The nun in her black robe and habit appeared like an ink spot in a room of white beds and white linens. The body of the little girl on the bed the nun was seated beside was frail and lifeless. Her arms were stretched out above her head, her hands tied to the headboard. Five votive prayer candles had been placed on her bare chest. A strange circumstance – the candles, lit, and in their small glass jars, had been placed upside down. An element, perhaps, of a bizarre exorcism practice. Or more likely some obscure ritual for the dead. For surely the girl could not have been living. One thing that would have made that impossible was the fact that she was being spied on from above, from the ceiling, by herself, in an out-of-body way. And the little girl’s Catholic teaching made it very clear that the separation of the soul occurs only at death.
In 1977, at the age of 42, I was standing in the kitchen of my home in Petaluma, California. For close to two years I’d been trying to come to grips with the strange things that had been happening to me. A psychosomatic paralysis had taken me on a journey first to my family doctor, then to a psychiatrist. Under hypnosis I’d apparently relived some forgotten incident. I’d thrashed wildly about, arms punching the air, fighting something or someone, though I knew not what or whom. In time I would have my suspicions, though for a while I would manage – somehow – to keep the suspicions both to myself and from myself. Then came a bewildering and stunning flashback, a recollection of a newspaper headline. A certain murder from years ago. The sudden revelations were vague and confusing and overwhelming. Something was happening to me, and I didn’t know what it was.
Then, standing by the counter in my kitchen that day, the image of the little dead girl came to me again, as it had hundreds, perhaps thousands of times before. I had carried it with me most of my life. It was a part of me, but a part I never questioned. It was just there. But my recent experiences had somehow awakened something within and suddenly, unexpectedly, I felt myself overcome with a distinct awareness that the little girl in the image was not, in fact, dead. She was quite alive, and I knew this definitively because all at once I recognized the little girl. The little girl was me, forgotten, abandoned, for thirty-five years.
“It’s me,” I cried, and I ran into the bedroom and looked at my stunned face in the mirror. “She’s alive…my God, she’s alive. I’m alive.”
In the days to come my revelation, a not unhappy one, would nevertheless become unnerving, and then downright frightening. The sudden inclusion into my life of the little girl, and all that she would come to represent, was much more than I could mentally handle. My instincts told me to run, but isn’t that what I had done my whole life? The little girl had found me. There was no longer a place to run from her, no longer a place to hide. And I felt myself losing control. The days were full of anxiety and dread, and at night sleep became impossible for the fear that I would awaken not as me, but as somebody else.
One morning I drove desperately towards Dr. Fraser’s Santa Rosa office, my ability to maintain control of my life collapsing from within. My car wandered between lanes and I had to force myself to concentrate, to think of where I was going and to watch for the exit I needed. On the radio, Petula Clark was singing. The lights are much brighter there…you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go downtown…things'll be great when you're downtown. It was delightfully incongruous and suddenly I was in the passing lane, ready to skirt past the exit and head for where the lights are brighter, to where I could forget all my troubles. I wanted to be downtown. I wanted to run some more. I caught myself in time and swerved back to the right lane onto the exit.At Dr. Fraser’s office I explained breathlessly to him that I could not go home. I needed a secure environment. I needed safety. I needed to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital. He asked why. “Because there is a little girl in me,” I explained, “and she wants to take over.”
Brian Copeland, a well-known writer, actor, comedian, and radio / TV talk show host, KGO Radio for one (San Francisco), came out last week and spoke about his bouts with depression. It was one of the most courageous programs and his switchboard was lit with callers during the whole show. Brian was finally inspired to speak up after the last mass shooting in Santa Barbara.
I waited till after retiring before writing my book. I was not battling depression but I had repressed memories from childhood trauma that trigged multiple personality disorder which is considered a mental illness according to the psychiatrist diagnostic bible. For several decades I worked and tried to understand what I was going through. The psychiatrists did not have much to offer other than drugs.
I decided to write my life story mostly for educational purpose. It was after the mass shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 2012 that I decided I needed to write my story. Then, came Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. I had to speak up.
I hope Brian Copeland continues to speak up. It takes a lot of courage but it is the right thing to do.
I tried to tell my story many times before but no one heard. I was very fortunate to have found my co-author Jerry Payne who patiently listened to me, helped me sort out forty years of writings thrown in boxes without any kind of order. We worked together almost two years and “Ellevie”, I am very proud to say, is done and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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