I don’t know if my ex is a sociopath.
One of my lawyers (a right-wing ex-Marine from Alabama) said he was one. And he’s not inclined to hyperbole. On the other hand, a shrink I saw at the time said, purely on my descriptions of my situation, that he was more likely a Borderline or NPD, because he was so volatile. He freaked out, he stressed. That shrink spent 20 years working in the Pennsylvania prison systems and he knew from sociopaths. He said sociopaths are cool cucumbers. They do audacious things and they don’t stress. They have no “adaptive anxiety” in shrink parlance. Still another shrink (the marriage counselor) said he was “deeply hostile to women” and pegged him as an NPD.
Does it matter? He’s extremely fucked up. And predatory. And I’m glad I’m far the hell away from him.
Spending any time untangling that skein of fuckupedness to determine where he falls in the DSM manual is pretty pointless to me now. I’ve filed him under Bad Person, and that’s that.
But I got to thinking recently about my brushes with sociopaths and creepy people in general, and how our gut tells us things we often fail to listen to at our peril. I’m a much bigger believer in trusting my gut these days.
On my first date with my ex, it was a lovely spring day and we were at an outdoor market having coffee. He was on full sparkle setting. But at one point he shared something about his ex-wife and he kind of teared up, got “emotional” — in a flash it went through my brain that this was artificial. Inappropriate. Scripted? Whatever it was it was weird. There was no build up to it, like with normal people. I think he was testing me, to see how I reacted to his cues. Would I be empathetic to his distress? (I was of course, I’m chumpy. I carry tissues in my purse.) And then, as quick as that mawkishness appeared, it disappeared, and he was back to being jokey, and charming.
My GUT was weirded out. But I ignored it. He was so interesting in so many other ways. So keen. So intense to pursue me (that’s flattering). He’d traveled and had funny stories. He said he read (he did not). He worked on nuclear submarines once. (True.) I let the “big picture” crowd out the flash of gut instinct.
But much later, when I was married to him, and his true self was revealed — the abusive, serial cheater — that ability to turn “emotions” ON and OFF freaked me out. His complete disconnect from my distress, the horror of what he’d done, the people he’d hurt — were absurdly off. I joke here about cheater sociopaths who on DDay step over your sobbing body and wonder about making a Hot Pocket. That was exactly what he was like.
That bizarre disconnect — having reactions wildly inappropriate to a situation — made me recall an experience I had as a graduate student in London, when I met a real life sociopath. Dirk Coetzee of South Africa. Coetzee was a leader of death squads during apartheid. At that time — 1990, the South African government was vehemently denying that there were death squads, but a guy on death row (a black man, of course), fingered Coetzee as the leader of a squadron and he fled the country.
Coetzee, like all sociopaths, was a keen opportunist. Three years before democracy came to South Africa, he could see which way the winds were shifting. So he became a whistleblower. He told a journalist, before he skipped town, all about his activities. Then — this is REALLY weird — he came under the protection of the ANC (the African National Congress) in exile in London — the very people he’d been jauntily blowing up. The ANC then took him on a bit of a junket to news agencies going “SEE?! We’re not crazy! Death squads EXIST! Listen to this idiot!”
I was working as a researcher at a broadcast news network, and one of my co-workers, knowing of my interest in South Africa, invited me to go to the interview.
I will never forget it. We were in a small room, the producer and myself sitting across a table from Coetzee, his black henchman (whose name I don’t remember), and a couple of their ANC handlers. The ANC acted like Coetzee was an organ monkey. Coetzee on the other hand was sparkly and ingratiating. He clearly LOVED the attention.
He began over the next hour to gleefully describe exactly how he killed people — and he’d killed scores.
I remember him describing the killing of Griffiths Mxenge, an anti-apartheid lawyer, whose throat was slit and he was stabbed 40 times on his front porch, and the body later dumped in a soccer field. He remembered all sorts of details of the killings — even the license plate numbers on cars he put bombs in.
And the entire time he was relating these horrors, his tone was “aren’t I a clever boy?!” and “you’ll never guess what I did next!” but then he’d catch himself and cluck, “Oh, but now I see the error of my ways. That was all wrong. I’m ANC now. Amandla!” But those “admissions” were infrequent. Mostly he just really enjoyed describing to us how clever he was and how creatively he murdered activists. He smiled a lot.
In contrast — his henchman — who participated in many of these killings — looked tortured. Like one of those writhing figures in hell. His head was in his hands, he recoiled at the details, looked sickened. Ashamed. Terrified. He’d done horrible things and now he would face justice.
The two men stood in such relief against each other. I remember thinking of Coetzee, OMG, this guy is a psychopath. A total freak.
And then I didn’t think of Dirk Coetzee for many years again until after DDay, when my then husband’s demeanor was completely disconnected from the reality of what he’d done. The dead eyes. The smiling in the wrong places. The fucking GLEE. And then the “admissions” of wrong doing. I see the error of my ways. That was all wrong. I’m reconciled now.
Long after I’d divorced him, and I was moving to Texas with my now husband, I had to go through a custody trial. How’s this for a nightmare? Batshit crazy first husband asks serial cheater second husband to testify against me in court — what a “bad” mother I am. My husband (a lawyer) says the cheater (also a lawyer) would never do anything so stupid. To put his abusive, cheating history on public record. He was out of state, couldn’t be subpoenaed. He’d have to volunteer. But no, he shows up. Just for the pleasure of fucking with me.
On the stand, he’s asked about his multiple infidelities, and he admits to them. About duping me, defrauding me, about his long-standing mistress, fathering her kid (he doesn’t deny it, he artfully says “Well, Tracy thinks that.”).
But I had saved all my correspondence with my attorney — where he had threatened me, that if I left him, he was going to join forces with my ex and take my son away from me. How he’d make good on all those custody battles threats — he’d testify against me. And now it was years later — and he was doing exactly that.
So the judge asked him “Did you threaten her?”
And he pauses and smiles this HUGE, shit eating smile and drawls “I might’ve said that.” Like it was a joke, and aren’t we all in on this little joke?
The judge’s eyes popped and he dismissed all the testimony — and later handed my son’s father his ass with his ruling. (Less visitation, everything I asked for, plus he made him pay 20% of all travel expenses — something I had not asked for.)
And all of it could’ve been averted if I had just listened to my gut one spring day years ago. There’s something off with this guy.