In her stunning debut memoir, You Will Never be Normal (Stillhouse Press, 2021), Catherine Klatzker takes a deep dive into her past to better understand her present and future selves. Struggling to come to terms with her splintered identities in the face of a traumatic childhood, Klatzker seeks out meditation and therapy as a means to process “Baby”, “Teena”, “Cat”, “Katie”, and “Cathie”—or the five identities that are housed within adult Catherine.
Klatzker’s story opens in motion: “curious onlookers in 2009 might assume the middle-aged brunette lopsided streak of gray hair chattering to no one in her PT cruiser was on speakerphone—not chatting with her multiple identities, locating them in the carefully constructed house of her mind, setting them up for the day.” From this moment, Klatzker approaches the page with a raw honesty and strength as she details the ways her “parts” were created, what each contributes to her life, and her extraordinary search for a “normal” life through working with “Dr. Lou,” her meditation instructor and therapist. Klatzker sets these scenes against the backdrop of her steady marriage, work as an ICU pediatric nurse, a life filled with children, and a desire to hide her experience—until it becomes inexplicably part of her whole identity.
Klatzker’s book follows a chronological order, reaching into the early 2000s when she began to practice meditation and mindfulness that quickly morphed into traumatic “body memories”—what she refers to as the experiences of her body’s remembrance of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father as a young child. In confronting such visceral trauma, she writes, “I noted the familiar tingling, but instead of settling into stillness, my voices interrupted, not talking to each other, just shrieking.” Klatzker’s retelling of the first time this happened invites a deep empathy, even for readers who do not share this direct experience. This inherent terror is what leads her to seek therapy, where she eventually accepts the multiple identities that once governed her life and allows them to integrate into one being. Rather than shy away from explaining the tremendous inner work she had to undergo, Klatzker details it vividly on the page, at one point writing, “After those ten weeks working with Dr. Lou in 2002, I still didn’t know the inner structure of the disassociated land I inhabited. In therapy, I didn’t mention my fear of multiple parts and their voices”, but in later chapters, she goes on to reveal full conversations with each voice in a way that feels perfectly natural. Cat, Katie, Baby, Cathy and Tina assume separate identities on the page in the following conversation, which takes place at the gravesite of Klatzker’s deceased parents:
“I remembered the redwoods, the retreat, my howl to matter, and I held Baby and Cathy tightly and told them they always mattered to me, their lives mattered, despite what happened before.
“’I always loved him,’ Katie said, speaking up for herself, also tearful. Other Parts did not and said so.
‘He was danger, we had to guard you,’ Cat said.”
Klatzker does not only focus on her trauma, but allows the reader to bask in the full experience of a life in which she is one of thirteen siblings, becomes a single mom at eighteen, and eventually finds solid footing with her career as a nurse, her adoption of Judaism, and her second husband. She actively seeks to show the full depth of her experience, choosing to embrace the difficult parts and reveling in the joyful: her children’s milestones; the steadfast support of her husband; the work that sustains her. By the end of You Will Never Be Normal, she has reached a new understanding: “…there was no tidy ending, tied up in a neat bow. I would always and forever be multiple.” This is a hard-won truth, sought out and found over years of difficult inner work, and it is a truth that grounds the memoir.
Klatzker’s memoir invites an intimate look into the life and experiences of a person who seeks to live a “normal” life under extreme circumstances, and by the story’s end, she has accepted her struggle and understands that her multiple identities are as much a part of her as her arms and legs. The lived experience she brings to the page is not only encouraging, but astounding and remarkable. Her prose vibrates with life and control as she allows the reader to enter into the mind of an extraordinary woman trying to make sense of a world which few never truly can.
Nikki Lyssy (@blindnikkii) is an MFA candidate studying creative nonfiction at the University of South Florida. Her essays have appeared in Hobart, Sweet, and Essay Daily. When she is not working, she can be found in a coffee shop.