Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Monday, December 27, 2010

My (Ex) Friend The Psychopath

I am not a wise woman. If I were, I wouldn't write this entry, let alone post it. I would keep my promise to myself to never expose this story to the World Wide Web, where its subject could conceivably see it and realize that it's about her. I would never risk provoking her into tracking me down and causing me the sort of grief only a psychopath can cause. I would keep my big mouth shut.

But I'm a writer, and eventually writers blab about just about everything. If we don't blab about something, it's because we forgot it. We change stuff to try to disguise some of the truth, we do our best to cover our butts. But our compulsion to tell stories always wins out in the end.

I had a friend who was a psychopath. One day she tried to kill me, and she almost succeeded. If she had, it would have been a perfect crime, and no one would have known the truth. I try to tell myself that's one of the reasons I feel compelled to pass the story on. I'm not sure if I buy that or not. But here it is.

All of us know psychopaths, wether we know what to call them or not. We don't realize it, because popular culture has trained us to think that Hannibal Lector is the essential psychopath. Just see the word, and you think Ted Bundy, or Charlie Manson, or John Wayne Gacy, Jr. You don't think about the 10-year old girl who lives down the street from you, even though she continually does rotten things to you.

Psychopaths do a lot of damage to people, but most of them aren't killers. There are a few characteristics that all of them share. One of these is that they don't have a conscience. They don't suffer guilt or remorse, they don't feel compassion for others. Their emotions are shallow – the only feeling they can experience that has any depth is rage. When I write these statements with such certainty, please understand that I'm not quoting some book I read. I'm not expressing doctrines of psychology, written by learned scholars who have observed and interviewed psychopaths. I'm speaking from personal experience.

I was friends with a psychopath for five years. She feared only one thing: lightning. And she had one over-riding passion in her life: ice cream.

That poem, The Emperor Of Ice Cream, always give me the creeps, though I confess I don't entirely understand its text.

I don't want to tell you too many other things about this gal, because I'm a coward (if an unwise one). I've already mentioned two things in this entry that would allow her to identify herself in my story. I don't want to make it any plainer than it already is. So let me tell you what she did.

For five years, I heard one demand from her, over and over: Let's get some ice cream!

She didn't mean that we should go to the Tastee Freeze, where she would buy us a couple of cones. She also didn't mean that we should go to her house and get ice cream from the freezer, because her mother didn't permit her to have ice cream. Her mother didn't deny her this treat because it was unhealthy – she did it because she believed this girl to be evil. She didn't get any treats at home, because she didn't deserve them. But my mom was totally into ice cream, she kept the freezer well stocked with it. So inevitably, every time I saw this gal (which was just about every day), she would make that demand, Let's go get some ice cream! And if I didn't immediately respond, she would make it again. And again. And again.

You might think that's harmless. You might even think it's cute. But being harangued about something so relentlessly gets tiring. And ice cream wasn't the only thing she wanted, it was just the main thing. If I said no to the ice cream demand, she would switch to another one, and then another, and another. She was a master of of the Relentless Harangue, absolutely tireless in her delivery of demands. And getting rid of her was next to impossible – until she got something she wanted. For five years I put up with this, because I was a kid, and I pretty much expected people to be weird. To this day, I'm rarely disappointed in this expectation.

One day, in the middle of the summer, while she was hammering me with various demands, the subject of our above-ground swimming pool came up. If ice cream was her Number 1 passion in life, our pool was Number 2. She didn't have one of her own, of course – undeserving girls don't get pools either, not even the little, inflatable ones. I was 10 by this time, and I was beginning to find it harder to tolerate, Let's get some ice cream! After all, she was supposed to be my friend. Couldn't we just engage in some good-natured fun, playing with dolls? How about a nice round of Kick The Can? Was that too much to ask?

Apparently it was. She had been over for five minutes when she made her usual, shameless demand. I ignored it. So she switched tactics. “Let's go swimming!” she said.

Understand that I knew better. My mother wasn't home. Nobody but she and I were there, and I knew I wasn't supposed to go swimming alone. It was dangerous. But she was so relentless, and I had finally figured out a terrible thing. If I gave her what she wanted, she would go away. It's not a good thing to learn, not a wise thing to do. But I can understand why so many people give in to the impulse, just to buy a bit of peace.

So we ended up in the pool. We played for a while. We even (I thought) began to have some fun. And then she hit me with it. “Let's get some ice cream!” And I realized that she had just been acting, had just been pretending to be my friend and to be having fun. As always, there was only one thing on her mind. And I was sick of it. “Shut up about the stupid ice cream!” I shouted. “I'm sick of hearing about it.”

I had less than a second to feel proud of myself for finally standing up to her. And then I was fighting for my life. She shoved my head under the water. This was not a good-natured shove. She didn't release me, she held my head under. I fought her with every ounce of strength I had, and I managed to get my head up for a second, just long enough to gasp one gulp of air and to see the look on her face.

I'll never forget that expression. She may have been 10 years old, but Ted Bundy would have been proud of her. I gaped at her, and then she shoved me under again, and the struggle continued.

Up until that moment I had believed I could fight her off with sheer strength. After all, I had desperation on my side, that gave me a nice jolt of adrenaline. She allowed me to continue to think that, to fight with all my might. She let me up a couple more times, just long enough to get another quick gasp of breath, which I promptly wasted by screaming for help – and then she shoved me down again. She was enjoying herself. I fought and fought, with everything I had, and all I managed to do was get tired. She was taking longer and longer to let me up again. I realized that eventually she wasn't going to let me up at all.

That's when I found out another characteristic that all psychopaths share. They don't get tired. That's the reason they can stab someone 117 times, then cut them up, then set the house on fire, then drive to Canada and get rid of the body parts, then drive back to Colorado and hold up a liquor store, then score some drugs and find a motel room where they finally crash after being awake 2 days straight. They're wired differently.

She didn't get tired, but I sure did. And I realized what a fool I had been to call for help when no one was home at my house, and no one was home at my neighbor's houses (they were at work). My real friends were all off doing something else, that was the only reason I had consented to play with the Empress of Ice Cream in the first place. No one would hear my screams. My mom would come home and find me dead in the pool. The police would chalk it up to another kid swimming alone when she shouldn't have, no one would know that the girl from down the street had been there with me. She was going to get away with it.

And that's when I finally did something smart. This was an above-ground pool we were struggling in, and I could feel its wall against my back. So I played dead.

Most kids who have been swimming play a game called How Long Can You Hold Your Breath? I played it well. I forced my body to relax – not all at once, but gradually, as if I were losing consciousness slowly. And then I went limp.

She didn't just let me go. She held on. If I hadn't taken a chance, she would have held me there until I really was dead, and then she would have climbed out of the pool, helped herself to a bowl of ice cream, and sauntered home, without anyone the wiser.

Instead, I suddenly kicked against the bottom of the pool with the last of my strength. This did not completely surprise her. I think the element of surprise lay in my trajectory. Up until that point, I had invested myself in the strategy of trying to break her hold on me. This time I threw myself over the side of the pool. She grabbed at me, but missed my hair and had to grab my wet body, instead. I slipped out of her grasp and fell to the ground. I wasted no time in scrambling to my feet and dashed for the arcadia door. I slammed it shut and locked it, just seconds before she got to it.

From there, I had to run to every other door and window in the house, slamming them shut and locking them just before she got to them. She didn't give up until every single one of them had been tried. Once she realized she had been thwarted, she shrugged. Then she turned and walked away, whistling a happy tune.

If you've visited this blog before, you might have read another entry I wrote about a creature called Mano Loco, who almost succeeded in ambushing my brother one dark night in the summer, when he was home alone. This unhappy experience occurred the same summer my (ex) friend tried to drown me. I have often wondered if it was really she who stuck her head up above the gate after my brother scrambled over it. If it was, he was in ten times more danger than he would have been from any supernatural killer.

So there it is. I've flung it out into the web – maybe the spider who's perched in some (hopefully) remote part of it won't feel the vibrations. If she does, I'll have to deal with the consequences. If she hasn't changed in all these years, I'll have no warning before she makes a move in my direction.

But I have changed over the years. I'm way more paranoid than I used to be. It's not impossible to sneak up on me, but it's a lot harder than it used to be. I may be a blabbermouth, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Let's hope I don't have to use them.

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