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Connections

My twin sister

Separating from June was always hard. Who was I without my brave, determined other half?

Gracia Lam

The last time I saw my twin sister, June, was at LaGuardia Airport departures, more than 30 years ago. She was returning to Colorado, where, after getting her degree in agronomy, she worked in a lab that did environmental testing. Unlike me, she always had a strong sense of what she wanted to do with her life. Where her interest in agriculture sprang from, however, I never knew. Along with our younger brother, we grew up in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Queens with our mother. We never had a backyard. The closest my sister ever got to nature was when she showered with our houseplants in order to give them a good dousing.

Our parents divorced when June and I were 7. As “latchkey kids,” we learned to be independent earlier than most, and although June was a mere six minutes older than I, she assumed the role of big sister. In grade school, June fearlessly confronted a bully who had punched me in the stomach. Although half the other girl’s size, she was fierce. With her hands on her hips and her sharp words, she made it quite clear that any future harassment would not be tolerated. June had my back.

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My first separation from June was the summer of our sophomore year in high school. Always the adventurer, she decided to bike through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island with a group of teens she’d never met before. My mother and I drove her to the starting point in Maine, and as we headed home without her, I was hit by an overwhelming sense of loss. I cried all the way back to Queens. It was a very long ride.

Growing up a twin had its difficulties. Being so close meant we shared everything — friends, family, our room, clothing. Packing for college required a referee to help negotiate the division of our belongings. Harder to separate was my own identity. Who was I without my brave, determined other half?

That first year at a different school was the toughest. In 1976, way before the era of hyperconnectivity, there was one phone for 20 freshman girls on my hall. It took me weeks to reach June, and, as on the ride back to Queens, I cried the entire call.

In her lifetime, June’s strong sense of direction helped guide me. While I was trying to figure out where my studies would take me, she asked me to design and illustrate posters for the feminist organization she belonged to. She never knew her confidence in me as an artist ultimately led me toward a career in graphic design. Often, she acted as my moral compass. If I snubbed a friend, she’d reprimand my self-absorbed behavior. Sometimes I can still hear her voice berate me for cutting short an irritating conversation. June gave everyone a chance.

When I pulled up to the departures curb that last time, I let the car idle while I said my goodbyes from the driver’s seat. Being June, she wouldn’t let our farewell go at that. She walked around to the driver’s window and asked me to get out of the car. Indignant, she waited for a “real hug” goodbye. I laughed as I complied and said, “It’s not like I’ll never see you again.” Neither of us knew at that moment I never would.

Several months later, in June, the unimaginable occurred. My sister was murdered. Her killer, never caught, stole half of me, as well. Although the grief has tempered with time, I will always miss my twin, especially in June.

Carrie Megan is an artist and teacher living in Wellesley with her husband and three children, including twins. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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