#2. The Expat
No matter how tight knit the circle of friends, there's always one kid that just plain doesn't get it. They may not be dumb, or especially awkward, or have any other valid reason to be singled out, but they are. Maybe they came to the group last, or maybe you all graduated elementary school together, but his house was in a different district for middle school, or maybe she was just Canadian. The Expat laughs a bit too late at inside jokes that, come to think of it, they weren't there to understand in the first place. When you dreamily reflect on all those hot, gangly middle-school girls in their form-fitting skorts, the Expat doesn't recognize any of the names, or even care that Amelia is finally starting to get some tits. The Expat is the one you have to explain the controls to, when the rest of you are pulling chain combos and seeing if you can exploit some obscure glitch that somebody's probably pretty sure they once heard a Japanese kid did in the next town.
"This is very important to me. I am willing to devote a lot of time to this." - Every kid in the early '90s.
In my group, this was Richie: He was a year younger. He was a child of a friend of the family that the adults figured should be my friend too - as if affection could be gained through osmosis. For no particular reason, Richie was the foil for every joke we made. If we thought of a good prank, it was always on Richie. If someone needed to take the fall because somebody else (me) missed the garage door during Shuriken Darts (possibly due to throwing five at once) and broke the crazy Australian roommate's window, there was Richie.
Nick and I once spent an afternoon carefully choreographing an elaborate, life or death action-movie fight for Richie's benefit. We weren't putting on a show for him; the goal was to convince him it was real. Nick started off as the aggressor, mocking Richie's haircut or something else entirely irrelevant, and I valiantly stepped up to defend Richie. In retrospect, this sudden nobility on the part of the kid who once suggested that we fire bird-arrows at the girls next door - you know, to show we like them - should have been his first clue. But he didn't catch on. He thought we were really arguing about him. Eventually, the confrontation escalated into a shoving match, then a full-fledged fight. Nick took a swing at me; I ducked, kicked out his leg. He flipped back to his feet, and jump-kicked me in the neck. I shoulder-threw him into a bush. He came up with a knife that, continuity not being a priority at the time of scripting, probably had no business just sitting in a bush like that. I ducked, leaped aside as he stabbed, twisted the blade out of his hands, held it to his throat, and asked him what it felt like knowing he was going to die. Richie, all the while, cried and pleaded for us to stop -- stop fighting! Please! It's OK, I'm not insulted! Oh god, don't kill him!
And that's why you need the Expat: We are, all of us, the good guys in our own head. We're the protagonists of humanity's story. Our actions are always rational, our intentions are always pure, even if others can't see that at the time. The Expat is there to teach us one very simple thing: Sometimes we're not the leading man, the hero, or even the anti-hero; sometimes we're simply the bastard.
#1. The Psychopath
Right now, every single person reading this has suddenly remembered, or possibly recognized for the first time, that they were friends with a dangerous psychopath as a child. Mickey was our own lil' sociopath: He was a smaller kid, with a curly red boy-fro and a spattering of freckles. He exclusively wore polo shirts, and he had a weapon collection.
They always have weapon collections.
"And this is just the grenade section!"
This wasn't a normal, here's-my-little-kid-arsenal-that-I-keep-under-the-bed-in-case-of-ninja-attack; the Psychopath had real, honest to God weapons, and nobody knows where or how he got them. He owned swords, small caliber pistols and knives -- oh, so many knives. He would happily explain why he needed each one -- here's a skinning knife, this one's a deboner (tee hee), this here is a Bowie, better for slashing, and that's a stiletto, mostly for stabbing -- but there was only ever one real reason: His dad died in the army and his mom couldn't afford therapy. Or maybe she just drank, or maybe it was his older brother that died; totaled his Trans-Am in a drag-racing accident. There were logical reasons for his behavior, but somehow, looking in Mickey's eyes, you just kind of knew that he was born a little off.
"There's something subtly, almost subliminally wrong with this guy. I can just feel it..."
He didn't go around strangling kids in the bathroom or anything. He was only cruel when it was socially acceptable to do so. But he always jumped into it too eagerly and took it too far. When your group collectively made fun of a friend's shoes, and everybody started riffing, it always ended abruptly and awkwardly when Mickey joined in on the fun with the worst thing you've ever heard.
"Nice shoes, Payless," you'd say.
"Does Fresh Prince do your shopping for you?" Nick would add.
"What are those, Roobeks?" Sean would snigger.
"Do they light up, or do they have pockets?" Richie would interject.
"YOU LOOK LIKE A FUCKING FAGGOT!" Mickey would scream, giggling.
And there would be silence.
"Now we've talked about this, honey. You can't go around saying you'll 'Slit everybody's jew dyke throat.' Other kids just don't get your sense of humor."
Mickey stayed over one weekend and my dad asked me where he was. "Stabbing squirrels in the yard with his switchblade" I answered honestly, having grown so slowly accustomed to Mickey's "foibles" that I hardly even noticed them anymore. My father's eyes grew wide, and he silently stepped outside. Mickey's parents came to pick him up an hour later, and that was the last time I saw him.
But we all needed to know The Psychopath back then, as kids, before their sadism had time to fully mature. The Psychopath is like chickenpox: If your first exposure happens when you're young, it's uncomfortable, but not terribly dangerous. If your first exposure happens as an adult, it's probably going to kill you. And then make a puppet out of your corpse.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Or you could head down to the comments section to bitterly complain that Robert got it all wrong because you didn't have a psychopath in your group, then finish up what you were doing before he distracted you: Tying a little noose out of pipe cleaners to hang a gopher.
And check out more from Robert in 5 Awesome Cases of The Internet Owning The Mainstream Media and 5 Classic Movies If They Got Pitched in Hollywood Today.