As a young man, I didn’t really have that many friends. It wasn’t until I went to high school that I finally felt like I actually found myself, and at least partially because of that, finally found friends. It was at the same time that I learned people like to tell me stuff.
By that, I mean that people, completely random people, literally sometimes people off the street, will strike up a conversation with me in which they will tell me everything about their lives, sometimes even their darkest secrets.
I remember vividly the first time this happened. It was my freshman year in high school, I was hanging out in the lounge at school, not really knowing anyone yet because I had just moved across the country to go to this new school, and feeling as though I was even more of a fish out of water than usual. And this girl, a year older than me, came and sat on my lap (which was a pretty exciting moment to my 14-year old self), introduced herself to me, and then went on about everything in her life, which went into a pretty deep focus on how she had been sexually assaulted.
I, being a person who at that time didn’t have a lot of experience in conversation, especially with strangers, and definitely didn’t know anything about how one is supposed to react to stories like this, was stunned. I attempted my best to console this person who was now crying as she sat on my lap now having revealed this truth about her own life which I was now fairly confident was never revealed to anyone before that moment, and I had no clue what to do.
The truth is, I’m still not sure I would have known what to do at that point. I would have had a few more suggestions to give her on how to move forward with this knowledge, but what I learned in that moment is the same thing that I try to remember today: Sometimes it’s not about getting help, it’s about being heard.
And so I try. I try to keep my big mouth shut and let these people who come to me in some sort of weird confessional moment be heard. When they tell me about how their drug addiction has caused them to be separated from their family, or how they have been hiding a secret relationship from their wife, or even when they tell me about how they are homeless and are struggling with old glasses which aren’t their prescription any longer as they wait for their disability benefits from their time in the military to pay out so they can finally get a new pair.
That’s not to say I don’t get anything out of these moments. As a writer, hearing the stories from people who work as strippers and all the struggles they have with trying to make sure they make enough money while also having to pay to dance at the clubs they are at, leaving their children at home with their new boyfriend so they can somehow manage to pay their bills gives me plenty of insight into the human condition which certainly informs the creation of my characters. Sure, none of these people have directly made it into any of my stories yet (although there are a few who have done so indirectly and a few more that have inspired stories I’m ready to tell), but just getting these moments of people breaking down their walls to tell me their life story, well, it really gives me a far better glimpse into the reality of what makes people tick.
But that doesn’t answer the question of why.
I’m not complaining, mind you. Although sometimes it can cause me to be late for whatever I’m trying to be doing at a given moment, or tears me away from the people I’m currently out in the world with, I like being able to be an ear, while also getting to gain insight into the human condition. I like helping. And very rarely are these stories actually boring.
I once had a man tell me his entire life story over the course of five minutes while I waited for a taxi to arrive. He spit out everything from the moment he got married, to having kids, to losing his job, before finally finding what he actually wanted to be doing with his life and reconnecting with his family, over the course of five minutes. It was impressive. And a true indicator of how compulsive this reaction to my presence appears to be.
It’s almost like it’s my superpower. Like some sort of super-priest who can get you to confess all your sins. I guess that’s just what happens when you get bit at a young age by a radioactive pastor, huh?
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