Martha passing away, and the months following, it was difficult to believe that it really would be okay. I went back to school, finished up the semester and spent the summer away from home. It took me a while to be able to go back home and not relive the moment my dad walked into my room and said “It’s happening. She’s going.”
Today, April 15, 2023, is the one-year anniversary of Martha’s death. I’m often reminded of the wisdom in her final quote. It does suck. It sucks a whole lot. But it’s also okay. In the last twelve months, I’ve been able to solve my own problems, fight my own battles, and even mastered scissors. Moths, on the other hand, are still a work in progress.