My upcoming memoir, The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor's Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder, emphasizes the healing process and the nature of resilience. These installments from Chapter One contain some descriptions of violence only for the purposes of illustrating why and how dissociative identity disorder is formed. If you are a survivor of violence or someone sensitive to these scenes, please take care in reading these installments.
The Sum of My Parts
Chapter 1: Installment 4 of 6
I fell asleep under my bed, up against the wall, and survived another night. By morning, my divided mind had enclosed this memory so I could be unburdened and get up, get out of bed, go out, and spend the day with Doña Graciela. I think my mom had a more sophisticated but similar mechanism inside of her. The day after an attack, she would also get up as if nothing happened, go to work, come home, make dinner, and get all of us ready for bed again.
Many of the rooms in my mind were dark and scary, with locked doors whose keys I could not find. But some of the rooms were bright, with lots of windows and colorful doors. These I had more control over, and I always had access to them. I captured my experiences with Doña Graciela in a bright room like this, so that whenever I needed to I could revisit that part of myself and remember how good I felt with her.
• • •
My father was born the sixth of twelve children in a rural area of Bolivia. He was a slim man of relatively short stature, but to me he seemed huge, strong, and terrifying. In fact, he was full of contradictions. He could be kind and gentle one minute but mean and sadistic the next. He was devoutly Catholic, but he abused his family. He was dynamic and passionately articulate about politics and democracy and instilled that interest in me. In fact, I am like him in many ways. I have his bold eyes, big and very dark brown. I inherited some of his gift for oration and storytelling with humor and exaggerated animation.
But today I am everything he wasn’t able to be. I am educated, successful, and happy. I have privilege and professional respect. My father had a big ego and sought respect everywhere he went, but no one ever treated him the way he thought he deserved. Because his English was so poor, few people outside our neighborhood were able to understand him. When we went out together, people often talked to me instead of him, even though I was just a kid. Eventually, my father only frequented places where people spoke Spanish: church, the convents near our home, a Latino market, and the park across from our house, where his friends gathered to talk. He only visited the homes of Latino friends, and only allowed Spanish to be spoken in our house.
• • •
Popi beat my brothers, my mother, and me anytime he got agitated. He felt that his role was to control the family and teach us respect. Naturally, being only three years old, I thought this was normal. Fathers everywhere must yell at their families to control them; they must hit their children when they got out of line. But even in my youngest memories, it never seemed normal that Popi touched me in private places and hurt me by putting things inside those places. This seemed nasty and very wrong. I didn’t know why he did it, and I didn’t even have the words to describe it.
Since our home shared a wall with Doña Graciela’s, she must have been able to hear much of what happened in our side of the duplex. She would have heard my father’s yells, our screams, more yelling, then silence or crying. When I was in her home, I could hear my father yelling at my brothers. Even though I couldn’t make out what he was saying, I knew it was bad. I imagine that Doña Graciela felt helpless and feared for us when she overheard the terror in our home. Several times she talked to me about bruises on my face and arms. Speechless, I stared at the floor. She embraced me and said that she knew what my father was doing to me. She told me that God would hate it, and that it wasn’t my fault. “God loves you, Olguita.” Since Doña Graciela was older than Popi, I believed that she knew better than he did about how God felt, and that was comforting.
Look for installment 5 next week.
Find out more about the memoir or Olga's work.