I’m a listener. I don’t know what else to call it really. I’m not a shrink, I never got a degree in psychology, or anything else. I’m not a social worker, counselor, life coach or anything like it. I just listen.
I never set out to do what I do, people found me. Much to my chagrin, really. I’m not a “people” person. I never have been. I don’t hate other people or anything, but I’m totally ok with going long stretches and not having to deal with other people. I even buy my groceries in bulk and freeze a bunch of it, just so I don’t have to go out every week and deal with whatever comes my way.
Let me give you an example. I’m standing in line at the grocery store. The lady behind me just starts talking. Something about buyer’s remorse over her car. I sneak a sidelong glance, because I know if I make eye-contact, it’s all over. But there’s nobody with her. By all outward appearances, she’s talking to herself. But I know she’s not. She’s talking to me.
“I really like the car, but I probably should have gone for the cheaper model.” Heavy sigh. “Has that ever happened to you?”
I pretend not to hear, even though I not only hear but feel her regret, and know exactly which car she’s talking about. The blue deluxe sedan in the parking lot. It has a cutesy flamingo air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.
“I said, has that ever happened to you?” She’s tapping my shoulder. Now it’s my turn to sigh and I say, “No.” It’s really best to give one word answers. Anything more just encourages them.
“Well, I don’t know, I guess I can’t do anything about it now. Maybe I should just enjoy it. After all, cars cost a lot. I go to work, I earn my money, why not spend it on a nice car, right?”
“Right,” I say and hope that’s it.
But it’s not.
She goes on and on, diving from one topic to another, from the car, to her house, to her mani-pedi’s to her cute dog, to why she’s never been married, and on and on and on. A half hour later, her cell phone rings. I’ve never been so happy to hear the “Sex and the City” theme song in my entire life. She smiles at me and says what they sometimes say, “Thanks for listening.”
That was an easy one. Sometimes they’re not. I moved to a new apartment, after some trouble with a neighbor. That’s another story.
So off to my new apartment I went, just a few streets down actually. It was bigger though, so I had to get new furniture. I went to the local cheap furniture store and somehow, I knew there’d be a talker here. I knew it would be a bad one too, so I turned around to leave, but walked right into her.
“I don’t know if I should leave my husband or not.”
Whenever this happens, I am always tempted to say, “Why are you telling me these things? I don’t even know you! I’m just a girl who goes to work, comes home, reads a book and goes to bed just like everybody else. I don’t want your drama!”
But I don’t.
“He’s been cheating on me. And now he’s gotten one of them pregnant, but I can’t just kick him out. We’ve been together for so long.” Tears start streaming down her face. “What should I do?”
I know what you’re thinking, that she wants me to give her advice. But no, she doesn’t. And I don’t have any advice to give. I just want to get my coffee table and go home, but it’s too late. She has my hand now and I don’t know what else to do but give her a hug, which is completely anti-me. I am not a hugger, but something tells me that’s just what she needs. So I do. And I feel all of her sadness and pain, the betrayal, the way she found out about her cheating husband, thoughts of throwing him out, even thoughts of killing herself as she sobs into my shoulder and babbles on about this piece of crap man she’s wasted so many years on. I don’t say anything.
When she’s done, she smiles. Not a “well, I guess I’ll just muddle through” kind of smile, but a real, bright, sunbeam of a smile. “Thanks for listening. I guess I just needed somebody to listen to me.”
Yes, this is awkward when it happens. People gawk and comment I’ve tried everything I know to prevent it. One year, I got an eyebrow ring, wore black eyeliner and lipstick and wore shirts with dead bodies on them to make myself pricklier, less approachable. That actually had the opposite effect. I don’t get it.
On airplanes, I put in my earbuds and close my eyes, the international signs for “Please don’t talk to me. No really, don’t talk to me.” But it doesn’t work. One weasel pulled my earbud out of my ear to get my attention. He wanted to tell me about how his cat was the only one who still loved him, how his wife and daughter treated him like garbage. It was a non-stop flight from DC to L.A. Dear god…it was a long flight.
But I figure that somehow, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to listen, to hear them. And hopefully, it helps.