I once heard it said that the hardest thing you will have to do on any given day is simply to wake up. Then again I may have made that up myself. It certainly sounds like the sort of thing I would say. In my particular situation it can be more difficult than usual to draw a solid line between self and other. As a result I often get confused about which tidbits of wisdom I created and which I discovered. Luckily, as I have come to discover, that difference means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. However it is something I am forced to think about as me and the others standby waiting for the new girl to wake up.
My role here in Audreyland is Carousel Operator. I am also the group philosopher and manager of internal affairs. I settle disputes, dispense wisdom and introduce new ideas. When I am doing a good job of it all, everyone inside is much happier, and whoever is outside has a better leash on their excesses. Likewise, when I am not faring so well with my duties, everyone suffers; especially Audrey, our primary. Perhaps my most important role is welcoming newcomers when they arrive, which is usually a bit of a harbinger.
The girl on the carousel is about twenty years old, eight years younger than Audrey. General consensus here is that our primary has experienced some repeated trauma, and this new alter was created to go back before the original incident happened. There has been a whole life of trauma, but Audrey’s early twenties were particularly turbulent. About a third of the alters here in Audreyland are between nineteen and twenty-two years of age. From past experience I expect the newbie will wake up in a pretty volatile mood, as such is the pattern here.
“Hey new girl, wake up!” says Eugene, who is nine years old and one of the few males among us. He is impatient, even for his age. The ones like Eugene, the ones who are total personality fabrications and not just a snapshot of an earlier Audrey, are generally more prone to anxiety disorders. Which means all the guys and about a third of the gals. Before I can remind him that it isn’t a good idea to wake a new alter up, the girl on the carousel begins to stir.
“You’re safe,” I assure her, as she looks around like a trapped animal at the rest of us gathered around her in the park. “This is a place where we all protect each other.”
“Who the fuck are you, and where the fuck am I?” she snarls at me, as I had fully expected she might.
“Short answer, Audreyland.” I reply, and let it sink in. Surprisingly, sometimes this is all I need to say. It awakens our collective knowledge in the newcomer, and then things are pretty smooth sailing. This, I can tell, is not going to be one of those times.
“Who the fuck is Audrey. Who the fuck are you,” she maintains her indignation steadily.
“I must warn you that it is not easy to answer any of your questions. There is no simple explanation forthcoming. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s not how this works. I understand that you are scared, confused and not feeling particularly trusting, none of us were when we arrived.”
“I was,” Cindee corrects me from the gathered crowd.
“Yeah, me too,” Danika also chimes in.
“Okay,” I admit. “Some of us handled it better than others. And some of us have been here so long, way before we built the park, that we cannot even remember arriving. The point here is that this seems to be difficult for you right now, and I just want you to know it is perfectly reasonable for you to feel this way.”
A layer of distrust evaporates before our eyes, and between the cracks of angst the new alter’s vulnerability and curiosity make their first appearance. I give her time to think and adjust, and I look around at the others and give them a silencing look, not icy, but authoritative.
“Well for starters,” she finally begins, much calmer now, but still on edge, “who are you?”
“There are two ways to answer that question. My name is Autumn and I am the Carousel Operator. But in another sense, I am Audrey, and so are you and every one else here.”
I let that sink in. This is another point at which some new arrivals connect with the bigger picture, but not this time.
“What is your name?” I ask, taking another route on this thing. She stops to think for a few seconds, the climbs off the fiberglass walrus and shakes out the aches and pains normally associated with sleeping on a carnival ride. She starts to look a little dizzy, and sits down on the edge of the carousel’s platform. It is not a good idea yet to approach her physically, so I assure her to take her time. Finally she responds.
“My name is Tina,” she says, not quite sure of it herself.
“Tina is a lovely name. I am pleased to meet you Tina.”
As if on cue the others all speak in unison, “Hello, Tina. Welcome.”
Tina gives a small, uncertain wave to everyone and clutches her head. It is often the case that newbies arrive with a hangover, and I would bet this is the case, but it is not an appropriate thing to bring up during this sensitive time.
“Tina, I want you to think very hard about your past. About when you were a little girl, a middle schooler, a teenager…try to remember anything you can,” I prompt her. I expect her to take some time with these questions, but she answers pretty quickly.
“The only thing I can seem to remember is last night, and only bits and pieces of that. Everything else draws a blank,” a bit of luck, since she appears to consider her predicament with curiosity, rather than just shock and fear, judging by her change in expression and body language. She stands up and paces, perhaps hoping to walk the confusion off.
“Why do you think that is?” I ask.
“Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?” the question is mostly for her own consideration, so I do not reply.
“Tina, I want you to take a look at all of the people here. Do you notice anything?”
She stares around at the group, building connections she has not previously made.
“We all look like we could be brothers and sisters. That’s fuckin’ weird,” she finally responds.
Then she does something none of us expected and begins walking around, inspecting us all closely, sometimes even lightly touching to make sure we’re really here. She shares a brief exchange of words with several Audreylanders, especially the younger ones. After about five minutes of this she walks over to the funnel cake stand, puts her hands on the counter and leans in, the starts roaring with laughter. About half of us join her, given that it is pretty inherently an absurd situation. After she has exorcised the catharsis which the guffawing was intended to relieve, she walks over and faces me.
“Okay Socrates, no more questions. Just tell me what is going on here,” she half pleads, half dares.
“Do you know what dissociative identity disorder is?” I ask, having somehow forgotten I was not supposed to pose any further questions, but she is too curious to call me out on it.
“Is that some kind of mental illness? It sounds familiar, but I’m drawing another blank.”
“Multiple personalities,” Sonja cries out from the crowd, in an attempt to be seen as a friend by the new alter, as is her way among us.
Tina squints for a moment, which morphs into a smile, “So I am crazy. I mean, we’re crazy. That’s the answer, right?”
“Hell no!” Harvey yells from the crowd. The irony of him is that he is only really kinda crazy when someone suggests he is. Audrey’s therapist says this has something to do with what psychologists call labeling, and self-perception, theories – and it makes a lot of sense since most of us are prone to being triggered by labels and assessments in some way or another.
“No, Tina, we are not crazy. We are coping with a crazy world. We are Audrey’s tools for navigating the many traumas she has endured, and there is nothing wrong with that.” I try to put a more positive spin on her perception of this.
“Yeah, well, it sure as fuck isn’t normal,” she says half teasingly.
“By a show of hands, who here wants to be normal?” Harvey asks. No hands are raised. We have already worked this one out.
“Tina, what if I told you that the entire universe was just one big Audrey, and that everybody in it is a disassociated personality of that one single being? The only difference inside Audreyland and outside of it is simply a matter of layers within layers. Like when you look at a coastline and notice that as you zoom in, the bigger inlets and outlets are themselves made of smaller inlets and outlets, which happens no matter how much you zoom in or out. We are not abnormal, Tina, we are just a microcosm of humanity in the macrocosm of Audrey. Does this make any sense to you?”
Tina paces some more and appears to be trying to put the puzzle together. As she does so she begins tracing a larger swath and is soon roaming around the park. Eventually her attention seems drawn to the rides and games which we have constructed here to amuse ourselves, so that we are less likely to get into mischief when we are outside. She peeks inside of the house of mirrors and then jogs back to where I am watching her.
“Autumn who is also Audrey as am I, let me ask you another question. I’m gonna be here awhile right, and this will make more sense as time goes on – is this correct?”
“Precisely,” I affirm. “There is no hurry to figure anything out. You are welcome and safe here and pretty much any of us will answer any question any time you ask it.”
“Sweet!” she blurts out excitedly. “So when does the park open?”
I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth and Audreyland comes alive.