I was an extremely compliant child. Children of psychopaths don’t really have a choice. I hardly ever got in trouble, either at home or at school. I was submissive, studious, and not only cleaned my room but the whole damn house. I was a parentified child to the max, making lunch for my mother and changing my brother’s diaper by the time I was four. This stunted my emotional growth in many ways; something I may have had a vague idea about, because I always liked myself best if I did something “bad”. However, any sort of venture outside of the lines could only happen outside of my house.
We moved a lot, a succession of Levittowns. When we arrived there would be a patch of woods left in the neighborhood, but it was generally in the process of being developed. My only safe place was in the woods, and I knew once the houses went up, it would be gone. So it was desperation that allowed me to overcome my generalized fear of almost everything. I sabotaged the building projects. I’d start with the surveyors. In the evenings, after they had spent a painstaking day laying out lots, I would pull out the stakes, smooth over the dirt, and hide the stakes and twine. That’s how they did it back then. Later, as the houses would inevitably start going up, I would scatter nails, and continue to hide anything I thought might disrupt or slow the process. In bed at night my guilt would overwhelm me, but it didn’t stop me. There are children like me who live in fear that a parent might actually kill them, even though many people don’t want to believe that.
I was nine in the sixth grade, younger than my peers because I’d been forced to skip a grade. My sixth grade teacher hated me, perhaps because of this. I hated it too, but 9 year-olds don’t have a choice. You could see her at her desk, checking and re-checking my work, scanning for mistakes. Where she had me was my handwriting, which was terrible. She would have me sit next to her desk, hold up the latest example of my deficient penmanship for all to see and ridicule. She was mean all right, but her meanness was right out front, not shady and serpentine like my mother’s meanness. I think for that reason I didn’t fold and cry as usual, but took her on as a worthy opponent.
When she was lecturing I wore my glasses upside down because it annoyed her. I told her I saw better that way. I let out a balloon slowly under my desk and she never found out where the shrieking noise came from. I threw spitballs and wrote notes to my friends. I’d never done any of these things before, nor after. The teacher was probably as broken as I was and picked on me because I reminded her of herself, so I guess I should have been ashamed. But somehow I never regretted any of it, perhaps because she was a badly behaved grown woman I could master.
The third and last of my childhood indiscretions also involved a female teacher, this one when I was 16 and a senior in high school. Mrs. B. had recently been hired to teach a course in Sociology. She probably wasn’t much older than we were, and must have been up-to-date on current research. This most likely included the groundbreaking studies of Stanley Milgram and Philp Zimbardo, who had demonstrated how perceived authority and groupthink can pervert individual moral codes. So one day in class the young Mrs. B. read to us from one of Hitler’s early inspirational speeches. When she was finished, we were instructed to stand, raise our right arms, and yell “Heil Hitler!’ Looking back, not a bad way to introduce adolescents to these concepts. However, I stayed in my seat; as it turned out I was the only student who refused to pretend to salute Hitler. She sent me to the vice principal’s office. But he became a friend, the only adult who helped me in a college search, and an unexpected result of my insubordination.
So, parents, unless it’s life-threatening – if your child gets in trouble occasionally, take it as a compliment.