"Take me as far as this bus will go," a teenaged James Williams told the bus driver. He had and still does go by his middle name Darrell—most of the time that is.
"That's Long Beach, California," replied the driver.
It was 1975 and Darrell was only certain of two things: he had to escape Arkansas and he didn't know what was precisely wrong with him—if "wrong" was even the right word.
Homeless and seemingly abandoned, Darrell arrived in Long Beach shaken, uncertain, and unstable. And like many of the abandoned, he found a spot— the bluff at Bluff Park—the spot where he contemplated how he was going to commit suicide.
With grand gesticulations, oftentimes mindlessly playing with his large, gaudy rings that adorn his fingers, a Southernness comes out of Darrell with a coy hint of superstition.
"I don't know if your readers believe in God or Jesus," he said, "but I talked to God right there on that bluff. And it's that kind of thing where you know it's just not your time so He told me to go on the beach. And that's where I met my husband. That day."
He pauses, his lower lip slightly quivering as he remembers his husband, Robert Dann, who helped him harness his family of personalities throughout his life into a cohesive unit of acceptance and respect.
"I had been to Long Beach before that," Darrell explained. "And at that time, there wasn't a downtown to speak of. It was just a quaint lil' town. And when I was back in Arkansas, I just knew I wanted to get back to California again."
Again, a pause. Undoubtedly, Darrell believes he was purposefully drawn not only to California, but Long Beach and the bluff.
To understand Darrell's anguish over Robert in a few lines is a difficult task since he, in his own words, has been blessed with what is psychologically referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or multiple personalities in layman's terms. This mental state—first defined in the DSM-II as "Hysterical Neurosis, Dissociative Type" and eventually garnering the DID moniker in the DSM-IV—divvies moments of one's self into alternate self perceptions, or what can safely be described as a lack of a unified identity. Often, the person is unable to remember what the others did while their core personality—the one Darrell calls "me"—was "away."
In other words, a dissociation from one's self. But that precise word—dissociation—lacks a clear, empirical definition amongst psychiatric and psychological communities, thereby stirring up both contestation and confusion within the fields. In fact, the diagnosis as a whole remains one of the DSM's most controversial due to its intense disagreements between those who believe DID is caused by traumatic stress that forces the mind to split into separate personalities and those who believe the symptoms are artificially produced by practices within therapy, also known as iatrogenesis.
Darrell lies within the former camp, unabashed in explaining what he feels are significant parts of his life that trigger the splits: "I don't wish anything on anyone," he begins with the intense flutter of his hands, his intensity not necessarily unexcused—after all, he had to be witness to his uncle committing suicide.
"When I was six," he slowly continued, "I was forced to stay in the car with my uncle when I really wanted to go into the store. I begged my momma to let me go with her but [...] I ended up with him. And I was just so angry. He held me back and I looked at him and said, 'I hate you. I wish you would die.' I blamed it all on him."
Less than week later, his uncle committed suicide in front of Darrell—and the blue flash of the gun's blast is set to explain why blue oftentimes triggers Darrell's alters.
More intensely--and controversially--Darrell theorizes that trauma before he was even born may have been the true genesis of his dissociation, since his father beat his mother in the hopes that an abortion would occur.
Even with these traumatic events in mind, Darrell steers relatively clear of scientificizing his state—"I don't view this as a mental disorder"—and has come to feel that it helps him attain enlightened views on life and the world around him.
Though this isn't to say it didn't come with its struggles.
"I started to figure it out when people would walk up to me and say, 'I'm your friend!'" Darrell said with an uncomfortable laugh. "And these people know things that they couldn't have possibly known about me but I would have no idea who they were. It can be frightening. Really frightening. When I was seeing a doctor [in the mid-80s] who was from the same state, believe it or not. He was very much you-sit-there-I-sit-here and this is all we can do. I thought I had only been with him two time, two sessions. He looked at me, 'You've been seeing me for two-and-a-half years.'"
Darrell has what is now believed to be about 25 distinct personalities, a rarity amongst DID subjects since usually females garner far higher numbers of alters than their male counterparts. They range from male to female, gay to straight to bi, with different nationalities, races, and ethnicities.
And Robert—unabashedly and unapologetically—permitted Darrell's family of identities to come together as just that: a family; not a curse, not a disorder, not. The loss of Robert in 2008 had seemingly brought Darrell right back to the bluff, where just as his birth family had abandoned him, now the man who brought him love had to leave Darrell due to heart failure.
But rather than get caught up in a trail of drugs and alcohol that mimicked his arrival in Long Beach, Darrell decided to partake in the one form of therapy that has helped myriad others: to tell his story.
"This isn't the book we intended on writing," said Thomas Smith, Darrell's current partner and co-writer of his story, Which One Am I?. "There are so many [DID] memoirs and all they do is talk about what happened. But not why. What role does everything play? Culture. The South. History. His family."
Darrell interjects, "And things are just wrong—there is no fusion of everything where someone just jumps into different clothes and there you have it."
This indirect nod towards The U.S. of Tara—in which Tom and Darrell contacted the DID subject and psychiatrist who were advising the television show—brought up disgust with its interpretation of DID when mentioned directly.
"We co-habitate," Darrell continued. "Hollywood, well, is gonna be Hollywood. It's like, 'Whoa me.' No. I do not want people to pity me. That's bullshit. There's a bigger point, y'know?"
That bigger point, at least in the eyes of Tom and Darrell, is to help hone in precisely what DID is and how and why it operates, to responsibly reflect the affliction of DID in the best light possible—particularly from the perspective of a child.
"I remember constantly having to defend myself as a child—'I don't remember what you're talking about! I did not do it!' And I was speaking the truth but no one believed me. I want people to never look at a child like they're crazy because they don't remember what they did. You don't know what's going on. You don't."
Tom smiles broadly.
Tom's understanding of Darrell is a phenomenal one, where Tom not only balances his acceptance of Darrell's cohabitation with others—"To be honest, I just liked Darrell's [long] hair when we first met," Tom quipped—but also deeply recognizes the role Robert played as an essential cog in the stability of Darrell's life.
Philosophically (and echoing Darrell's own sentiment), Tom sees the role of DID as a more tangible reflection of our everyday existence.
"I've worked my whole life in journalism and entertainment," Tom explained, "and I can't name a single person who got on stage and stayed the same person. I'VE done this—for many years, I've written under a different name. And that guy, this person I created, took on a persona of his own."
Tom's ability to parallel everyday human expression with Darrell's almost unique experience helped drive Darrell away from his loss. And with two years of research under their belt, they finally opted to publish Darrell's life story in the hopes of connecting with even a single person.
And with that, they have begun a book tour, which will make its own stop at Hot Java on Monday, February 4, at 6PM. The event is free and open to the public. Hot Java is located atHot Java is located at 2101 E Broadway.
To purchase Which One Am I? from Amazon, click here.