Voices carry

By S.I. ROSENBAUM  |  October 21, 2011

"We must realize that mental problems are just as real as physical disease, and that anxiety and depression require active therapy as much as appendicitis and pneumonia," one New York University professor wrote in 1947. "They are all medical problems requiring medical care."

***

They cut the baby out of her womb, crying. It's not Marty's first pregnancy, but Amelia is the first child she is able to raise; her tiny mouth is perfect, but she wails for weeks until Marty figures out that she's allergic to milk. It doesn't matter. Marty loves her more than she has loved anything.

It's 1985, and Marty is 26 now. She's had a long, bad time — after she left home to go to UMass, after she dropped out, after she discovered that heroin felt like a warm blanket and made the voices quiet. She's slept on floors and in cars and in strangers' beds. She has spent a year in an apartment of Toronto, where she heard men and women telling her she was only safe as long as she didn't go outside.

But now that's over; she's gotten clean, and her husband has gotten sober. And there's Amelia, her brown eyes fearless and direct. With Amelia, and later with her younger children, Marty paints pictures and makes crafts; they go exploring in the woods; they plant a garden; they put on their own parades; they make costumes and play music. When Amelia is an adult, she'll remember this part of her childhood as charmed. "When I was little my mother loved me very, very much," she'll say. "We did tons of fun things together all the time."

For now, the little girl asks questions about everything. Marty tries to answer them as best she can.

Why don't you wear makeup? Amelia asks.

It's because I don't think I'm pretty, Marty says.

Why don't you think you're pretty?

When I was born they said I wasn't pretty.

When Amelia asks about the scars on Marty's mouth, Marty tells her about the surgeries she endured as a baby. When Amelia asks why sometimes Marty talks to people who aren't there, Marty explains that she's having an argument with her mother in her head. "It goes back and forth, and all the horrible things she would say pop up in my head, and then I say things back to her, but she's not really there, and I can't turn it off."

Marty doesn't tell her daughter that the voices sound like they're coming from outside her head, not inside.

Without heroin, the only thing that works to quell the voices is pain. In the bathroom, Marty sits with a razor blade and slices red lines into her skin. Until it heals, the pain of the wound keeps things quiet. She can buy whole days of peace this way.

When Amelia asks about the scars on Marty's arms, Marty tells her she was burned with acid.

***

The same year Marty's daughter is born, in the Netherlands, a woman named Patsy Hage is falling apart.

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