I WAS THE middle child in a family with a violent father and an indifferent, sometimes hysterical, mother. I loathed my father. He was phenomenally unreliable as a breadwinner, and we often came home to find the power shut off because we were months behind in our electricity bill. He spent thousands of dollars on expensive hobbies, while we were bringing oranges from our backyard to school for lunch. The first recurring dream I can remember was about killing him with my bare hands. There was something thrilling about the violence of it, smashing a door into his head repeatedly, smirking as he fell motionless to the floor.

I didn't mind arguing with him. I made it a point not to back down from our confrontations. Once in my early teens, we argued over the meaning of a movie we had watched. I told him, "You believe what you want," then left him. I slipped into the bathroom at the top of the stairs, shutting and locking the door. I knew he hated that phrase (my mother had used it before), and that my repetition of it presented the specter of another generation of women in his house who refused to respect or appreciate him, and instead despised him. I also knew that he hated locked doors. I knew these things would damage him, which is what I wanted.

"Open up! Open up!" He knocked a hole in the door, and I could see that his hand was bloody and swollen. I wasn't concerned about his hand, and I wasn't glad that he was hurt either, because I knew that it gave him satisfaction to be stricken by such passion that he could disregard his own pain and suffering. He kept working at the jagged hole until it was big enough for him to stick his face through; he was smiling so widely that his teeth showed.

My parents ignored my blatant and awkward attempts to manipulate, deceive, and inveigle others. They neglected to notice that I associated with childhood acquaintances without really forming connections, never seeing them as anything more than moving objects. I lied all the time. I also stole things, but more often I would just trick kids into giving them to me. I envisioned the people in my life as robots that turned off when I wasn't directly interacting with them. I snuck into people's homes and rearranged their belongings. I broke things, burned things, and bruised people.

I did the minimum necessary to insinuate myself into everyone's good graces so I could get what I needed: food when my family's pantry was empty, rides home or to activities if my parents were MIA, invitations to parties, and the one thing I craved most, the fear I instilled in others. I knew I was the one in power.

Aggression, risk taking, and a lack of concern for one's own health, or that of others, are hallmarks of sociopathy. When I was 8,1 almost drowned in the ocean. My mother said that when the lifeguard fished me out of the water and breathed life into me, my first utterances were gasps of laughter. I learned that death could come at any moment, but I never developed a fear of it.

Before my 16th birthday, I got very sick. I usually kept these things to myself. I didn't like involving others in my personal issues, because it presented an invitation to others to interfere with my life. But that day, I told my mother about the sharp pain below my sternum. After she expressed her usual exasperation, she gave me herbal medicine and told me to rest. I went back to school even though I was sick. Every day my parents had a new remedy; I carried a little baggy of medicine with me--Tums, Advil, homeopathic cure-alls.

But I was still in pain. All the energy that I usually used to blend in and charm others was redirected to controlling the pain. I stopped nodding and smiling; instead I stared at them with dead eyes. I had no filter for my secret thoughts; I told friends how ugly they were and that they deserved the bad things that happened to them. Without the stamina to calibrate my effect on people, I embraced my meanness.

My abdominal pain migrated to my back. At one point, I spent the afternoon sleeping in my brother's car. Later, my dad looked at my torso and saw that something was wrong. Reluctantly, he said: "We'll go to the doctor tomorrow."

The next day, at the doctor's office, the physician spoke in outraged tones. My mother receded into quiet, semi-catatonic disavowal, the state she retreated to when my father punched things. The doctor questioned: If you felt pain, what have you been doing for the last 10 days? Then I passed out. When I came to, I heard shouting and my father convincing the doctor not to call the ambulance. I could sense their mistrust of him.

I could see wild panic in my dad's eyes. He and my mother let me suffer for over a week because, as I later discovered, our family's medical insurance had lapsed. When I woke up after surgery, I saw my dad standing over me with tired anger. My appendix had perforated, toxins spewed in my gut, I became septic with infection, and my back muscles became gangrenous. "You could have died; the doctors are very angry," my dad said, as if I should have apologized to everyone. I think my sociopathy was triggered largely because I never learned how to trust.

 


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    Sociopaths

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