When I was young, I, like most kids my age, created a hideout.  And in this hideout, I would draw and create art.  It transported me away from my homelessness, my hunger, and my unsolicited misfortune.  I distracted me from my mother, whose drug addiction and chronic illnesses made for a less than ideal home situation.  For those few hours, I could let my creativity shine and completely consume me.  I’d never taken formal art classes, but when I became a sophomore in college, I taught myself how to paint.  Stroke by stroke, art became part of my identity.  I started creating pieces for friends and for a moment it became a second source of income.

…for a moment, I was at peace.

I’m Noah Johnson, the older, more reserved twin, and my experiences have shaped me into a being I never thought I’d become, broke me to a point I didn’t think I’d be able to bounce back from; all while keeping me humble, selfless, and confident.  This is my Crystal Stair.

I remember the pungent odor of my mother’s pee.  I remember the bed bugs and roaches.  My mother, a recovering drug addict and disabled woman, used to pee herself constantly and I’d help her maneuver around the house.  For me, that smell symbolized the unwavering loyalty I had for her.

Although I have 2 other siblings, a younger brother and older sister (all by different fathers), it became clear early on that it was going to be me and my brother, Nealand, against the world.  I always get the question “How does it feel to be a twin?”

My answer?  He’s my Doppelgänger.  Here you have someone enduring the same experiences as you, yet at the same time, leading a completely different life.  Our struggles are each deciphered and processed differently through a lens that is both one and the same and completely diverse.

Being a twin meant that someone would ALWAYS have your back, care for you, and fight for you.  It’s more than being simple siblings, there’s a profound connection that binds tighter than any mere friendship.  To know that when he says “ I know how you feel” or “I understand”, and know he means it, is a powerful and beautiful thing.  Nealand keeps me humble.  It also meant that I was always being compared.  The journey of defining myself as a separate entity from my brother would always be a challenge, and vice-versa.

Within that journey of self-discovery and self-identity came my perception of success and honestly, and I’m still figuring that out.  Initially, I based it off other people’s standards.  Given my past, the thought of success didn’t always come easily. 

My first notion of success was purely financial.  I knew growing up, we didn’t have any money for anything, let alone money for fancy things like health insurance or private education, or a car.  My mother had always been my main priority, so anyway I could help her, I would.  It led me to my career at Cigna, a leading health insurance firm, in an effort to be able to afford the best care for her.  I never imagined being in a position to not only help her but others just like her. And for that, I am grateful.

We love you mama, eternally.