“I think we’re all psychopaths,” a close friend of mine told me. Then proceeded to tell me about all the times she has cried over someone else’s misfortune. I don’t think she knows what a psychopath is.
I grew up with a psychopath. My grandfather. He is not my real grandfather, not my flesh and blood, thank god, he never reproduced. My grandmother left her first husband (also a psychopath) for him and they moved far away from everything together and brought my mum. She was a single mother with two kids, so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and him.
I think that’s why I became slightly obsessed with psychopaths. I remember the moment it happened. I was telling my second psychologist about him, about the things he had said and done and how I had felt and she froze. She showed me her arm, which had goosebumps. She started telling me about how insanely dangerous it is for a child to be around that kind of person. I was never in physical danger, but mentally, I’d been through one hell of a ride. She then smiled slyly and said, “I’d love to sit down with him and pick his brains.” and I fear she meant it literally. She gave me two books about the subject of psychopaths and made me read them – so if nothing else, I would be able to see the warning signs. Because as she said, “you might find yourself trying to fix your childhood by being attracted to a psychopath, in the hope that you can make him feel empathy.”
OH BOY WAS SHE RIGHT. I met a full-on psychopath and fell in love. One day, he would tell me that I was the most beautiful woman in the entire world, that he had never felt this way before, that we had something special that no one else had. I was young. That’s how you think people talk the first night you spend with them. Cut to three years later. I’m kicking him and slapping him. Not in a cool, dramatic way as in the movies. It is making absolutely no impact. I have no strength. He’s standing in front of me with a puzzled facial expression and a slight sneer every time my kick actually does a bit of harm. I’m trying to keep him from a 15 year old girl, he wants to have sex with. She asked me to help her. There are people around, but no one sees it. His eyes turn even darker and colder than they ever have been before and he says, “I genuinely hope you die. I want to kill you right now. I want you to drown.”
I kick him again. I’ve given up trying to psychically trying to harm him. Now I’m just kicking because I have no words. And I feel like I have to protect the 15 year old girl – because I’m over trying to fix my psychopath grandfather through some pompous dickhead and I’ve moved on to trying to fix the scared-shitless child in me through a poor 15 year old girl who was at the wrong time at the wrong place. I walk her home. I can hear him threatening me, as we walk away. When I can no longer hear him, he texts me the threats instead.
Four weeks later, he called me. He had joined a support group. He apologised because they had told him to. I asked, “for what?”
He paused. “For… everything.”
I said, “Tell me one thing you did. Just name one thing you did that you apologise for.”
His voice went from being pretend-sad to being coldly furious, “You’re ungrateful.” he said and hung up. He genuinely had no idea what he had done.
When I met my next psychopath, the immediate feeling of excitement and attraction quickly turned to actual physical disgust and fear. He tried hard to manipulate me, but I was 25. I knew the tricks. At one point, I told him, “You’re a psychopath.”
He said, “Oh, not this again.” and proceeded to tell me about all the people, medical professionals included, who had given him that diagnosis. He rolled his eyes at them and at us. He then asked me, “I don’t understand why that girl over there wasn’t interested in me. I told her all of my best anecdotes.”
I said, “Did you ask her anything about herself?”
He squinted his eyes and looked confused. It had never even occurred to him.
My grandfather would tell long anecdotes from his job. He worked in a factory. Nothing exciting ever actually happened. But at 4pm, my grandmother and I would have baked him cookies, made coffee and served it all for him at the living room table and we were sitting facing him, smiling, looking excited to hear him talk. He would start talking. If we interrupted him – by either looking away, coughing, laughing too much at something that wasn’t that funny, not seeming interested enough or sipping the coffee too loudly – he would the story over and this time, talk shower. Whenever I see someone being tortured on TV, I almost envy that it only takes seconds to pull out a toe nail.
We could sit like this for hours. Once I made a joke – not just a joke, a callback. To something he had said in the beginning of the story. It was funny. I was a child(-genius, some would say) and I was so proud that I had thought of a joke. All hell broke loose. He closed his eyes. Slowly. Took a very deep breath. His forehead wrinkled in concern and he tightened his fists. The disappointment he felt was massive. I had let him down. I had made him feel less important than he felt he was. Then he said, in the most self-righteous tone I have ever heard, “I guess I’m going to have to start over, now that no one listens to me.” and he did. From the top. Slower.
But I had listened to him. In great detail. He didn’t know how hard it was to do a call-back. I didn’t do another callback till my 2015 Edinburgh show, which some journalists said was, “too callback-heavy”. Well, I’ve heard that one before, mate. Get in line.
We would watch TV at night. They had horrific, new leather furniture which squeaked when you moved. And if you did – move, that is – he would turn up the volume so loudly that it hurt our ears. When we’d sat like that, without moving, for sometimes 2-5 minutes, he’d turn it down again. If we’d move and the furniture would squeak – the volume would go up again.
He once brought me a massive cake and said, “If you love me, you’ll eat all of it.” I was five. Today I’m fat. I WONDER WHY.
Psychopaths are dangerous because they use people as pawns. If you accept their behaviour and their worldview is being correct, you’re in a shithole of danger. You will allow yourself to become second priority. You’ll accept that you exist to please them. If you don’t give them that power, they cannot cope with it.
The last time I visited my grandmother and grandfather, I refused to let my grandfather drive me. I took a £50 cab. At this point, I hadn’t acknowledged him for about 13 years. If I call their house, I politely say hello and then ask to speak to my grandmother. I am polite. He knew all of this – so he went to his car and sat there for the six hours I spent with my grandmother. It was all a game – he assumed I would eventually feel so bad that I’d go and get him. Instead I had the time of my life with my grandmother, who is 92 years old and frankly, also sick of him.
My grandmother was ill when she was around 89 years old. She was scared. She told me that she was religious, like it was a secret. I realised it wasn’t because it was secret, but it was because it was private. To her. And she told me. Not her asshole husband, even though he was also in the room. She said that she knew that when she died, she would be with her sisters and mother and father again. I told her that it sounded lovely. My grandfather, her husband of 30 years, looked her in the eyes and said, “That’s stupid. When you’re dead, you’re dead. Nothing’s there. You turn into dirt.”
And that’s a psychopath for you.
I’m doing last year’s callback-heavy show “Bubblewrap” at Soho Theatre on May 6th and 7th. I’d love to see some of you there.
If you haven’t heard it yet, go listen to guiltyfeminist.com
Or my very own podcast comedianstellingstuff.com