I love to skulk: In the shadows. On the periphery. In crowds. In public places, hiding in plain sight. I am an incorrigible eavesdropper, listening to every conversation going on around me.
I tell myself it’s justified because I’m a writer. It hones my ear for dialogue. It lays bare scenarios for me to play with on the page. It offers me glimpses into the human psyche.
I steal others’ stories, fondle them like the Crown Jewels, massage them like precious metals, then bend them to my will–but not so much that the owners would fail to recognize themselves in my broad strokes. Does that make me a criminal? If so, I stand accused, judged, juried, and I accept my sentence…
…which is that I am a deeply empathic person. I don’t just internalize the essence of the interactions I pilfer; I take on the emotional weight of each damn one. I am marked by intent, reaction, and understanding of what is passing between each party. Yes, I suffer for my sins.
My transgression–my invisibility and my interest–sometimes renders me approachable. Giustina riding the local bus described in blushing detail the passionate love affair she and her now dead husband had enjoyed for fifty-five years while we traversed a dozen long city blocks. Jimmy in the BART station whispered urgently about the sex he’d had with the woman who’d just dumped him by the newstand while he masturbated beside me. The nameless man who grabbed a seat on the bench next to me at Disney World muttered, while regarding his squabbling family nearby, that he could kill them all that night and no one would miss them.
I carry many strangers’ secrets. Would I, however, have it any other way? I may be a closet criminal, but I am also a kind confessor. I accept these burdens equally. And so I continue to skulk.