When I was in grade two, a woman who lived down the street insisted to my parents that I be put on suicide watch.
I was told as an adult that this neighbour was watching me walk home from elementary school every day and found it incredibly alarming that I wasn’t skipping or laughing. I picture her now as a plump cartoon character, peeking out of her blinds with binoculars, seeing my somber face and crying out in a voice oozing with self-righteousness, “My god, that child isn’t laughing! She’s obviously suicidal, and I must do something! ME to the rescue!” before dialling my parents’ number and consequently inflicting damage that would follow me for the rest of my life.
I have been emotionally cold for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my dad often called me Wednesday, the murderous little girl from The Addam’s Family. Back then, I was tickled that I was different. I liked my dad’s silly nickname for me until that neighbour butted into my life.
I didn’t know about the busy-body woman on our street. I didn’t even know what suicide was. All I knew was that suddenly every day when I got home from school, my parents were saying things like, “Why can’t you just smile? Everyone thinks you’re miserable,” and “It’s not that hard.” But it was hard. Governed by a rigidly analytical nature, it seemed illogical to be disingenuous and force a smile, and therefore, I couldn’t do it.
The frustrating thing was that I was actually my happiest when this lady was spying on me. I looked forward to my walk home because it let me drift into the world of the latest book I had read and make up my own stories. My love for daydreaming is why I became a writer. But I couldn’t do it anymore because I didn’t smile when I daydreamed. Because I was weird.
Wednesday, that name I had previously felt tickled by, morphed into a syringe, piercing deeply and sucking out my self-esteem. It asked, why can’t you just be like everyone else? Later in life, that question rephrased itself as romantic interests repeatedly described me as simply cold.
As I grew up, I’d see my likeness in the serial killers on Criminal Minds, in Patrick Bateman American Psycho, and it didn’t help that I love murder mysteries. I often have to check what I say about the stories I love, worried people are thinking the prospect of human death is what excites me, not of the thrill of solving a mystery. I worry that they think I’m just like Wednesday Addams in every way, not just in her severity. Eventually, I began to think of myself as a villain, inherently evil because I shared so many similarities with the ones I saw on TV.
That is until I came across a passage in W is for Wasted, the 23rd book in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries series:
“Here’s how hard-hearted I am: I was irritated by Pearl’s wailing. It seemed pumped up, artificial, overdone. My response was to disconnect, as though I were pulling a plug out of a wall socket. I couldn’t react to the news of Felix’s death because her excess had shut me down. It was as though she’d pre-empted any honest feelings generated by his passing. At the same time, I wondered if Pearl was the normal one and I was too psychologically stunted to experience sorrow. This didn’t seem like the proper moment to sort out questions of such complexity, but the idea had occurred to me on previous occasions—this sense that I was somehow out of step with the rest of humankind.”
Like the narrator, Kinsey Millhone, I’ve spent my life thinking that it’s everyone else who is normal, and I’m the deformed freckle on the skin of society. It never mattered that I find joy in the other’s joy; I can’t show emotions, so there has always been an implication that I have none. I felt destined to only relate to characters like Patrick Bateman forever.
It wasn’t until I read W is for Wasted that I realized my resistance to showing emotion is something that isn’t singular to myself and the serial killers on Criminal Minds. Kinsey, the protagonist and narrator, isn’t the epitome of mental health, but she’s not a bad person; in fact, her whole career as a private investigator revolves around helping people. And she is emotionally cold just like me.
Sue Grafton, the creator of Kinsey Millhone, passed away on December 28 2017 before she could complete the Kinsey Millhone series. Her writing showed me that I’m not a monster. Hard-hearted, absolutely. But not evil. In my typical way, I don’t have the proper words to mourn her. But the feeling is there. It always has been. The world lost an excellent storyteller when she passed. RIP Sue Grafton.