What We Heard, What We Said

I was walking a few paces behind a family. Mom, dad, and daughter. The parents seemed to be bickering, but I didn’t really notice until the mom raised her voice and then stormed away. She stomped her feet like a toddler as she marched away from hers. Her partner stood there with their child, watching her leave in a rapid huff.

“Mommy is making me sad,” their little girl tragically said in the smallest, cutest little kid voice you can imagine.

“I know,” the dad said. Then, louder: “Mommy is making ALL of us sad.”

I think about this all the time. It happened ten years ago and I still remember it.

I love moments like this. I live for them like they’re treasure in the wild. I can spot a cafe breakup a mile away like I’m a hunter spotting beautiful game. Eavesdropping is one of my favorite pastimes. Eavesdropping and looking into the windows of homes when I walk by around dinner time. That’s the perfect time to see into someone’s house, by the way. The lights are likely on, but the curtains haven’t yet been drawn. Go ahead and take a peep.

I’m a nosy little bugger. I love to know what other people do with their time. I’m not trying to replicate it or anything. I just want to know! Maybe it’s the writer in me searching for inspiration or maybe I’m just a snoop.

I love overhearing things or seeing something that sparks my curious mind to imagine the rest of their world.

See? It’s not just that I’m nosy — I’m being . I’m creating their stories based on the assumptions I’ve made from hearing one thing they said out of context. I’m filling in their world with colors of my own. It’s a hobby that encourages .

In this strange sequestered time, I don’t get to overhear the things I usually do. I don’t get to walk outside and hear a mom discipline her child by saying “your rambunctiousness is NOT appreciated!” I don’t get to hear someone shout “that’s too much damn boob” during a nude scene in a movie theater. I don’t have strangers coming up to me as bus stops and telling me that they used to be a different race in their past life. (All of those are real).

Instead, I have my cats who are very sweet, but they aren’t good conversationalists and they definitely don’t give me any material. They just sit as inconveniently as possible on me while I write.

I love listening to other people, but it hit me recently while I’ve been stuck at home not listening to a single soul: what have said that other people have overheard?

I’ve been the couple fighting in public. I’ve retold loud, weird stories of medical mishaps at brunch. I’ve “whispered” jokes too loudly in my boyfriend’s ear in a movie theater. I’ve called my mom on the train to ask her questions about the dog competitions she goes to (her dog competes, I’m not trying to insult my mom). Hell, I was even a drunk girl scream-singing Miley Cyrus songs on a trolley in Wrigleyville (as a BIT! We were PRETENDING to be a bachelorette party on a trolley we all had to pay money for. Get it?! …In hindsight I think a bunch of female improvisers just wanted to feel “normal” for a night and there’s nothing wrong with that).

The point is: I’ve said some damn near stupid shit. Probably way dumber or weirder or sadder than anything I’ve overheard.

It’s fun to imagine what it was I said that someone might have overheard. Fun or bizarrely self-obsessed to imagine people would be SO tickled and entertained by little ol’ me, but indulge me. Maybe I yelled something inappropriate at someone and it caused a couple to look at each other knowingly — in that way where you know your brains are operating on the same wavelength for a moment — and stifle their laughter. Maybe they still repeat that thing I said to each other in that way that couples do, creating a code of memory between them. If I contributed to that, so be it. In fact, I kind of love the thought of it. It brings me a certain joy to think I helped people bond like two molecules coalescing over my personal drama taken out of context. I don’t mind at all if some silly thing I said provided entertainment without knowing it (and without being memed, dear god, please don’t meme me).

So I like it. I’m not sad about it…even if mommy IS making all of us sad right now.

Stephanie is a writer and comedian whose work has been featured on Reductress, Slate, The Weekly Humorist, The AV Club, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura and more.

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