As if my life wasn’t hectic enough already trying to win speech contests and learn how to juggle for the school play, one of my older siblings or maybe even my mom left the TV station on Sybil one day. It was like everybody I knew and loved disappeared for an entire afternoon so PBS could show me, personally, on this oddly quiet Saturday when I was twelve, what schizophrenia was all about.
Then somebody brought the book home, the detailed history of Sybil herself. I picked it up, much as I did Roots and The Thornbirds around the same time. I was attached to every word of those books; they were like movies in my mind, though I had yet to see a real movie, since Blue Lagoon wasn’t out yet.
I got the ickies reading Sybil; now I can say that the movie was tame compared to the book. I would go so far as to say that reading this book impaired my ability to make faces for at least a year; that is, I was straight-faced for a long time after I read Sybil. Anything weird that happened to me or around me, I just glanced at and nodded. I learned to acknowledge, but not react.
It's been forever since I’ve seen the full Sybil movie, and I never returned to the book after my first reading. Together, they whammied me in such a way that almost all the characters and personalities from both would live in me forever. I hear Sybil pounding in the book, and I match that up with Sally Field building cupboards in the movie. I precisely imagine how all the personalities emerged at the end in the park, some hesitantly, but in the movie, I see Sally Field meeting her friends.
One without the other—the movie without the book—would not have been the same.
The phone rings and it’s my sister. This one and I are cut from the same cloth. Our spirits are the same, just playing out in different scenarios. “Are you comin’ home for Christmas?” she says.
“Of course,” I say. “I’ve been on Mom and Dad’s calendar for a month.”
“Oh,” she retreats. I know the face she’s making because I make it myself all the time, the “Well, thank God I can relax about that” face.
“You gonna be nice to everybody?” she asks. Actually, she doesn’t ask this. I am asking myself. It would seem like an easy question with only one response. It was a very large piece of fabric that our parents cut us from.
Probably the most forgiving words of my life came from my father when I was home on break from school many years ago, maybe 1994. I was still unsure of myself around the house my parents were living in; it was the only one that they had ever bought without us. It took a long time for me to find my footsteps around there.
One Sunday morning I was hesitatingly creating Monster Omelets by chopping up everything in the kitchen that could go into an omelet, surreptitiously tossing out the moldy and bad food in my parents’ fridge at the same time, hoping not to get nailed for wasting. There came a moment when I wanted to use paper towels to mop up the water that had leaked from the vegetables, but my dad was watching me do all of this, and I wasn’t sure what the paper towel rules were.
He must have seen the question on my face because he leaned back, picking his teeth with a toothpick, and nodded.“We use a lot of paper towels in this house.”
He could have told me he’d be alive for the next hundred years, that’s how relieved I was.