Private Lives

It’s fun to imagine what happens in the private lives of others. I think that’s one of the most pointed reasons I am who I am today. I spent years in quiet solitude. My nervous energy was too much for my little brain, so I’d opt to sit and watch people while I rocked back and forth on my knees. I’d hide in my closet or my toy box, or in clothes racks while my mother shopped, and I’d just watch the people around me go about their day-to-day lives. At some point I started to wonder what their lives looked like in the quiet of their own home. When they weren’t in public. I started to envision how that woman buying toothpaste brushed her teeth. Did she put the toothpaste on before or after she rinsed her brush? Did she do circular patterns? Did she brush her gums, like I just learned to do? What about her tongue? I guess this might be how writers are made. Hiding. Wondering. Eavesdropping and watching, in secret spaces and places.

I remember when I was about four or five. We lived in a basement apartment in Leavenworth, and there were two large windows near the top of the living room wall. If I stood on the wooden arm of the couch, I could peer out the window, relatively undetected, like a cat who just wants to feel the warmth of the sun. And some days that’s all I’d accomplish. Alternating between an hour of watching people, then an hour of Care Bears, until something exciting happened inside my house, like my sister came home from school or one of our neighbors stopped over to say hello.

The window looked directly into the parking lot of our apartment complex. Which means I could watch people getting in and out of their cars, which was my favorite, because as you might imagine our vehicles are our own little houses. Public, sure, but just private enough to let us sing our favorite song, or practice what we are going to say to the people we are headed to see. I liked to watch the people as they prepared themselves in their cars. Some of the women put their make-up on, using the rear-view mirror as their vanity. Some of them yelled at their kids in the backseat. Some men sat, silent, for long periods of time before they either left for work, or came home from work. My favorite people were the couples. They’d sneak kisses. They’d argue. I couldn’t hear them, just knew from their body language, their red faces, their hand movements, that they were upset. There are a lot of breaks up, and reconciliations, in the parking lots of low-income apartment complexes.

I learned in these long hours, that if you are quiet, if you are still and relatively unseen, you can gain more knowledge about a person than any other way. I learned to sort of fade into the background in those days. A trait that has served me well in my life and in my writing.

But still I wondered what the people did in the privacy of their own homes. I wondered if they had a cat, a cat that would rub itself against their legs as they cooked dinner. I wondered if they prayed before dinner. If they slept without clothes on. If they sometimes wondered about each other. Later in life, as I grew and discovered what really drives people, I wondered if they kissed each other after an argument. If they made love with the lights on. If they had sexual desires they kept secret. I think it’s human nature, to wonder these things.

It’s part of who I am, as a person and as a writer, wondering about the private lives of others. Fantasizing about how others move in the night, when they think no one is watching.

M.

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