Walking down the aisle, between my two mothers - Rose, the woman who’d given birth to me, and Renee Loux who’d adopted me, I couldn’t have been happier. My identical twin sister Teyolla, Tee for short, and I had talked about this day from as early as I could remember.
My only sadness was that Tee, 20, couldn’t watch me get married, because she was waiting outside the door, preparing to get hitched herself.
We were having a double wedding, with two ceremonies, and we were marrying identical twin brothers Eric and Shawn Crow. Anyone who didn’t know us must have thought they were seeing double. Tee and I were wearing similar strapless dresses, and the boys also had the same dark suit but with different ties and waistcoats. We had to wear slightly different outfits otherwise no one would be able to tell us apart. “You look beautiful,” Eric, 26, whispered when he saw me. I grinned, remembering how Tee and I had met him and Shawn eight years earlier while volunteering at our local church. We’d hardly spoken more than a few words, and had lost contact for years. But now here we were becoming a double couple. “I’m so happy,” I whispered, gazing at Eric.
He grinned back, knowing that soon our twins would be saying their vows in front of the same guests. It was a fantastic idea, a fairytale wedding – and so different from our earlier life.
Tee and I were born in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific to a single mother who had nine children. She was a good mum, but struggled to look after us all.
Our dad had left us when we were very young, so we didn’t remember him. Mum was a maid in the island’s main hotel resort. She worked long hours, but did her best to make sure we went to school, were clean and well fed. When she was at work, our aunts looked after us. But the pressure of trying to make ends meet and caring for a large family on her own was getting to her. When we were eight, Mum was close to having a breakdown.
That’s when she gave up and abandoned us, going to live with her boyfriend about 10 minutes away from our house.
We tried to look after ourselves and our brothers and sisters – we had five older siblings and two younger – the best we could, but we were only little, and needed a mother and father.
We were alone for about two months. Mum had an account at the local store, so we could get food and she would pay for it. We’d buy rice, corned beef and hotdogs and our sister Lily, who was two and a half years older, would cook and act like a mum to us all.
There was a kind American missionary couple called Terry and Amy Sasser who had helped our mum over the years and after a while, Lily said we should ask them for help.They were good people and everyone on the island knew them. So Tee, me, Lily, and our younger brothers Kenny and Jason turned up at the Sasser’s house asking them to look after us. They took us in. Our other four siblings went to live with family.
“At least we have a home now, and someone to care for us,” Tee said. I was relieved - I read to think what might have happened if we hadn’t been taken in. The islands weren’t safe for small children living alone.
The couple’s children were all grown up, and lived in America, and one day six months later their daughter Renee and her husband Derek Loux, who worked for the church, came to visit.
When Renee and Derek saw us, they knew they wanted to offer us a home. “Can we really come and live with you?” I asked Renee.
“Yes honey,” replied Renee with a smile, giving me a hug.
Derek and Renee contacted our Mum, and she was relieved there was someone willing to look after us. Before long Tee and I were adopted by the Loux family and living in Indianapolis while the other three were adopted by the Sassers.
It was a huge change from life on the islands, but we knew even then that we had been saved from a hopeless future.
Everything was different in America. Tee and I were eight and scared of school, because we couldn’t speak English fluently for the first two years, but everyone was so welcoming.
After a few years we moved with the family to Kansas City. Our new parents showered us with love.
Tee and I weren’t their only children. Mum and Dad had two natural daughters, Sophie, nine, and Mikaela, seven, and adopted 11 other children, from the Marshall Islands and Ukraine, five of them with special needs.
We were so happy, and still kept in contact with our birth mother, calling her regularly. But then one day Dad left home on December 20, 2009 to attend a conference and was killed in a car crash on the way home. He was only 39.
We were all in shock. Mum was overwhelmed with grief but tried to be brave for the rest of us. Tee and I were devastated – he had been the best father we could have wished for. We all rallied round Mum, helping her through the funeral in January, and being there when she broke down. “I just miss him,” she’d sob. We all did. Two years dragged by.
We found solace in the church, where Dad had been a minister. As the years passed we’d volunteer to help at the church, the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. It was there Tee and I met Eric and Shawn when we were 16.
“Look there’s another set of twins,” I said, nudging her. I’d seen Eric around, but had no idea he was a twin. We introduced ourselves.
“Hey, I am Keyolla and this is my sister, Teyolla. It’s nice to meet some other identical twins,” I said.
Eric smiled. “Yeah, good to meet you,’’ he said. They were 21, so much older than us, but they were friendly.
We only spoke for a few minutes but we spoke about them at home that night. Both of us had an instant crush on them – I on Eric and Tee on Shawn, which made it convenient!
But after that initial meeting, we didn’t see the boys for three years as they were busy volunteering and helping the poor across the US. Then there was an earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and Tee and I were planning on going to help with a relief team from the church. We had to attend a class on how to help people in crisis, and my stomach flipped when I saw Eric in the same class. “Hey, how are you doing?” I smiled at him.
“Good, great to see you,” he said. We soon got talking and I realised he was an amazing guy – clever, quiet and with a great sense of humour. Tee was disappointed Shawn wasn’t there, until it turned out he was sick, and he would be going on the trip as well.
Eric and I chatted a bit, but I had no idea if he liked me. He was so much older, I didn’t think I stood a chance.
Two weeks later our trip to Haiti was cancelled, but I got a Facebook message from Eric.
“Do you want to grab a coffee some time?” he wrote.
I freaked out. “Tee, he’s asking me on a date!” I screamed. I’d never been on one before. I assumed Eric wanted to have coffee with his brother and Tee as well, so I replied that we would both be coming. I found out later Eric told Shawn he had to come as Tee was going to be there. Shawn was shy, and although he liked Tee, it took him a while to come out of his shell.
We took a long time deciding what to wear; Tee must have changed about 10 times. In the end we both wore jeans; I teamed mine with a black shirt and Tee chose a black and white shirt.
“So tell us about yourselves,” Eric said. Tee and I looked at each other and laughed. Together we told them about our lives on the islands and the adoption.
“You’ve been through a lot,” Eric said when we had finished.
“Where are you from?” Tee asked.
They explained they were from North Carolina, but had moved a lot because their dad was in the Marines. They’d arrived in Kansas City a few weeks after we’d moved there, and they had both come to study at Bible College at our church.
We all got on so well and talked until late in the night.
A few days later, Eric asked me out again and Shawn asked my sister out. Tee and I already knew these were the men we wanted to marry, they were kind and honourable.
Even though Tee and I are identical, we have very different tastes. I’m more outgoing than my sister, who can be serious, and the boys were the same. Shawn was goofier and Eric quieter. It was like opposites attracting, we balanced each other out perfectly.
On January 26, 2011, Eric arranged to take me out for a meal. It was a complete surprise. He took me to a beautiful bed-and-breakfast 45 minutes from our house. He rented out the entire first floor.
“Wow, this is fancy, what is going on?” I asked as we walked in. I didn’t understand why he’d reserved the whole place for dinner. Eric just smiled. But mid-way through the meal he announced: “I have something for you.”
He went to the kitchen and brought back a small bag. “It must be a ring!” I thought, thrilled.
But it wasn’t – it was a sweet letter he’d written saying how much he loved me. “Oh, thank you!” I said, but inside I was crushed as I was sure he was going to propose. I hid my disappointment though.
We kept on talking and laughing until about 10pm. “I have one more thing for you,” Eric suddenly said.
He went to the kitchen, and came back with a Tiffany box. I didn’t want to get too excited, in case it was earrings or a bracelet, but my hands were shaking. “Here you go,” he said.
I opened the box and inside was a ring box. “You have to help me open it,” I said.
“Honey just open it!” he laughed.
“Let’s do it together, on three,” I insisted. When we opened it, there was a beautiful diamond ring.
Eric took it out of the box, got down on one knee and said: “Keyolla, I would like to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you be my wife?’”
“Yes!” I replied and we hugged.
Then immediately my thoughts went to my sister. “What about Tee and Shawn?” I asked.
“They got engaged tonight as well,” Eric laughed. The boys had arranged a double proposal.
Straight away we decided to share our wedding day. And we wanted both our mothers there - our birth mother and the one who adopted and raised us. It was fun planning the wedding with Tee, but we both wanted to have our own ceremony, to feel that it was our special day.
We agreed on the venue and decided to have different flowers in our bouquets. I opted for roses, and Tee chose lilies that cascaded.
We had different dresses and hair styles but we did agree on a colour scheme – ivory and dark purple – and we had joint invitations and one cake with two miniature couples on top. We didn’t fight over anything.
The wedding was at 2pm at the Ritz Charles, a hotel in Leawood, outside Kansas City. Afterwards we had dinner and dancing.
We served our guests chicken and vegetables for the main course, and our wedding cake was Italian cream, both Tee’s and my favourite.
People mix Tee and me up the whole time, but those who really know us can see we are very different. My face is more oval. I am 155cm tall. Tee has thicker eyebrows, a rounder face and is a bit taller at 158cm.
The guests didn’t get us mixed up – they were all our close friends and family so knew us well enough to know the difference.
It was brilliant to share my wedding day with my twin. That was three years ago and we are all very happy. Tee and I are working with children, and we live near each other. Every year the four of us celebrate our wedding anniversary together.
Every time we four step out for a volunteering mission together, we continue to turn heads. For many people, seeing one pair of twins is a pleasant surprise, but to see twins married to identical twins is a double delight.
The couples live in Kansas City, USA