Originally published on Caitlin’s website on May 22, 2019.
There’s a house on the block where a large family lives, and it gets pretty abusive in there. The kids hardly ever get to see a doctor and there’s never enough money for them to afford decent clothes or go on holiday, and a disproportionately large number of them get locked in their rooms as punishment for silly, arbitrary offenses which could have been prevented with a little more care and attention. They don’t get out much and they have to spend their free time listening to scripture readings about how exceptional their family is.
Looking at these disheveled, mistreated children, one can’t help wondering what’s going on with their parents. Why aren’t they providing for their kids? Why isn’t money going toward giving their children quality healthcare and education and making sure they have everything they need? Are they poor? Is there some sort of substance abuse problem?
Actually, if you look at their house you can very quickly see where the problem lies. A huge, opaque fence with barbed wire surrounds the yard, and there are many expensive security cameras scanning the scene, facing both outward and inward. All the doors and windows are barred shut and rigged with fancy alarm systems, and there’s a giant stockpile of firearms in the master bedroom.
Every spare moment of his free time, the man of the house is either coming home with an expensive new piece of home security equipment or adjusting and tinkering with the ones he already has. He can’t be bothered with his needy children, who he angrily shoves away whenever they dare approach him asking for things.
“No time for that!” he yells while piling new redundant security systems on top of old redundant security systems. “I’ve got to protect the family from all potential intruders!”
When he’s not doing that, he’s prowling around the block bullying his neighbors. He forces them to join the neighborhood watch, which he controls with an iron fist and runs around the clock. He insists that they submit to his leadership and relate to their neighborhood with the same aggressive hyper-vigilance that he has, and if any of them refuse to bow to his demands, he sets to work on grinding them into compliance.
He sabotages their investments and works to get them fired from their jobs so they won’t have any money. He circulates pernicious rumors about them to undermine the possibility of anyone coming to their aid. He patrols the neighborhood with a large loaded pistol in each hand, and if anyone so much as looks at him funny he runs up to them and points both barrels in their face until they lay down on the ground with their hands behind their head and apologize. With particularly noncompliant neighbors he’ll burst into their house late at night and beat them within an inch of their lives until they agree to his demands, then get all his other neighbors to testify in court that he did it in self defense. Sometimes he’ll even stage events to make it look like a neighbor attacked him, then he’ll go to their house and murder them in cold blood.
He is feared by the entire neighborhood, by his allies and enemies alike. The neighbors who support him only do so because he’s got such tight control over the neighborhood, and they know that their lives will be made easy if they work with him and painful if they work against him. So they do what they need to do to avoid being targeted while secretly wishing that he has a heart attack in his sleep.
“It’s either us or them,” the father often tells his family. “I need to keep everyone around us in line, because there’s no telling who might come after us. We’ve earned a special place in this neighborhood, so it’s our job to lead it.”
Once in a great while, if someone’s feeling particularly brave, they might point out that the father is constantly doing the things he’s afraid of his neighbors doing to him.
“It’s different when I do it!” he always barks in response while adding their name to his personal blacklist. “Our family is exceptional, so we’re the exception to the rules.”
And the mother, well like most mothers she’s in charge of managing the stories the family tells about what’s going on. Whenever a neighbor turns up wounded or dead, she’s responsible for telling the children that it was the neighbor’s fault, and their father was only protecting them.
“Your father loves you,” she coos to them at bedtime. “You should be grateful to him for protecting your life and liberty. It’s good that he’s so strong, because if our family wasn’t in charge it would be the Changs around the corner or the Smirnovs down the road. We should always support everything he does and never question him, and never, ever wish for things to be different. This is the only way that things can ever be. Anyone who tells you otherwise is crazy and evil.”
But the children are growing older, and some of the bigger kids are beginning to open their eyes to what’s going on. They’re beginning to realize that their father is an abusive tyrant and their mother has been lying to them their whole lives. The younger kids are still indoctrinated and put their fingers in their ears when the big kids try to tell them different, but even they are beginning to have their doubts.
And the parents can smell it in the air. They know they’re beginning to lose control over the stories their children tell themselves about what’s going on in their neighborhood, and they know it will be a problem if they don’t nip that in the bud fast. The mother suddenly becomes far more forceful with her storytelling, saying that the Smirnovs are plotting a home invasion any minute now so the family must unite against them. The father begins making stricter and stricter rules about how the children are permitted to speak to one another, locking them in their rooms if they disobey or separating them from the others so they can’t speak their mind.
It remains to be seen if the father will succeed in shoring up control of his family or not, but things have definitely changed, and the whole neighborhood is watching.
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