The one scary trait we writers have is our observance power. We see things other people don't see. To them those things are minuscule, invisible, to us they're magnified, screaming to be written into a story.
There was a Spanish-speaking family on the plane to Moscow. The father was tall and fierce, a dominating patriarch. He shoved his grown sons around, covertly, only giving them a nudge but with such hidden force they moved instantly. The younger, a teenager, sat next to me. I observed with the cringe of recognition the survival technique he adopted—he was silent and looked as though nothing disturbed him. The father barked at him, a huge cross with Jesus Christ swinging from his chest, and the son didn't even flinch. He just had this passive blank look on his face. I remember those times. It was the survival technique I used. Whatever was done to me didn't bother me in the slightest. That was my power.
I have observed this family for all eight hours of the flight. The mother was silent and unobtrusive, and I noticed the older son shrug her off when she tried to touch him. The father watched over his family like a hawk. He would sometimes pat his younger son's leg affectionately, after one of his demands. The son didn't react to the pat the same way he didn't react to the scolding. His facial muscles barely moved. Then he fell asleep, and I was hesitant to wake him, but I needed to pee. His father saw me move and jerked his son awake, smiling at me, but not smiling at his son. He expected perfect obedience. The kid was tall and gangly and sat awkwardly folded into a kind of a hook, his shoulders sharp points sticking out on both sides. When I returned from the restroom, thankfully the father wasn't there, so I hopped over the kid to my seat. His sleeping face was shrouded by a hood. It was beautiful, relaxed and untroubled, and I wondered what he dreamed about, what did he hide behind that immobile face and large expressionless eyes, and then I wondered why we do this to one another. I'm sure the father meant to give his best to both sons (I spied an army-issue backpack which explained his commanding presence somewhat), perhaps not realizing he's scarring his youngest with every harsh word or look or gesture. And the kid—the kid learned early on to be gone from reality. How far will he go? Will he make something out of it? Will it destroy him? Our human condition is a precarious thing. So much hinges on fear, our very survival, and so much of that fear is responsible for the pain we inflict on those closest to us, thinking we're protecting them from what we had to suffer through, but in fact robbing them of learning how to live in their own.
I should add that everything I have described above was hardly noticeable to anyone and looked like perfectly normal behavior, perhaps a tad brusque due to expected travel exhaustion. The voices were never raised, there were no forceful shoves, no visible anger. It was all in the subtleties of the tone inflections, the glances, the turns of the heads, the barely visible shrinking of the bodies. But because I'm highly attuned to this kind of inner family power-play, and because I was sitting in the direct proximity of these people, I picked up on every detail and constructed the overall picture based on my gut feeling. And so far my gut has never been wrong. Who was wrong was I, by not listening to my gut when it told me to.
Writing this helped me grapple with my own fears and all-too-vivid memories of the same kind of hidden hostility and tyranny that was designed to appear plausible when in public, never failing to instill in me the same kind of horror it instilled, when unrestrained, at home.
More stories to follow.