We were identical.
The only way our parents could tell Mary from Marie was to check the back of our necks.
Marie had a small black mole at the base of her neck, and I did not.
In the ’50s, we were such an oddity that people would stop my mother on the street to try and detect our differences, and they’d give us coins.
But we didn’t always appreciate looking alike, especially as we got older.
For the longest time, we shared a room and a bed. We hated that.
We couldn’t even stand for our feet to touch, and a fight would break out in the middle of the night if a leg or arm found its way across the imaginary line that separated us.
I can’t remember when I became aware of our twin-ness, but she was my mirror image, and I expected her always to be there.
As children, we did everything together. To most everyone, we were Mary-Marie, not Mary and Marie.
But we knew we were very different.
She was fun-loving and gregarious, just like my father. I was quiet and prone to pensive moods like my mother. She was a risk-taker, while I rarely strayed outside the lines.
By the time we hit puberty, the die had been cast.
I was the one trying to keep her on a narrow path, and she was the one running as fast as she could down the bumpy road to independence.
She loved me as sisters do.
But she didn’t want to be like anyone else. She just wanted to be Marie.
When it was time for high school, she defied our father, who wanted us to go to Dunbar Vocational High School together, by going to Wendell Phillips High School by herself.
It was the first time we were separated.
Soon after, she married, had children and built a life that was hers alone.
And while I had my own life and my friends, when she decided to move to California in search of a different life, it felt like a giant wave had swept me into Lake Michigan.
She had settled into an apartment in L.A. by the time I made the trip to see her. But we were carrying the same handbag. At the airport, we cried like babies when we laid eyes on one another.
For years, I watched from a distance as she chased the sun.
In 1999, she fulfilled her lifelong dream when she earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento and was chosen to give the graduation address at the university’s Black graduation ceremony.
It took a family tragedy to bring her back to Chicago’s harsh winters. Her firstborn, Asuntha Amundson, was stricken with breast cancer and died in 2000. Marie was devastated. She returned to Chicago to raise her two granddaughters, Amoria Amundson and Ayan Crossley.
Marie managed to launch a new career as a financial adviser during that sorrowful time, but she was back to being mistaken for someone else.
In 2007, when her employer allowed her to relocate to the Alamo State, she gladly left Chicago behind.
Marie retired from Citibank in San Antonio in 2016.
We had plans to travel the world together. But I was still working, and Marie was eager to get on with the next chapter of her life.
We went to Cuba, but her adventures also included trips to Australia, Amsterdam, Ghana, Paris, Holland, Panama, and Singapore.
“There was no place that we traveled that Marie didn’t know somebody there. She would flitter from person to person. She was a social butterfly,” said Denise Newman, a retired flight attendant and Marie’s closest friend in San Antonio.
“Marie never met a stranger,” Newman said.
In our later years, Marie and I made a point of spending our birthday together.
But this year she turned our birthday celebration into a family-and-friends reunion.
“I am most grateful that she let me go with you guys on your birthday trip this year. I knew that date was so important for the two of you,” Newman later told me.
Marie Crossley, my identical twin, passed away on Nov. 2 after a yearlong battle with cancer.
I’ve spent this past year doing what I’ve always done — trying to keep her close.
“Mary,” she said one night, crawling under the bed covers, “one day, you are going to have to say: I used to have a twin.”
That dreadful day came much too soon.