I don't remember exactly when I started. Elementary school, maybe. In first and second grade, I was kept seperate from the rest of the class, given harder assignments to work on. I remember being so insulted the one time that I had to do what the others were doing... and, on the playground, where I ran laps because I liked to run, I would watch all of my erstwhile classmates playing.

In junior high, I'd often sit at a table with people I knew, but I didn't talk much; I watched people eat.

In high school, I began choosing high-traffic areas to sit in. I'd sit, pretending to do homework, sometimes tracking each person that came in, noting if he or she was a regular, what they wore and carried, who they were with. Sometimes I just watched with an empty mind.

And then I entered college, and this diversion of mine became a full-fledged hobby. From my perch in front of Dale Hall, I would sit and watch the students come and go, speaking of Hanson or D'Angelo.

I began noticing (or trying to notice), observing, sometimes getting just enough of a handhold on a person to where I felt like I had shared something with them, an inconsequential secret, like if they studiously avoided stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, or maybe that they noticed the squirrels and birds and other college wildlife that coexisted with the students and faculty. I tracked couples I would see often, noting how often they held hands, looked at each other, or appeared to be having fun, and cross-reference that in my memory with how long they stayed together as a twosome; the only statistically significant thing I noticed was that couples with identical, matching strides, walking in lockstep with the other, did seem to last longer.

Not that it was all cold analysis. I usually just watched, letting the images wash over me, waiting for an undertow to take me down. If you sat there long enough, you could start to feel time, like time gelled and became tactile enough so that you could feel it sweeping across your face like a good prarie wind. And you could hang there, feeling hours pulse past you, until your body suddenly jerked and you stirred to the sight of hazy orange light and long evening shadows.

It was almost like existing as a time-lapse camera. Details fall away.

Twice, I watched someone walk by, crying, and both times I asked what was wrong; probably one of the few human, decent things I've ever done. The reply, both times, was 'Oh nothing' with a sniffle and an effort to control themselves.

Since then, I have graduated, and moved to a town dominated by highways and byways, a town where the motorcar is friend, mother, and secret lover, where it's very uncommon to see anyone out using the sidewalks, and those few places that do have pedestrians have stories of child molesters and other predators treating them as a hunting ground (which is false, but public perception makes it so). And it's just not the same; I can't get the same enjoyment out of marking a '56 Chevy Bel Air with a shadowy blur behind the wheel as I can out of a grey-clad goth girl on a rickety Schwinn. And I miss watching people. I miss watching. I really do.

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