Paranoia – I’m Not As Cool As Rachel McAdams

The Kazakhstan Tales: Paranoia – I’m Not As Cool As Rachel McAdams

There are two things about me that you should know:

1) I have selective memory, and

2) I have an overactive imagination.

When it comes to remembering things, I can tell you tons of useless trivia. My specialities are literature and film. On more than one occasion I have sucessfully held an informed conversation about a book or film that I have never actually read or watched.

However, if I learn something – a skill or a language – and do not practice it, I lose it. (Guitar lessons, anyone?) Had I actually ever learned, I’m quite positive that I could forget how to ride a bike.

My memory is also selective in the sense that I tend to only remember what I find interesting. Or if I am distracted, I won’t hear a thing you’re telling me. This sucks when I have fifteen students trying to get my attention about their assignments.

As for the overactive imagination, well, it can be both a blessing and a curse. I was rarely bored as a child. I have very interesting dreams and nightmares. (Seriously, who dreams about axe murderers on Christmas Eve? I do.)

I’m the type of person who will immediately come up with a thousand and one reasons why someone hasn’t answered their phone call after the third ring, who people watches and dreams up stories about their lives.

I tell you this so that you will understand my reasoning and subsequent fear that occurs in the following story.


I am flying to Almaty. It’s summer, and my classes at Evangel University are done for this semester. I have a layover at the Frankfurt airport. This is a common occurrence, and on most trips I tend to find myself seated somewhere on the floor in a random terminal – there are too few seats available in the airport – with a thick novel or two (or five) to read as I wait the six hours or so before my plane departs.

On this particular occasion, it is about twenty minutes before boarding, and I have decided to put my books away and head on over to my gate. It’s interesting how suddenly Asian the gate to Almaty can become in an airport. You’ve spent so much time surrounded by Germans, Americans, and other nations of the world, yet here you are in a little waiting area and you’re the only Westerner present. It definitely helps prepare you for your final destination.

You know that feeling you get when someone is watching you? As I find a seat at the gate and sit down to wait, I can feel someone looking at me. I glance up and at first see no one; then, my gaze settles on a man not that far from me – only a couple of rows away. He is obviously American – Russian men his age do not wear cargo shorts – and as I stare back at him, I try to place him but can’t. He continues to stare at me. His eyes drill into mine, and I begin to feel rather uncomfortable. He doesn’t smile, he doesn’t speak, he just stares.

Not sure of what to do, I go back to reading and try my best to ignore him, but every time I look up, there he is, still watching me. I think about finding a security guard. I think about hiding in the ladies’ room. I even think about confronting him: “Hi. How do you do? Why the heck are you staring at me?” But I convince myself that I am merely paranoid. Maybe he isn’t staring at – nope, definitely staring at me.

The announcement is made that we are now boarding, and as everyone stands and gathers their belongings, I assure myself that once on the plane I will be lost in the crowd, and at the airport in Kazakhstan my family will be waiting for me, and nothing bad is going to happen to me.

We join our Asian queue – also known as Mad-Rush-For-The-Assigned-Seats!-Every-Man-For-Himself! The man is rather far ahead of me, yet he turns back once to stare at me again. I refuse to make eye contact and focus on breathing and not panicking.

Once aboard the flight, I can’t see him, and I breathe a sigh of relief. The line of people making their way to the economy class is taking their sweet precious time as always, and all thoughts of the disturbing man flee my mind. Closer and closer I inch down the aisle. Row 27, 28, 29, 30, 3– Oh my God.

There, seated in the aisle seat next to my window in row 32, is the man from the gate.

I double-check my boarding pass. Yup, that is my seat next to him. Oh God.

Oh God, oh God, oh God.

It is like that movie Red Eye. I can just imagine myself sitting down beside him, and he turns to me and reveals that he has my father and if I want him to live, I’ll have to do what he says, and the only way I’m going to get out of this is if I eventually stab him in the neck with a pen. Do I even have a pen?

Shoot. Even if I have a pen, I’ll still die because I am just not as cool as Rachel McAdams!

He’s looking at me! He’s seen me! Don’t panic, Emily. Don’t make a scene. Just sit there for takeoff and then you can change your seat. Look around; are there any available seats?

No. Crap!

It’s going to be okay. It’s just eight hours. You don’t have to talk to him.

Oh God, why is he looking at me?

“Excuse me,” he says as I sit down.

Somebody help!

“But are you a Harris?”

He knows my name! HE KNOWS MY NAME!

“Yes,” I squeak.


“I thought so. You look like your mother.”


“My son’s in your brother’s class at Tien Shan. I’m —.”


Oh, thank God.

I’m an idiot.

“Oh, right,” I say, hoping my intense relief at realizing that this man is not a serial killer but in fact a friend of my family’s is not too obvious on my face. “Yes, I’m Emily.”

“What a coincidence, huh? Flying the same flight? Going for a visit?”


“Yeah, I remember your dad saying that the last time I saw him. We’re neighbors, you know.”


I am such an idiot.

Do you know how awkward it is to fly eight hours with a man you should have remembered?

Only a little less awkward than flying with a serial killer.

I end up watching Rocky Balboa three times to avoid having to talk to him for the rest of the flight. And I hate the Rocky movies.

True story.


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