First Time (excerpt)
By Sasha Diaz
I remember the first time I saw my mom cry. I was six years old.
I used to think it was because of my dad, that she was crying. They were yelling at each other, using words that have become an indistinct blur in my memory, and my dad threw a glass cup. It shattered against a cupboard, probably a foot from her head. When I think about this moment, I like to imagine it was closer. My mom must have known he threw the cup out of frustration—he wasn’t looking at her long enough to be aiming. It just landed where it landed. I like to imagine what would have happened if it was an aimed throw, if he had missed by less than that foot, by six inches, or one! Would my mother have still burst into tears? Would she have been angry?
I’ve never seen my mother angry. Mostly she cries, though sometimes it’s more of a dry heave. Very unpleasant to watch; not even my brother knows how to pacify her when she gets this way.
It’s always because of me, even the first time.
I just learned the entire story today. My father was trying to do something, bond, rekindle my childhood, tap into the humanity he still believes he can dig out if he could just find the right tools. Maybe he was trying to solidify the memory of his eldest child before my entire identity gets ripped away. Not that he’s ever been so crazy about the way I am before.
He was telling me about the operation, trying to get a reaction out of me. He’s a smart guy, he knows what I am; he just chooses to ignore it. He kept telling me in a too-soft voice, “It’s okay to be scared.”
It always makes him feel better, to pretend I know about this sickeningly human concept of fear. Usually I’ll go along with it, act like I remember. Now there’s no point—he knows what I am; if he didn’t, I wouldn’t have to be changed in the first place.
He tried to play on my fright for some time before giving up and moving to nostalgia: his favorite emotion, I’ve discovered.
His face shifted, his eyes lost in a memory. “Do you know what night I first knew you were—,” and then a pause. I knew that look anywhere. Disappointment. He hated saying it out loud.
“A psychopath?” I offered apathetically. My voice was hoarse. I hadn’t spoken the entire day. “Internal Conflict,” the type authors create, that’s what I had been trying to portray, as if I had any trepidations about the procedure. My following through will make my parents so impressed and proud I’ve overcome my anxieties that they’ll probably do just about anything I ask.
“An individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” That was the approved jargon within my household to be used when describing my state in front of me. Apparently, as far as my mother is concerned, saying “psychopath” in front of a psychopath can make said psychopath more psychopathic.
Besides, he was too defeated by the real word and the idea of it to ever say it aloud. The reality, I’ve determined, would have killed him if he ever chose to really see it, glare at it in the eye and see only me staring back at him. “I knew when you were six years old. I had an idea since you were two, which you made very hard to repress when you tried to kill the bird.” He chuckled. I threw him a grin.
“Parrots always did annoy me.”
More chuckling. “They certainly did.” He paused to recollect himself, gave me a once over. Parents always do this, to see how much their child has grown from the baby they once held, because they can never remember letting us go. The corners of his mouth lifted. Nostalgia.
“But I knew when you were six.” He was making the dreadfully attentive eye contact my mother worshipped so dearly. “After an incident at school. I finally convinced your mother to take you to a doctor, take some tests, after a bit of unfortunate glass throwing.” He’s trying to keep it light hearted. Otherwise, he would get sucked into the vortex of the memory, and the loss he faced that day. He went on, “We took you to the first doctor who could fit us in, and that’s when ODD became—”
“I remember that day, with the cup. I was so…” my voice trailed off as I sought the right word.
We had spoken at the same time. I smirked at him, mockingly. Scared. He was begging me to let him in, give him his cue to enter Stage Right playing Comforting Father.
“Disoriented,” he mimicked, dissecting the word. He was confused.
“Yeah. You guys were always, are always really cautious, around me. I thought I was the only one with that side, you know? More…predatory. Aggressive. I used to avidly resent you and Mom because I thought you were trying to make me feel wrong for not feeling happy like you always were. I guess I am supposed to feel wrong. But when I saw you fighting with Mom like that, I saw this other side. I don’t know, it was just strange to think you were able to hide it from me for so long, since it kind of,” I paused to determine the best phrasing, “is all that I am. I wasn’t sure if it made me feel more normal or more screwed up.”
Dad shot me a glare.
My father placed a hand on my shoulder, and moved it down my back, sympathetically. He had explained once, when I asked why he did this, that it’s his way of showing he cares, and wants to help, and is “here for me.” It felt more like I was just there for him—as an armrest.
“Listen,” he sighed, “you know you and I are different, but after tomorrow, we’re all going to be the same. We’ll all be able to communicate better, understand each other on more than just an intellectual level, and your mom and I won’t have to worry when you head off for school. I can’t understand what it’s been like, but I promise you, this procedure’s going to change everything for us. You’ll never have to feel like an outsider in your own home ever again. Okay?”
I was convinced he was looking for a soul in my eyes. I almost thought he would, he read so concentrated and passionate. I let him search for a few more moments before deciding he could not gain any more out of our interaction, so I would send him on his way. I threw him a small smile, relaxed my shoulders, released my eyebrows from their furrowed position, and exhaled. Reassured. “Okay. Thanks, Dad.”
He smiled, the balls of his cheeks rotund and overbearing. A little cartoon-like. Happy.
He slipped out of my room after reminding me he would wake me up at five sharp.
From there, I started my nightly routine. Every night, I change one part of it. Switch the order of brushing my hair and teeth, changing after I go to the bathroom instead of before, just something small. My mother insists I follow these steps, giving me freedom to only decide the order. I can’t follow the same pattern for long, most psychopaths can’t. However, normalcy is good for us, especially those who are diagnosed as children. I’m convinced that if my parents had begun manipulating me (Motherese translation: “trying to help”) any sooner, I wouldn’t need to have this operation at all. I’d be normal all on my own.
On the other hand, they could have ignored all signs completely. Had they never gotten the diagnosis, that doctor never would have told them how well I’ve learned to assimilate. Apparently, I’m a good candidate for the operation because, if I were to continue living as a psycho, I could easily live my life appearing completely healthy. Nobody would suspect if I were up to something dangerous; I could pass as a cutthroat business type, or a leader trying to get ahead, the two personas I usually try to take on. No one would see how different I am. I’m too observant.
Once I’d gotten through the ritual I sat on the edge of my bed and watched for my mother. About three times a month I catch her ensuring that I’ve brushed my teeth by examining the bristles. Otherwise, she avoids the room. Without fail, after each inspection she proceeds from the bathroom to my room to say goodnight.
After a brief moment, she appeared. First to the bathroom, then towards me. She met my eyes and smiled warmly, satisfied that I wanted to see her. The openness of my torso was designed to make it appear that way. I mimicked the positioning of her mouth, the soft lift of her cheeks, and then kicked the door shut.
I dropped back onto my bed, smirking. I couldn’t miss out on the last chance to toy with her the way only a non-empath could—without any hesitation or regret. Although she had been a good starting point, and constantly offered herself as a feeble training dummy, in recent years my attention shifted to bigger and better targets at school that I had been busy capitalizing on. I didn’t bother playing with her anymore (not intentionally, anyway).
However, victories over her—the sighing in frustration and dejection— has always brought me great pleasure. I could imagine the scene perfectly: her leaning on the door, the hatred towards me masked by sorrow and pain. My brother Charlie looking on in disgust, knowing he can’t help. Perfect Charlie, the modern intellectual, excelling at mathematics and computer science, bound to mommy’s hip, always there to try to reboot her.
I couldn’t help but sneer as she began to blubber on about her pride and acceptance of me.
I now lay above my covers, staring up at the moonlit ceiling hanging over me. This time in 24 hours, I will feel what they feel.
Which means they will let me go to one of the best business schools in the country—despite it falling on the opposite side as our house—, without worrying about my capabilities. My potential.
That was always the problem: I’m too good at playing the normal teenager. It was too dangerous to let people trust me; give them no warning of what I am. So, everyone was informed as quickly as possible. Beware the Psychopath.
I don’t mind that I’ve never gotten this advantage. Where’s the fun in that?
The real thrill is finding some innocent empath, one who fears me already, and training him to trust me. There have been several challenges, but I consider it good practice for the future. Competitive business is not meant for anyone initially willing to trust me.
However, in the interest of attaining this dream, I’ll have to become a little bit more empathetic. Regardless, I will remember who I am right now, how to manipulate others, and why I do it. I may be warier about this manipulation, but I have never been one for quitting, and I will do what I must.
The doctor reminds me that when I wake, physically all should feel the same. Minimal discomfort from lying stiff for such an extended period of time – it’s a 6-hour surgery, just over the length of a typical tumor removal. The doctors kept comparing the two procedures.
Since my nomination to go under the knife, the hospital had set me up with their on-site psychiatrist, William Keen, though I was instructed to just call him Will, likely on behalf of my kind’s distrust of authority and tendency to become volatile when feeling dominated. After a quick Internet search, I learned one of Will’s earlier theses explored this topic.
During our first session, Will gave me a journal, for cataloging and helping both of us better understand my current emotional limits. I originally thought that was counterintuitive and eliminated the point of a therapist in the first place: if my emotions are already on paper for my viewing, I should be able to analyze them on my own. Besides, I’ve read speaking your truths aloud is the most effective way of understanding one’s own emotions, thus, therapy. Journaling eliminates that. However, I used the journal anyway, as a source of memory. In the effort to keep my goals unaltered post-op, I wrote down every moment in which I should’ve felt remorseful, but instead saw an opportunity for gain. I must not lose sight of this.
I wish I had my journal now, in this moment that would typically invoke some level of unease: though everything is about to change, I feel secure in my own decision. In fact, I don’t feel a damn thing.