They came to me suddenly, as if called forth from the lingering aftermath of a deep dream. One of those delicious dreams that come to me infrequently in which, once again, I'm a mother to fat delightful babies and toddlers. In these dreams, the little ones are never cranky, the toddlers never obstinate or irritable.
My hands, in these dreams, gracefully fold cloth diapers into neat triangles with a deftness I'm sure they lacked in reality, so overwhelmed was I with so many to care for, and me in a state of perpetual frozenness.
These others--this new family of mine--sought me out, they who came to me so late in life. Or did I do the seeking? Confusion baffles me when I try to sort it out; I find it difficult to conjure up the sequence of events which led me (warily, I admit) from settling into a comfortable old age with well-thumbed books, and cups of tea, to a course both foreign and unwanted. I found myself unaccountably embarking, at this late date, on a journey whose reason for existence and whose destination puzzled me.
My new tribe (for how else to think of them?) came in a rush at a time when (at the urging of well-meaning friends), I decided to finally begin coming to terms with my painful childhood. Oh, they came to me as children I didn't remember giving birth to whose features were, nonetheless, vaguely familiar. They smiled shyly, the sweet ones, anyway. Others cringed, or smirked: the teens, mostly, with smudged kohl-rimmed eyes and the steely self-assurance of youth (which I'm sure I never possessed at any time during my own volatile teen years.)
They came, then: shy, aloof, clingy, rebellious--or, like Mrs. Homebody, the eldest of the bunch, all bumbling nervousness with a heartbreakingly eagerness to please.
I won't pretend to have greeted their arrival with open arms. Nothing like that. I eyed them, when I managed to catch a glimpse, with a sinking heart. I've raised my family, came my instant, rebellious thought. This is supposed to be my time now. How incongruous that I, a nana at the age of 50, should once again be caretaker to so many! Yet here they were, a ragamuffin gang my heart should have gone out to instantly. Surely I could spare for them, in all their oddities, at least a smidgen of the maternal instinct which as a mother had been my one saving grace.
Perhaps it's misleading to say they came to me during my 50th year. According to my therapist at the time (who was keen to recognize these others), they have been with me, as surely as my own bone and marrow and beating heart, since childhood. More accurately, they showed themselves to me during my 50th year.
"They are parts of you," she explained, her intense gaze boring into me, though her voice was kind, even gentle. "They are the others you created to endure the outrageous abuses of your childhood."
"Like Sybil," I said, saying it in a low moan.
"You couldn't have retained your sanity without them, " she said. My therapist was a short, squat woman with frizzy, greying hair and a frowsy way of dressing. Her name was Rose.
"But I would have known about them sooner," came my lame attempt at denial. "If they exist, how could I have lived so long without knowing about them?"
Rose leaned forward in her overstuffed chair in a confidential manner, as if we were nothing more than two middle-aged friends sharing confidences about menopause and hormones.
"The whole point of Dissociative Identity Disorder," she explained, "is secrecy. Your alters fear exposure. They fear that if they are seen they will be abused again."
I let that sink in, or tried to, as my eyes swept her small office, searching for something on which to fix my gaze.
"I don't change clothes a zillion times a day," I said in protest. "I don't change my voice!"
To this Rose said nothing. She settled back comfortably into the depths of her chair; I watched absently as she crossed the puffy ankles my sister and I would describe as 'cankles.'
"What are you thinking?" she asked after a few moments.
"I'm thinking this is an injustice. I've raised my family! I've been nurturing everyone under the sun since I was a little girl. I shouldn't have to deal with this. And," I added, "I'm thinking that most likely you're wrong about me being a multiple."
She raised an eyebrow, and reached for the lined pencil tablet I'd handed her earlier when she showed me into her office.
"Who's Jenny?" she asked casually, flipping open the tablet and glancing at the childish writing which filled the wide lines.
"Yes, you see that every page here is signed by someone who goes by the name of Jenny. Was this journal written during your childhood?"
"Oh no," I said, eager to correct this misconception. "I bought that tablet a month ago."
Our eyes met; in hers I saw gentle amusement, and I'm certain that in mine she saw the beginning of a dawning comprehension.
"Do you see what you're telling me? You wrote this recently, at the age of 50. And signed every page with the name Jenny."
"Oh . . . " I let my voice trail off as a soft sigh escaped my lips. "Jenny . . ." In my mind's eye I caught a glimpse of a black-haired pony tailed little girl of about 7, with merry eyes. "I think, I think I know who you mean. Sometimes, well sometimes I hear someone complaining that I'm brushing her hair too hard, or that she wants to wear it in a ponytail today." I gulped before continuing, "I thought it was just--well, my own silly thoughts. You know, like times when I keep hearing old childhood songs playing over and over in my head."
"As if someone were trying to get your attention?"
I jumped to my feet, began pacing the cluttered room, sidestepping the brown corduroy ottoman covered with cat hair, and a filing cabinet drawer left wide open.
"So basically, what you're telling me is I'm nuts," I said flatly as I passed her chair.
"Not at all. You simply learned to dissociate at an early age, as a coping mechanism."
"Right." I bit off the word, my voice suddenly low and raspy. "Every one who didn't have a golden childhood is a Sybil, right?"
"There are no golden childhoods," Rose said. I came to a stop in front of the love-seat I'd vacated, and plopped down on it with force.
"Oh sure there are," I said in a growly voice. "Aproned mothers who feed their kids from the four food groups, and make sure they brush with Crest every morning and night. Dads who go to work every day and tuck their kids into bed at night and kiss their foreheads instead of pawing them with their big hands."
My own hands flew up to cover my face, ashamed of the tears which out of nowhere began flowing.
"You've switched several times since you've been here," Rose said in her low key way. She closed the journal and set it on her lap.
"I'd very much like to get to know this Jenny," she said, clasping her hands together as if in entreaty. "And the low voice, so quick to deny everything. I suspect this could be on of your system's protectors."
"Protector?" I echoed the word and broke out into laughter. "You're speaking greek, sister. Never heard such nonsense in all my life." Now I was talking out of the side of my mouth, like a gansta.
"Most DID systems have at least one protector," Rose explained, "often male."
I wrinkled my nose. "Now you're way off the mark. I never dress like a man."
"You don't have to," she said reasonably. "He only has to protect you. It doesn't matter how he looks to the external world."
And so it began, this awareness of the others I had sensed sneaking up the back stairs of my soul, making themselves at home in the universal tentative manner of children who have known abandonment, and fear its reappearance.
I couldn't grasp how I'd had time to create these others, as busy as my younger self was with just trying to survive.
While you were being mauled, stupid.
Afterwards, walking stiff-legged back to the tenuous comfort and safety of your own room.
They came to me, then, this new/old family of mine, those I've come to think of as my beauties: utterly human, utterly mine.