I was eight years old the first time I heard the word sociopath. Ear tight to the heavy wooden door of my headmistress's study, my heart nearly froze with delight when I realised Mrs Carpenter, my second grade teacher, was sobbing as if her very soul had shattered. 'I want that sociopath out of my fucking classroom!'
My headmistress, that stupid, self-stylized children's crusader, wouldn't hear a word of it. 'I am willing to forgive your foul mouth,' she clipped her words coldly 'given your current situation, Martha. But let me assure you, in all my years at the head of this school, I have never come across a child who was truly vindictive. Unthinking and blunt, yes, unbelievably insensitive, even... But I cannot take a child out of her class, away from her friends simply because she has not yet learnt to be tactful. Had you considered that perhaps you simply aren't ready to return to your teaching post?'
God, how I wished I could see the look on that weak worm's face! If only she'd understood the golden rule: never go halfway. If you just call your teacher a name, the hammer of justice knocks you into detention in a heartbeat, but if you ask whether perhaps, her recently deceased husband had merely faked his death to avoid her, because either way he can't have really loved her, to have left her so alone when she was just past her sell-by date... Well, no one has ever believed a child could intentionally be so cruel.
When I got home that evening I slipped into our tiny den and booted up our computer, a cast off from my mother's office. I still remember that wheezing, whirring old tower, its fan always struggling to force air past several years of banana stickers. Way back in 2002 I was the only girl in my whole school with a computer to call her own, seeing how my big brother had his own hidden away in his room, and my parents shared one in their mahogany furnished study tucked at the back of the house.
I typed 'dictionary.com' into the URL bar and 'sosiopaf' into the search bar. After all, I was still a child, no matter how often my daddy called me a genius for even being able to operate my pc. After much searching, I finally found the definition I was looking for:
Sociopath: a person with a psychopathic personality whose behaviour is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
Well that didn't help much. It was a good half an hour before I fully understood.
A psychopath. Someone who cannot love. Despite my few years, I had spent many hours wondering why I didn't seem to feel any fondness for my parents and brother. When I had a sleepover and one girl had to go home because she missed her mom, I spent a whole night watching my ceiling, trying to understand.
Antisocial. Unwilling to socialise normally. That was the reason for the sleepover in the first place, one of my daddy's many attempts to find me some friends. He never could understand just how thoroughly those vapid pretty princesses bored me.
Criminal. I knew that word, the one daddy hated most, because even he could see it was true, even he couldn't remain deaf to my mother's endless accusations.
And let's be real, there isn't an eight year old on earth with moral responsibility or a social conscience. As my ponderings came to a close, I moved to close the accusing paragraph, and my daddy suddenly appeared at my elbow.
'Sociopath?' He read off the screen, turning to me with a sweet, silly dad grin. 'Why would such a sweet pea need to know a word like that?'
I made my eyes big and wide, and quivered my chin, once, twice... 'My teacher said I was.' I pouted with glistening eyes as my daddy swept me into his arms and into the kitchen for a feel-better sundae, followed by a stomp into his lovely office to write an angry letter. Watching him type in a frenzy I sucked my spoon and smiled. I never saw Miss Fisher again after that.
The years crawled by and I got more and more bored. My classmates always seemed to be fabricating some new drama, and every time I heard Chad reporting on what Edgar heard Antony say about Sarah I died a little inside. I began locking myself away in stories, going to St Claire's with the twins and, eventually, to Thornfield Hall with good old Jane Eyre. I had just finished that particular tome the first day I met James, so, very unusually, I was in a rather romantic mood. Maybe that explains why, for the first time in my life, I felt myself drawn to another human being.
I was sixteen, and before me and James got together I was actually embarrassed at my lack of experience. The other girls had often tried to draw me into their easy giggles about blowjobs and condoms, but I just couldn't. It wasn't the way most of them lied through their teeth - I had long realised that children lie constantly - but the ones who didn't lie disturbed me. How could they ever be comfortable, naked and vulnerable while a man was at his most animalistic?
As you can imagine, James and I's eventual sex life was... unusual. I lost my virginity to a blindfolded boy bound to a bed, and while my body shuddered with arousal I barely noticed, so great was my ecstasy at the way he moaned my name... Finally, here was someone I didn't have to subtly manipulate. Here was somebody desperate to be ruled.
I was wrong. While our bedroom sessions became more and more extreme, graduating from soft bindings to leather collars pulled tight, he never made a secret of his hatred of being controlled away from the boudoir. Uncharacteristically blind, I thought he was just playing hard to get. Until the day he broke up with me.
My daddy heard me crying and entered my room without knocking. Soon, his arms were wrapped around me, just as big and strong as when I was eight, and I had an idea. My eyes wide, I whispered 'I have to tell you something. About James.'
Ice cream melted in its bowl and the mahogany-legged sofa was so soft. I watched my knees and made my chin wobble once, twice. 'He raped me, daddy.' I lied. And I didn't feel a thing as my daddy's heart shattered, and he clutched me close and whispered loving words into one ear, and out the other.
'We'll go to the police. We'll get that little cunt, don't you worry, we'll make sure he never, ever harms another little girl. Oh, my sweet pea...'
'NO!' The force of my voice knocks him backwards, and he scans my face frantically at arm's length.
'No? But, sweet pea-'
'No, Daddy. He's so popular, and he was my only friend... Even if the police believe me, no one else will. They'll hate me forever...' I make my face the picture of anxiety, the poster child for distress.
'But honey... If we don't stop him, he might hurt someone else...' He trails off as he follows my pointed gaze to the locked drawer of his desk. The one where he keeps his gun.
I helped him bury the body. When Daddy tipped his head way back and stared at the moon for so long with his empty eyes, I slipped a broken razor out of my pocket and cut off James's penis. My prize.
When we'd washed off all the blood we sat together on his overstuffed sofa and I snuggled under his arm like a little girl. I stroked the trophy in my pocket, and I knew my Daddy would always be there for me when I needed him.
'It's okay sweet pea. It's over.' He whispered into his dark study, over and over. But I wasn't convinced.