I sit, feeling like one of those portraits with moveable eyes, watching, undetected. Some of the faces are different this morning. “You should have heard the snoring last night,” one pretty young woman says; I can’t imagine she’s speaking to me; after all, I’m invisible. I glance at her, just to make sure. She’s looking at the white-haired woman beside me, who responds, gesturing toward the row of recliners. “Yes, it was an orchestra of snorts, wheezing and growls, in three-part harmony.” Without a sound or change of expression, I laugh. They are joking in the midst of horror, in the midst of their lives suddenly blown apart. “How’s your husband this morning?” the older woman asks. “The helmet that saved his life caused a contusion at the base of his skull. They’re putting a shunt in—it’s a good thing.”
All at once, my diaphragm is in my throat and I’m breathing deep, allaying the burning sensation flaring through my sinuses. My vision blurs, and then the sensation passes. In comes in waves like that, has been for the better part of a week as I daily observe a new set of strangers reenacting the horror.
At the same time, a member of someone’s family embraces a newcomer, there in the hallway. I stare through a window as they cling to each other and begin to sob. I’m viewing tragedy on a split screen. My eyes are upon them as I eavesdrop on the impassive receptionist who answers a teenage boy. I switch to watching them as he repeatedly rakes fingers through his hair, nodding continuously. He’s breathing rapidly—I wonder if he’ll hyperventilate.
That sensation returns; I have scrutinized them long enough.
Loud accusations break the din, as a young man—he’s dressed like a gangster—jabs his finger at a mousey girl with an infant on her hip. I hope it’s her brother and not the child’s father. I wonder if the scene will escalate, and they’ll have to call security, like they did several nights ago. I don’t watch for long—I don’t want to see him strike her. All of this is bad enough, but I don’t want to see the violence on top of it.
I fiddle with the purse in my lap and close my eyes, but only for a moment. I can’t help but put a face to the new whisperer. First, I see balloon-like booties on his feet; he’s dressed in green with a surgical mask hanging like a bib. I watch their feet as he escorts the pretty young woman into a tiny room behind me; on their way, I see her hands tremble.
This is indeed, some bizarre variation on voyeurism.
I decide at this moment, that I don’t like tension. I don’t like drama. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like the realization that when I write, I will tap into these awful, private moments, into the nausea, at some strangers’ expense. This is what writing has done to me.