a typical day at work. I chair a meeting, write a report, give a
software demo. In between, I trade pleasantries with co-workers
waiting for the copy machine, answer my e-mail, and phone a local
restaurant to make reservations for twenty -- a luncheon next week
for a colleague who is leaving. Five o'clock. With relief, I exchange
the intimacy of the office for the privacy of the crowded street.
I always walk the three miles home, and as I head up Broadway, I
begin to feel the familiar internal shift. Those inside me are waking
up. I give them free play while my body travels onward.
In the safety of my apartment, I take
off my outside clothes and put on a comfortable, oversized T-shirt.
Along with the clothes, I shed my outside skin and mind. Now I don't
have to think in words or wear a grown-up expression, and all those
inside me can finally be themselves. Just as waves turn the ocean
inside out and rearrange the water, different ones of us cycle in
and out in an ebb and flow that is sometimes gentle, sometimes turbulent.
A child colors with Crayola markers that a teenager bought her the
day before. The child moves aside to make way for the administrator,
who reconciles the bank statement. A moment later the dead baby
takes over and lies paralyzed on the floor, staring unseeing at
the ceiling. She remains that way for a while, but no one gets upset
-- it's her turn. The constant, easy switching continues. The live
baby stops in her crawl, engrossed by a speck of dust. The cooker
prepares meals for three days and packages each separately -- we
all have different likes and dislikes. A terrified one screams aloud,
a wounded one moans, a grieving one wails. Cooking and screaming
often go on simultaneously, as more than one of us can be out at
a given time. Someone talks to someone else, then pauses to listen
to the response, which I cannot hear, as I don't yet know everyone
in me. "You little Shit! Leave me alone!" Pause. "I
told you, I didn't do that." I have no idea what this is about,
but I feel no anxiety, pain or fear, despite the ominous words.
In many ways, I am an ordinary person.
You have probably seen me in the public library, or eating pasta
at the table next to you in a restaurant. You would never know,
from my behavior or appearance, that I have Multiple Personality
Disorder (MPD). But if you did, it shouldn't alarm you. I don't
do bizarre things in public. I'm not dangerous. And like most Multiples,
I go to great lengths to conceal my multiplicity, partly for practical
reasons like earning a living, partly because I crave connections
and don't want to be seen as a freak.
The free-flowing time at home, which I
euphemistically call putter-time, enables my system to come into
balance and replenish the enormous amount of energy expended outside,
where I have to maintain a non-stop translator as my interface to
the world. It's the most essential part of my day, and I try to
make sure it is uninterrupted. But sometimes the phone rings. Then
we come to a short stop, and everything freezes while System Control
decides whether to answer. If the decision is yes, I hastily put
everyone on hold and manage a barely audible "Hello."
Invariably, the person calling asks "Did I wake you?"
or "Are you sick?" But by the time the preliminary how-are-you's
are dispensed with, I have usually gotten enough of the interface
in place to talk in a more normal manner. If the caller is one of
my Multiple friends, whom I've met through a support group, I sometimes
welcome it. While I don't let any of the children or babies talk,
I do talk about them -- what they thought and felt and did, the
current problems they're having. My friends listen understandingly
and share their own similar experiences with me. I come away from
the call feeling validated and refreshed. But with non-Multiple
callers, we have to hide all our internal concerns. It is a strain
to keep the interface in place and talk about things that have no
meaning for those on hold who are waiting impatiently to return,
and I try to limit the conversation.
Sometimes I go to the theater with a friend,
or baby-sit for my young nephews after work. On those occasions,
the shortened putter-time we have when we get home is stressful,
because those waiting to come out know there might not be enough
time for them and are restless underneath. Their restlessness is
felt by the one who is out, so even though she's getting her turn,
it isn't satisfying for her. Putter-time needs to run its course
in an unhurried way for everyone to go back inside peacefully. Then,
no matter who is out when we go to sleep, the administrator wakes
in the morning to get us ready for work and everyone inside remains
calm during the day. But if putter-time is short-changed, no one
is stowed away properly and our delicate balance is completely disrupted.
We wake the next morning unsettled, have a bad day at work, and
come home worse. Because it takes two or three days of quality putter-time
to recover from one evening at the movies with a friend, I don't
go out often, and my life is severely limited.
* * *
known as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), is sometimes portrayed
as a rare condition, and sometimes as the current, in-vogue diagnosis.
There are mental health professionals who question its existence,
and others who acknowledge it, but believe it is therapists themselves
who create it by suggesting to their patients that they have separate
parts. Most, however, feel it is similar to post-traumatic stress
disorder, the difference being that the trauma which causes MPD
usually begins in childhood and continues for many years. Although
MPD was documented as early as the 1880's, little was known about
it when I was in high school and college in the fifties and sixties.
Two books -- The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and Sybil (1973) -- and
their associated movies brought MPD to the public's attention. At
the time, audiences considered the condition an oddity, and were
intrigued mostly because of the bizarre symptoms: sudden switching
from one personality to another, amnesia for things another self
did, "waking up" bewildered in a strange place. But today,
media coverage of the problems of Vietnam veterans, rape and incest
victims, and victims of political terrorism and torture has made
the public more aware of the long-term effects of physical and emotional
* * *
In some respects, I had an unremarkable
childhood. I was raised in a two-parent family with one younger
brother, and played stoop-ball and hop-scotch with all the other
kids on our tree-lined street in Brooklyn. At the local public elementary
school, my report cards were filled with "Satisfactory"
or "Outstanding" in academic subjects, but I sometimes
received "Unsatisfactory" in conduct; though I was quiet
at home, in school I talked non-stop, laughed uncontrollably, and
waved my hand wildly when I raised it, hoping for praise and recognition.
Before they met at a foreign language
club in 1941, both my parents had had brief marriages which ended
in divorce. Though my father was a government clerk with only a
high-school diploma, my college-educated mother was captivated by
him because he went to concerts and museums, studied languages,
and played chess. They married within a few months. But even before
my birth a year later, my mother came to know my father's rages.
Anything set him off -- the apartment was too hot, she flavored
the stew with ketchup, a neighbor's radio was too loud.
She had been looking forward to motherhood,
but he took possession of me the moment I was born and shut her
out. With fierce love, he set out to give me all the skills I would
need to survive in the world. Baby talk was forbidden. No coo-coo-ing,
clucking sounds, or anything that wasn't a perfectly enunciated
word in a well-constructed sentence. He himself spoke to me only
in Spanish, so I would learn another language. He trained me not
to cry by not responding, and sent my mother out of the apartment
when she wanted to soothe me. If she gave me a bath in warm water,
he immediately plunged me into a basin of ice water -- to close
my pores so I wouldn't get ill -- and held me down despite my shrieks.
My mother's self-esteem had been badly shaken by her divorce, and
she resolved to stay married this time, despite her unhappiness.
She survived by cutting off her feelings at home and pouring her
energy into her teaching career, leaving my upbringing to my father.
A dedicated and effective educator, she worked toward her doctorate
at night and eventually became a school principal.
In the parlance of the day, people didn't
call my father abusive; they said he was "strict." He
molded me to his vision of preparedness with the patience and tenacity
of a horticulturist shaping a bonsai tree, knowing it would take
years to twist it into crippled perfection, and nursing it through
its torture. He read me books -- Goldilocks y los Tres Osos, A Child's
History of the World. Worried that he and my mother might die, he
taught me touch typing and Gregg stenography when I was 8, so I
would be able to support myself. At 10, he insisted that I sit on
the beach without a bathing suit top, to absorb the sun's healthful
rays. I had tiny breast buds and was mortally embarrassed, but I
didn't dare protest.
At best, my father was a benevolent despot.
At worst, he was brutal. He made me prepare myself for his beatings
when I did something that displeased him, ordering me to "take
off your glasses and come here." I always complied. In winter,
he put me to bed with the window wide open, for fresh air. Following
his orders, I lay on my right side facing the wall, to prevent communication
with my brother, who was on his left side facing the opposite wall.
My father placed a blanket over me and told me to keep my feet under
it all night. I always did, but could never get warm. When morning
came, he lifted the cover, felt my icy feet, and was sure I had
disobeyed. I submitted to his blows in silence; the less I said,
the sooner this part of the morning routine would be over, and the
sooner I could get ready for school.
My father's rages were the backdrop of
my family's existence, but my mother, my brother, and I never mentioned
them. When I watched my father bunch my brother into a football
and kick him down the hall in fury, I didn't feel solidarity with
him -- only relief that it wasn't me. All the members of my family
lived isolated lives, taking what private respite we could in the
calm intervals. Sometimes, when I was very young and still had hope
of comfort, I did seek it from my mother. But lacking emotional
support herself -- though my father wasn't physically abusive to
her, she was not spared his tirades -- she had none to offer me.
When I whined and tried to cling, she hit me with a wooden hanger
and banished me with "Get out of my sight, you fucking bastard!
Go shit in your hat! Your name is mud!" I felt disgusting,
like a worm you poke with a stick. My father, at least, never tired
* * *
Author's note: MPD
has sometimes been called a disorder of pronouns. Several non-Multiples
who read drafts of this article asked who the "I" was.
The article was written by Laura Emily Mason, the writer in us,
with input from several others, mainly AlmostLaura, who has the
most co-consciousness. "I" sometimes refers to the totality
of us, and sometimes to one of us in particular. When it is someone
in particular, it is most often Almost Laura.
"The longing was so great, it opened a big hole in my chest..."
When a child is abused, it is usually at the hands of someone on
whom she depends for food, shelter and love. In order to survive
emotionally, she must find a way of coping with the trauma without
compromising her belief in the goodness of that person. While she
has little control over her external environment, she can escape
it by becoming divided internally. Some of her parts, or personalities,
hold all awareness of the abuse, as well as the fear, anger and
humiliation that go with it. Other parts, free of the disturbing
knowledge and feelings, lead seemingly normal lives; they go to
school, play with friends, and even interact with her abuser as
if nothing were the matter. The personality who is out at any given
moment may have no idea that others share her body.
isn't always easy to spot abused children, especially if there are
no visible marks. But even when they do leave clues, as I did in
kindergarten, adults often don't recognize them. I colored and pasted,
played games, and was generally indistinguishable from the other
children. Except for one minute each day, I was totally unaware
of my pain. That minute came at ten o'clock, after free play, when
the teacher gathered the class together for group singing. Something
about her sitting at the piano, looking so kindly at the class arranged
in a semi-circle around her, woke up the part inside who longed
for someone to care about me. The longing was so great, it opened
a big hole in my chest and made my insides hurt unbearably. I couldn't
sit and sing with such a big hole. So every morning at ten, for
that entire year, I tiptoed up to Mrs. McCullough's piano stool
and whispered hopefully in her ear, "I have a stomachache."
And every morning, hands still on the keyboard, she leaned her head
toward me and said gently, "Just sit down and try not to think
about it, and it'll go away." The stab of disappointment always
took me by surprise. She didn't see the hole in me. Or if she did,
it wasn't important enough to be real. So I obediently returned
to my seat with my stomachache, which I didn't know enough to call
a heartache. Then, just as my insides hurt so much I thought they
would break open, the pain went away, and I began to sing with
the rest of the children. Row, row, row your boat, Gently down
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