The Multitudes of Roseanne Barr
She’s TV’s loudmouth Domestic Goddess, desecrater of our national anthem and most of our notions of good taste. And she has a secret. Meet Baby, Cindy, Susan, Nobody, Joey, Heather and the rest: An adventure in Multiple Personality Disorder.
So there we were, all snug and cozy in the living room at Big Buck Ranch, Roseanne’s mountain retreat near Lake Arrowhead, California. Night had fallen; the windows were mottled with frost, a thin blanket of early-November snow covered the grounds. Though our interview had finally commenced about six hours behind schedule, things had proceeded rather smoothly from there. Before me now lay the daunting prospect of a long, dark, treacherous drive home. I was gathered and ready to leave, but not yet able.
A fire crackled in the large stone hearth. Roseanne was shlumped in an overstuffed chair, her dainty feet clad in thick woolen socks, resting on an ottoman. I take the liberty here of using her first name only. Born a Barr; married—in chronological order—to a Pentland, an Arnold, and a Thomas; internationally famous for playing a Conner on television: Roseanne has lately found herself in a bit of a jam, name-wise, a forty-eight-year-old, Emmy-winning mother of five without a suitable appellation. As you will see, her predicament is altogether fitting. She’s doing her best to sort things out.
Roseanne was dressed in faded blue jeans and a ratty, oversized sweatshirt appropriated from her current husband, Ben Thomas, her former bodyguard, a bear of a man fourteen years her junior with a trim goatee. Ben was not present at the ranch this evening, and neither was their five-year-old son, Buck, for whom the place was named. Roseanne wore no makeup, put on no airs. Her shortish brown hair was tousled. She was fat, but not too fat. Her surgically altered cheekbones looked prominent in the gauzy light, making her seem softer and more attractive than I’d expected.
Around the corner from the living room, across an expanse of faux-leopard carpeting, in the office area of the house, a man named James was searching the Internet. Tall, dark, and effusive, James is Roseanne’s “publicist-slash-confidant.” About an hour earlier, Roseanne had developed a craving for a particular type of pumpkin cookies popular with Mormon moms in the Salt Lake City neighborhoods of her youth. The cookies had to be soft and cakey in the middle, crunchy at the edges. Cream-cheese icing figured prominently as well. Once the recipe was secured, James and Mike, Roseanne’s personal assistant, would head to the store for provisions. While they were gone, it was somehow determined, I would baby-sit Roseanne. Though no one used that word, exactly, that was my sense of things. That she couldn’t or shouldn’t be left alone. That my presence at the ranch had put me in the line of duty, one of the available minions.
Now Mike appeared in the living room, carrying a tray. Handsome and well-muscled, thirty-one years old, Mike was dressed in his customary uniform of flannel shirt, cargo shorts, and calf-high Caterpillar-brand construction boots. On his belt he wore two beepers and a cell phone. The tray he was carrying was a kitschy antique. On it was a kitschy antique teapot and two mugs. Every spare surface of Big Buck Ranch—a cabinesque minimanse on eight forested acres—was crammed with knick-knacks and thingamajigs, the gleanings of Roseanne’s tireless and somewhat pathological shmying. On the front lawn sat an antique buckboard wagon. In the powder room, the mirror over the sink was framed with a leather yoke from an antique mule harness. Later in our association, I would learn of the existence of several warehouses and an airplane hangar.
Mike proffered a half dozen packets of exotically flavored coffee, fanned out in his hands like playing cards. “Which kind?” he asked.
“They’re all open!” Roseanne exclaimed, annoyed.
“And…” Mike said elliptically.
“Who opened ‘em?”
“Who do you think?”
Okay, fine,” Mike said. He let out a sigh. He’s been with Roseanne and Ben for three years.
“Just gimme this one,” Roseanne said, snatching the packet of Irish cream. “Do we have any chocolate?”
“I’ll get some at the store.”
“Well, hurry up. I’m starvin’!”
In short order, Roseanne and I were alone. She seemed happy and expansive; there was a sparkle in her smallish, dark-brown eyes. She was considerably less brassy than her well-known public persona, the loudmouthed Domestic Goddess, queen of tabloids and tattoo parlors, desecrater of our national anthem and most of our notions of good taste. Over the course of our interview, in fact, she’d been astonishingly engaging—despite her occasional tendency to call me an idiot and to point out my personal flaws—revealing herself to be intelligent and well-read if somewhat grammatically challenged, holding forth articulately on a wide range of topics, citing studies, quoting references and texts. Not to mention the sense of humor: wicked and perverse and high-end, punctuated by the occasional belch.
Though our interview was long over, Roseanne was in the mood to talk. She monologued entertainingly on a variety of deep, new-ageish subjects: her belief in the Goddess, the possibility of alien life in the galaxy, her desire to sponsor a chess tournament for Palestinian and Israeli youth. She talked and she talked and she talked. And then, suddenly, she stopped talking.
For several long minutes she stirred her coffee. Her eyes seemed to be focused on the flames dancing in the fireplace. Her spoon tinkled against the sides of the mug. At last, she turned to me. “I have MPD,” she said. Her voice had the challenging tone of a bratty little kid.
“MPD, stupid. Multiple-personality disorder.”
“Cool,” I said, vaguely encouraging.
She stared at me for several long seconds. I raised an eyebrow hopefully. A puzzled look crossed her face. “We have seven different signatures,” she said.
“We’ve never been comfortable saying `I.’ It’s something we have to do with singletons. You know, to sound normal.”
“Like you. People who don’t have the gift. We consider it a gift. Those of us who—”
Just then the kitchen door swung open. James and Mike tumbled in, laden with groceries. Roseanne went silent. She darted me a nervous look, stood, moved toward the kitchen. “Did you get all the stuff? I’m starvin’!”
Linda, the cook/nanny, a smiling Filipina in a pink uniform, served coffee in china cups. It was just before noon on a sunny winter day some months later. Roseanne and I were in her office at the Big House, an architectural showcase of glass and stone with twenty-foot ceilings and waterfalls and statuary on a high ridge overlooking the Pacific.
Roseanne was sitting behind her desk in a faux-leopard-upholstered chair, enveloped in a pleasant cloud of perfume. She wore full makeup and a chic black dress; a diaphanous, bejeweled overblouse with matching head scarf; fuzzy slippers. As Linda left the room, Roseanne opened a drawer and retrieved two small paper bags. One bag contained fortune cookies dipped in dark chocolate. The other bag contained fortune cookies dipped in white chocolate. “I live on chocolate,” she said conspiratorially. “It’s hidden all over my house so my husband can’t find it.”
She took one cookie from each bag, then broke each carefully in half, shared the halves with me. She dunked her dark-chocolate piece into her coffee, took a bite, encouraged me to do the same. “Good, huh?” She took another bite, scrunched her eyes closed. She tipped back her head as if in ecstasy.
“I was thinking of changing my name to Sarah Tonin,” she said next, sipping her coffee, referring to the neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates urges and moods. “My kids call me Queen Carlotta. From ? John Waters? You know—they eat her in the end. When that movie came out, the part of me that was the mother was a very young part. She used to watch Desperate Living with the kids over and over. It’s just a hideous movie. When I think now that she let those kids, when they were five years old—man! That’s Buck’s age now! I would never let Buck see that, though I did let him listen a little the other day to something on TV about serial killers. It was all about multiple-personality disorder, you know, and I just don’t want to hide anymore. Valentine’s Day is my sixth wedding anniversary, and I wanna have an anniversary/coming-out party. Because it’s the same precept as coming out of the closet. You’re so afraid to have anyone know who you really are, especially when you’re a lot of things. I was always in conflict about conflicting parts, but I’ve learned how to get them to listen to each other now. I’ve learned how to get them to know they’re on the same team, that we occupy the same body, which we never knew before.”
Roseanne dunked the white-chocolate-dipped fortune cookie, popped it into her mouth. “Jews love to talk with their mouths full,” she said, giggling. “There weren’t many other Jews where we grew up in Salt Lake City. Our neighbor on the corner was a German. He’d come straight over from Nazi Germany after the war. He used to torture me every day. I’d come home and tell my mother, `He’s hitting me; he locked me in his garage and called me a Jew bitch and said Hitler was right!’ And my mother would go, `You’re making this up!’ And to show me I was wrong, she hires the guy to work at our house. That’s how crazy my mother was. One time I came into the kitchen and she was lying on the floor with ketchup poured all over herself, pretending she was dead. I was real little. Can you imagine? So anyways, she hires this Nazi just to prove me wrong. That’s how you get multiple-personality disorder. Or DID. That’s what they call it now: dissociative-identity disorder.”
She took another sip of coffee. “It comes out of being a kid, see. It’s a kid’s invention. There’s a lot of, like, mythical heroes involved, and some people have animals, and most people have both sexes—that’s a given. I know people who have dogs and stuff. It comes out of the mind, they say, between two and five years old. When you’re at that emotional-development level where you really can’t tell the difference between what’s in your head and what’s outside your head, people-wise. That’s why I have trouble with assistants. Because I think I tell them things, but the truth is, I told it to somebody inside my head. And then I go crazy because the assistant said I didn’t tell them. And I’d be: `I did so tell you, you son of a bitch!’
“It’s like living in a maze. It’s like that old woman who keeps adding on to her house. You’re continually building more and more rooms, more and more ways out. It’s like putting soldiers in front of the wounded one. There’s a wounded one, you know, and that one is being defended by all the parts. But the parts don’t get along. And some of them have some real strange ideas about how to defend. That’s why integration is such a political thing. Some people are saying you don’t need to integrate, that integration is colonial bullshit promulgated by singletons.”
She leaned forward, locked my eyes. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for integration. After ten years of hard work, I’m at the point now of having co-consciousness. I haven’t had any amnesia in a while. I haven’t had any blackouts for quite a while. I used to have them minute by minute. It was hard to follow through on a task. Like forgetting to call someone back for seven years. That happened! Really! This is my life, you know. I live in a different time and space than other people. I’m unstuck in time. That’s why I have that great big calendar up there.” She pointed to the wall behind me, to one of those large whiteboard planning calendars. “See where it says `Christmas’?”
I let the question hang a moment. “I think it’s already January.”
Roseanne cut her eyes toward the calendar, furrowed her brow. “It is January, isn’t it?” she said, somewhat abashed. Then she shrugged her shoulders. “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? Where do you feel like eating?”
A few weeks later, toward the end of January, Mike was leading the way through a back-alley entrance into Roseanne’s new studio space, a storefront on the main drag of El Segundo, a quaint little throwback of a beach town tucked into the rolling landscape just south of the Los Angeles airport. We filed through a hallway, past a pair of Hispanic maids mopping the floor, into a large main room.
“Look at all this!” Roseanne trilled. There must have been a hundred linear feet of industrial garment racks crammed to capacity with women’s clothes. She threw out her hands gleefully, twirled around like Mary Tyler Moore. “Oh, my God! I forgot about all this shit! Where’s my furs?”
“Here’s some of ‘em right now,” Mike said wearily, indicating about eight linear feet of fur coats.
“Where’s my other minks?”
“Still in storage, I guess.”
“Like I said, you have at least two times this much still to come.”
Roseanne dropped her pink plastic Hello Kitty knapsack—a match to the floor mats and steering-wheel cover of her Lexus—and approached one of the shiny chrome racks. “Wow. Here’s my rubber minidress! Oh, good Lord—these are my favorite pants!” She moved through the merchandise like a politician through a crowd, touching and feeling and reveling. So many long-forgotten pieces of her wardrobe, each with a story to tell: her Christian Lacroix gold leather jacket, her purple Chanel suit, her Swiss milkmaid’s lace apron. Knit sweaters, stressed jeans, designer frocks. A very naughty nightie. “Oh, look at this thing!” She laughed uproariously, rearing back her head. “My idiot ex-husband wanted me to wear this in Vanity Fair!”
Just then, Mike interrupted: “Hey, R., I gotta get going.”
Roseanne’s face fell. “But…I’m…hungry,” she said, haltingly, beseechingly. She seemed to have forgotten all about the garment she was holding up beneath her chin on a hanger, a black lace corset with nippleless cups.
“Go next door and get something if you want,” encouraged Mike.
“Um, well, okay,” Roseanne said, pulling herself together, noticing now the garment beneath her chin, as if seeing it for the first time. She shrugged her shoulders and arced the hanger back onto the rack, a practiced parabola, a ringing metal clank. “Everybody out!” she commanded.
Roseanne and I successfully navigated the trip next door, returning with large greasy orders of french fries and onion rings sprinkled with copious amounts of salt. We settled into a black leather sofa in a little waiting room at the studio, a historic place where Buster Keaton once made movies.
“Okay!” Roseanne said. “We’re gonna get something done here. I have total control of my mind today. For the next twenty minutes, probably. I hope, anyway.”
“Should we try to meet the alters?” I asked.
“God,” she said. She ripped open a paper bindle of salt with her teeth. “That’s heavy shit.”
“I’ll go easy. You tell me how.”
“Tell me what you want and I’ll go there.”
“It would be logical to make a sort of roster and meet all the characters, I think.”
“Nnnnn,” she said, a wholly negative sound hummed through her nose. She made a face as if she were tasting lemons. “That’s a real freak show. A realuncomfortable freak show.”
Roseanne munched a fry, long and crispy and bow-shaped, starting at the tip, taking small chipmunk bites with her front teeth until it was gone. “Everybody thinks I’m Roseanne Conner,” she said thoughtfully. “Right now I have no name. I need a last name. When you’re like me, you have a lot of names. I have a lot of biblical names. A lot of Jewish names. And a lot of aliases. And I don’t know how many signatures.”
“You said seven, right?”
Her eyes blazed. “Shut up,” she sneered, a little scary. “You’ve gotta be the one who knows something, don’t you?”
“Every time I’m in the mood to talk, people interrupt me.”
“There’s this book, A Confederacy of Dunces? My favorite quote is where he goes: `He wiped a tear as he contemplated his Godlike mind.’ I love that quote. I love that his mother sold the book after he committed suicide. I knew I was fascinating at a really young age. I have the ability to transcend time and space. And become peers with people they claim are dead.”
“Cool,” I said.
“I love being in this house,” said Roseanne, speaking over her shoulder in a husky whisper, stepping gingerly around a coiled garden hose. “We bake cookies here, we barbecue with the neighbors. It makes me feel normal.”
Ten blocks from the studio is Ben’s Doghouse, a rich guy’s sentimental take on a typical, upper-middle-class dwelling, with the requisite gym and vaulted ceiling, a guesthouse for the nanny. Ben stays in the Doghouse when Roseanne kicks him out of the Big House—like that time last New Year’s, when he drank too much and started doing front flips off the furniture. Or when he just needs a break from the whirlwind of their life together. Roseanne married Ben because he loved and protected her, and he still does, fiercely, playing the stern father to her troubled teen, supervising her movements and affairs, calling her on her cell phone every hour.
With the Big House roof undergoing repair, the family was staying at Ben’s Doghouse. It was late February. The anniversary/coming-out party had not come off. Roseanne had been avoiding me for weeks, busy with myriad projects: her movie (a film version of Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown), her three screenplays, her Web site (RoseanneWorld.com), her painting, her cabala studies, her book on DID with her shrink, a renowned M.D. who had a hand in writing the American Psychiatric Association’s official clinical definition of DID, said to be suffered by one percent of the U. S. population.
Although Ben had suggested we use the guesthouse for our interview, Roseanne was restless there. At length she decided we should walk along the shore instead. It was further decided that the way to get to the shore was not through the house, as you would normally surmise, but through the property’s service entrance, on the west side of the double-deep lot, cluttered with tools, muddy from recent rains.
Maneuvering around a wheelbarrow, Roseanne made her way along the side of the house. Inside, in the dining room, the two Hispanic maids were busily cleaning. They averted their eyes as their missus tiptoed past the large windows, dressed in camouflage pants and an olive-drab shirt. Roseanne kept her eyes averted, too, as if not looking was nine tenths of not being seen. On her face was a giddy, exhilarated grin—that teenage girl, sneaking out her window on a school night.
Two houses down, the street dead-ended. We climbed a little hill to a concrete bicycle path, beheld below us the sweeping view of the cobalt Pacific. In the foreground was a picture of the Golden State seldom featured in movies: huge metal holding tanks and pipeworks and Erector-set cranes, tall concrete stacks belching white smoke, high-voltage transformer towers—an oil refinery, a power plant, a water-treatment plant.
Roseanne picked up a three-foot stick from beside the path and tapped it idly along the ground as we walked. A guy rode past on an expensive racing bike, headed in the opposite direction. Roseanne’s head swiveled, then she turned and walked backward, watching him recede, pretending to use her stick as a spyglass. “Do you wanna hear the story of how my parents had to go to therapy to get me a bike when I was twelve?”
“I’m on the clock,” I said.
“My father always said that we couldn’t have a bike because his best friend had been killed riding a bike. My father has seen so many horrible things in his life. He saw his baby sister burned to death. They were playing with matches and she caught on fire. He had a hard life, my father. He was terrified of bikes. He’d go, `Don’t you understand? My friend was eating peanuts, and when the car hit him, I ran over and there were peanuts coming out of his eyes.’ Finally my parents went to this headshrinker, and the guy put a spell or something on my dad, and one day my dad came home with a bike. I was so happy. That was my freedom. The minute I got that bike I was gone. I have the strongest leg muscles to this day. Look,” she said, proffering her leg. “Feel.” It was a big, strong muscle and I told her so, and she seemed satisfied. She resumed walking, banging the stick on the ground now, shortening it splinter by splinter. After a time, she stopped and turned toward me. “Disneyland,” she said, as if reciting the title of a poem at a slam.
“Okay,” I said.
“There are so many of these; this is one of the nicer ones.” Her eyes were fixed on the horizon. “See, my dad got a hair up his ass and had two hundred bucks or something and his fuckin’ broken-down car, and it was me and my sister and my brother was a baby, and my other sister wasn’t born yet. We all drove from Salt Lake out to California, to Disneyland.
“We’re driving over Donner Pass and it’s snowing. Did I mention it was winter? That’s my parents. Disneyland in winter. They had to booby-trap everything. Anyway, we got there. My sister is seven, I’m eight. My brother is probably thirteen months old. He’s in his little snowsuit; he has to be carried. My dad decides he wants to go on the gondola. So me and my mom go in the first gondola. My dad and my little sister and the baby go in the one behind us. We start out, and then we hear my father shouting. He’s like, `Helen! Helen! Look!’
“My mom turns around. And then she turns right back, and she just goes totally stiff. She hisses to me, `Don’t turn around! Whatever you do, don’t look at him!’ Because to him everything was funny, you know? You didn’t want to encourage him because whenever he was fucking doing something like that, something would always go horribly wrong at the end because he’s such an idiot.
“So of course I turn around. My father is holding the baby out the window of the gondola. He’s holding him under his little arms, you know, dangling him there in his yellow snowsuit.
“My mother is digging her fingers into my leg. And my sister is screaming and the baby is screaming and my mother is screaming, and my father is laughing this maniacal laugh, and I just kind of snapped. I was eight years old. I let my father have it. I fuckin’ barraged him with the kind of language—I mean, the words that came out of my mouth, I didn’t even know I knew them! I just kept yelling and yelling, and it lasted forever, but finally my father sort of snapped to. He looked at me funny, and then he looked at the baby. And then he just pulled my brother back inside and it was over.
“And then we get off the gondola, and my father’s like, `Line up! We’re taking a family picture!’ And I’m shaking. I think I had gone to the bathroom in my pants. I’m just standing there. I’m totally spaced out. I’m totally dissociated out. And he comes over, like he always did, and he cracks me in the back of my head with the palm of his hand and then pushes me over there to take the picture. And then he goes, `Okay, everybody, let’s have a great big smile!’”
We walked together in silence for a while. Roseanne raised her stick into the air like a twirler’s baton, worked it through her fingers with surprising verve. “That day I had a big split,” she said. “I had two parts that came out. One was a real tough part that would protect the softer parts, a fighter part that would always go up against my father.”
“Who was the other one?”
“All my parts came out in twos. There were always mirror images of mirror images, because it all started in my gramma’s bathroom. I was so little I’d climb up and stand in the sink, and I’d look in the mirror, and there was a mirror behind my head. And I’d pull the mirror back and I’d count how many me’s there were. And it just went on and on and on. So for every part, there is a mirror image. One equals two, you see? And then there’s a whole freaking numerical system that I made up when I was just a kid, all based on fours—it was like a code. And when it came time to become integrated, I had to crack the code and then find the box where all the stuff was locked away. And in the box was ONE. ONE was in the box. That was the part of me that I had always been protecting.”
“ONE—is that the original self?”
“No,” she sneered. “That’s horseshit!”
“It was a scared part of me that everybody else protected.”
“Do the parts come out and stay out? How long do they stay?”
“You never know. Sometimes a while. Sometimes a second. When there’s a certain kind of perceived danger, different ones come out. I had a lot of protectors. A lot of fighters. And I couldn’t control when they came out. If something would feel threatening or whatever, they’d just come out.”
“Like having an arsenal of weapons?”
“No, more like having a system. And the system is intelligent. It sends out the right face at the right time.”
“When an alter comes out, does it stay for a long time?”
“That’s TV crap. Anything can happen, really. It’s called rapid cycling.”
“Can you get them to come out whenever you want?”
“I can now, pretty much. That’s integration. It’s also why I’m working on so many things at once. They all want a chance. Like when I look back, I can see which part did what. I’d have one part writing comedy and one part writing poetry. There were performers, businesspeople, mothers, protectors, children—lots of children. And they all worked independently, so basically they would all sabotage each other all the time. Like, I’d have a business meeting with someone, and then another part would call them back and just fuck everything up. The parts were very fluid. It took a great amount of energy each day just to hide the disorder from other people. Because you don’t want people to find out that you’re crazy.”
“That must have been really tough,” I said.
She cut her eyes at me. “Funny,” she sneered.
The next morning, Roseanne and I sat together on the black leather sofa in the media room of Ben’s Doghouse. The maids were busily cleaning the kitchen. Ben was out front, hooking a trailer to his truck. I pulled a beat-up hardback from my bag.
“What’s that?” Roseanne asked.
“Your second book, My Lives.”
“It’s falling apart.”
“Published 1994. Used to be a library book.”
I turned to the last chapter, to the very last page. There, a seeming afterthought to the text, was a list of names, “the people who share my body”: 2, Baby, Cindy, Susan, Nobody, Somebody, Joey, Heather, Roger, Kevin, Evangelina, Vangie, Martha, Mother, Piggy, Fucker, Bambi, Rosey, Roseanne, ONE.
I pointed to the list. “Can we talk about these people?”
She made her lemon face. “They’re hot there anymore.”
“Can we talk about who is?”
“It’s dull to talk about that.”
“But you’ve been so elliptical. You allude to everything.”
“I like alluding. I’m a mystic.”
“But you have to give people a little help.”
Roseanne sighed. She looked out the big picture window into the lush green garden, where a small, brown-skinned man was weeding the flower beds. She was quiet for several long minutes. I busied myself hooking my lavalier microphone to her collar. The wire was about two feet long. At the center was a little switch box that turned the power on and off. She took up the cord of the mike and began fiddling with it, wrapping it absently around her fingers. A range of emotions crossed her face.
“Okay,” she said at last. The tone of her voice was quiet and conversational, a bit forceful, slightly chiding. “You want MPD? I’m showing you MPD. So you better…fucking…check it out, `cause I ain’t gonna do it again. And the other ones that you want to talk to”—and here her voice changed, becoming formal and ladylike, schoolmarmish, and she sat forward primly on the edge of the sofa, her legs pinned at the knees, crossed at the ankles”—I’m afraid, dear, that you can only get them by phone. That one can’t be in a room with men and talk that way. Nothing to do with you, it’s just that part of me is terrified of males, that part of me”—and here her voice changed again, became that of an innocent little girl, and she flopped back into the sofa and pulled her legs up beneath her, until she was sitting Indian style, all squirmy, bouncing a bit in place—”I’m scared of males, ‘cause they done the weirdest things, and you never know. The things they do are so weird, okay, like when they spit”—and here her voice changed again, becoming loud and brassy, the Roseanne we know from TV—”Why do they need to spit like that? Haaaaaaa-toooooey! They must think you need to do that to clear your sinuses. Or maybe they just don’t want to swallow the stuff when it runs a little bit down their throats. I myself have always swallowed. And that’s why I’m in the position I’m in today. Because I needed the fifty bucks! That was—” and here, I would later learn, is where one of the parts turned off my microphone.
For the next seventy-some minutes, Roseanne presented a range of different characters. She talked passionately, seriously, hilariously, tearfully. She talked about being hospitalized, about “waking up” in the middle of sex with strange, dirty men she’d picked up at gas stations, about gouging holes in her thighs with her fingernails, about the male alter who was crushed when the shrink challenged him to wisen up and look at himself naked in the mirror. There was a cast of different players I couldn’t definitively chart, distinct yet indistinct, slightly butch or fem, old or young, preachy and know-it-all, vulnerable and scared, all of them unidimensional, fragments of personalities, really, each with its own agenda. There seemed to be a funny one, an innocent one, a prophetic one. There was one who was holier-than-thou, one with a trash mouth, one who wished to save the earth, one determined to bring females to their rightful place in the world family. As she shifted between the different parts, her voice would change subtly, her mien would change subtly—her body language, her gestures, her hairstyle, all of it would change ever so subtly—or sometimes the change would be jarringly abrupt, from a whisper to a yell, from self-conscious to grandiose, from hushed revelation to claws-bared attack. Most remarkable was the constant fiddling with her eyeglasses, a pair of antique cat’s-eye frames, taking them on and off, on and off. Later, speaking with two of her children (who believe each of them has a different alter for a mother, the reason they rarely get together with her all at once), I learned that some of the alters need glasses and some do not.
And then Roseanne, or one of her alters, wanted to read something to me, so I unhooked her from the mike and we went upstairs to her office. She found the notebook, then stood before me, assuming a sober, theatrical voice, a bit overly portentous, like a serious young writer at a reading. She went on for a few minutes. Then she came to this:
“So this is my life, my true E! Hollywood story. It’s the story of a multiple, multifaceted girl woman boy poet dancer comedian singer freedom-fighter warrior message-bearer performer mother sex-partner wife actor producer director pioneer autistic-child survivor-of-post-traumatic-stress borderline bipolar overweight Tourette’s-sufferer multiple-personality-disorder obsessive-compulsive victim-of-psychiatric-planting-of-false-memories heretic witch crone—take your pick, there’s about three hundred diagnoses, which proves: Shrinks have been my only friends.”
Jessica and Jennifer are two of Roseanne’s daughters, thirteen months apart. The older one, Jessica, is dark and artsy. At twenty-five, she looks like a young, thinner Roseanne—Roseanne before her surgeries, they like to joke. Jennifer is brown-haired and green-eyed. She is married and has a seven-month-old son, Roseanne’s first grandchild. We were in her apartment, a small architectural gem in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. Morning light streamed through the windows. We drank coffee at the dining-room table.
“I remember when Mom told me she had MPD,” Jess was saying. She has an art-deco bracelet tattooed onto her wrist. “I was on a home visit from boarding school. She took me into her bedroom and said, `I have something to tell you.’ She brought out one of her alters, Cindy, the little girl. And Cindy’s like, in a real baby voice: `The lady’s sad `cause you’re leaving.’ And I was like, what?”
“I don’t remember when she told me,” Jenny said. “I remember being in the hospital. Before the boarding school, we got locked up, like, a lot.”
“It was trendy in the eighties.”
“Mom and Tom had good insurance.”
“It was tough growing up,” Jess said. “She had three of us in diapers at the same time.”
“Sometimes, you’d wake up, and Mom wouldn’t make us go to school,” Jenny said. “We’d stay home and play all day. She’d take us to Denny’s and let us have coffee.”
“And then you’d wake up the next morning, and all hell would break loose. It was like, `Okay, do your chores! We’re on a merit system!’”
“I used to just think she was moody.”
“She’s 100 percent better than she used to be,” said Jess.
“What can you say about something so complicated?” said Jenny.
A week after my last visit with Roseanne, in early March, I got a message to call.
“Hi,” I said. “You wanted me to talk to one of the parts.”
“I don’t give a shit,” Roseanne said.
“Is this she?”
“No. Everybody’s always here. What do you want?”
“You said to call.”
“I thought you wanted to ask me specific things.”
“Ah, no,” I said, a bit confused.
“Ummm,” she hummed, and then she went silent. Thirty full seconds passed. I waited her out.
Finally, she spoke: “This is, ah…I’m, ah, the person that you want to talk to. Just don’t be all fuckin’ geeky about it and shit.”
It was a shy, quiet, halting voice that seemed to be struggling to find words. “I’m kind of like, um, the whadayacallit—the switchboard-operator type. I’m the one who knows what goes on and all that shit.”
“You have something you wanted to say?”
“Yes. Um. Ah…see, here’s my little speech: I was not aware for a long time that I caused harm to other people. And the fact that you’re not aware of it is so horrifying. There’s not a lot of people in this world who get a chance to become conscious. There’s not a lot of people who get the chance to actually take stock of what’s happened and make an effort to heal. Every war and every conflict that exists in the world is just a physical manifestation of the war inside each and every one of us. We are all so divided. We need to be integrated—as males and females, as nations, as religions. For some reason, I was chosen to act out my shit on a huge fucking platform. Most people just act out on their own family, but I had to do it big.”
“You did it big, all right.”
“I know. And now I look back and say,
Boy, was I fuckin’ crazy or what?”
Mike Sager is a bestselling author, an award-winning reporter and the founder of The Sager Group. For more than 15 years he has worked as a writer-at-large for Esquire, where this article first appeared. For more of his work visit mikesager.com or follow him on Twitter @therealsager.