Teaching a Sociopath to Cry

Think about how you’re made of water. Think about the moon and tides and about gravity’s long attraction. Think about that water you’re made of being sung to the surface. Think about it being pulled to the lower portion of your eyes in a tide of emotion.

Don’t think about your eyes getting wet and shiny. You’re not a puppy dog on a sympathy card. You’re not a cartoon rabbit. You’re not a statuette bookend. You’re not your older sister.

You’re a person. You’re a human.

As far as anybody knows.

Think about what if you fail, here. Think about the fallout in this room—it can be a wake, a wedding, a birth, a graduation—if you fail to produce that one single giveaway tear that establishes beyond a doubt that your insides match your outsides.  

Will you be banished from the proceedings if you fail? Will you suffer some of the predictable forms of social or familial censure? If you don’t manage to struggle that lone tear out, will suspicion then be cast your way?

What you need to do in order to cry here, it’s up the stakes. So you’re talking to a mother about bringing a date home after curfew. So you’re trying to get out of library fines again. So you’re standing over a dead, but evidently loved household pet in the road, your guilty car idling ahead of you in the road.

None of that matters.

Pretend instead you’re talking to a persistent homicide detective. Not the kind from television. The kind that can send you up. The kind that maybe shares your certain set of predilections, in secret—down deep enough she doesn’t even acknowledge them herself. They’re what’s allowing her this x-ray of your head, though. Unless the emotion on your face can shunt that attention away.

Now you have to cry, don’t you?

But never—and you should know this by now, from the broken vases and spilled fruit drinks of your youth all the way up to the missing cash and wrecked cars of your teens—never say that it wasn’t you.

What you can do here, actually—this is a proven tactic—is claim guilt. Just pluck it down from all the possibilities swirling around the room. Say how it’s all your fault, that X never would have had Y happen to her or him if you’d only Z’d.

And, while saying this, remember that there’s a whole alphabet of cell blocks they can tuck you away in. Hide you away in. Bury you in.

This will send the chill into your bones, will chase their heat up to your eyes.

They can’t deny you the world. They can’t be allowed to deny you the world.

And all you have to do?

It’s tilt your face back, as if balancing emotion in your eyes.

It’s lean forward after you’ve apparently gathered yourself, and let some of that innocence roll down your cheek.

Rub them away, of course, these tears. Be embarrassed about them, be ashamed because this isn’t about you.

But smile inside. Just a little.

These tears, they’re only moisture, they’re only water. And they’re only on the outside.

They can’t touch the real you.

The real you, it’s coiled inside, isn’t it?

It’s coiled inside, and it’s waiting for the next time, and the next time, and all the broken vases and spilled bodies after that, your face showing surprise and terror and wet emotion every time. Because that’s the human response, and you, you’re human, so human.

Just like everyone else.

No difference at all.


Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels, six story collections, and more than 250 stories. Most recent are Mapping the Interior, from Tor.com and the comic book My Hero, from Hex Publishers. Stephen's been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Fiction, the Texas Institute of Letters Jesse Jones Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Awards for Multicultural Fiction, three This is Horror awards, and he's made Bloody Disgusting's Top Ten Novels of the Year. Stephen teaches in the MFA programs at University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California Riverside-Palm Desert. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two children, and too many old trucks. Visit him on Twitter @SGJ72.

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