If That’s a Thing: Through the Eyes of Cody W.


As told to the author by Cody W.

I guess you can call me a sociopath. Technically. I mean, if that’s a thing. Is it?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hurt people or anything. I’m just ambivalent to others’ pain. I have no empathy or heartache for those who have seen tragedy. I don’t know why. I just don’t care.

That’s not what I want to tell you, though. I want to tell you a secret. But first, a little bit about my childhood, which I don’t expect you—nor do I want you—to care about. I don’t think.

Third grade. I’m eight years old. My “family,” comprising my biological father, his third and current wife, me, and her two sons, is at Walmart. Back to school season has arrived.

We’re walking down the seasonal aisle, collecting school supplies that no kid ever uses: pocket tissue packs and hand wipes. And more glamorous stuff: colorful three-ring Trapper Keepers, glossy folders, crazy scissors, and cartoon-covered pencil cases and sharpeners.

Back to school shopping excites me. The seasonal aisle is magical this time of year: merchandising emblazoned with chalkboard font, scents of construction paper and Elmer’s Glue, and Lisa Frank artwork on everything from lunch boxes to markers.

“All right, boys,” my stepmother says, “time to pick your book bags.”

My stepbrothers pick out boring bags patterned in boring camouflage and boring shoulder straps. I’m more methodical with my selection. I want something fabulous that will help me stand out at school. My classmates will long for my friendship when they see me sport a pretty bag.

I choose a pink book bag with shiny zippers and cartoon graphics. I know nothing of the color pink being reserved for only girls.

I throw the bag over my shoulders and envision myself strolling into class, as cool as if I were wearing sunglasses, turning heads and feeling envied.

“No,” my stepmother says. I look up at her. There’s something strange in her eyes. They’re suddenly watery and red. She looks mad. No, she looks more than mad. She looks frightening. “Girls, Cody. Pink is for girls.”

“But I like it.”

“I said no!” she says and yanks the bag off me. She throws it back on the shelf and puts a camouflage one into the shopping cart.

Shortly after our trip to Walmart, cruel and random punishments begin at home. They occur only in my father’s absence.

I’m in third grade the first time she calls me a faggot. She tells my brothers not to talk to me and to pay me no mind when I cry. She beats me regularly and over the smallest things. She forces me to write sentences thousands of times over about what a bad boy I am, and under impossible time constraints. She forces me into freezing cold showers for hours. And I’m occasionally required to kneel on a broom stick holding books in my hands, for as long as I can consciously bear the pain.

“EAT!” she screams once at dinner when I don’t finish my meal.

“I’m full,” I say, sick to my stomach. I’ve eaten as much as I can. She forced me to take more than I wanted to begin with.

“I don’t care,” she says. “You’re going to eat the rest of this goddamn food.”

She force-feeds me the rest of my dinner, snatches my plate off the table, and fills it with more.

“Eat this,” she says as she slams the plate back onto the table. I start crying.

“Please,” I say.

“Please what? I’m going to teach you a lesson, faggot. Eat this until you throw up.”

I don’t want a cold shower and I don’t want to kneel on my broom. So I do as I am told. She watches me stuff food into my mouth, until I purge it on the linoleum floor. My throat burns. My eyes water.

I’m on my hands and knees, coughing, crying. Why is she doing this? Why?

“Faggot,” she calls me…

I’m in my early twenties now. I don’t know where she is now. Dead, I hope.

Look, I’m not using my childhood as an excuse for being a sociopath, if that’s a thing. I don’t need to defend anything to you. I don’t care what you think of me.

Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

The secret I want to share is this, and you will be the first person who hears it:

I don’t want to be a sociopath, if that’s a thing. Not that you care. Not that I want you to care. I don’t.

… I don’t think.

Cody W. lives in the Twin Cities.

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