Warrior Words: People watching

In a small town, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know everyone. As a student, I see the same kids every day that I have for the last 12 years and feel a certain comfort in constantly being surrounded by faces I can identify. Then there are places like the Luncheonette and Tusk and Cup, where, in typical small town camaraderie, the baristas know my order and the regulars exchange familiar glances. But there are also people who, even though I’ve lived in Wilton for the greater part of my life, I have never seen before.

I’ve always been a people watcher — not in the hide-in-your-bushes stalker kind of way, but in the sense that I seek comfort in the fact that in each body there’s a soul rattling around. That kid in the stroller who only crossed my line of vision for a moment in front of Tom E Toes has his first day of Miller-Driscoll tomorrow. He will wake up and never be impacted for better or worse by my speculation of his life. That woman who I guessed had a paper due tonight because of her venti coffee order at a late hour may, for all I know, be ordering it for a friend. With such brief windows of observation, it became a hobby of mine to “Sherlock Holmes” as much as I could about them. But recently, this became too passive of an action for me. I wanted to know the strangers who passively interacted with me every day, if nothing else so that the next time they do, they’ll be less of a stranger.

The opportunity came when I stood in line at CT Coffee: what I consider the ultimate conglomerate of the Wilton community. The man in front of me was stocky with a thick neck and solid arms. He stood only a few inches taller than me and fiddled with a black ring that I had come to recognize is often associated with firefighters. It was a subtle sign that, unless you worked closely with firefighters or were slightly manic about deducting people’s lives, was easy to miss. As soon as I made the realization, I needed someone to recognize my ingenious super-sleuthing, and maybe to turn a stranger into an acquaintance.

Before I could stop myself, I was tapping on the maybe-firefighter’s shoulder.

“Weird question, but are you a firefighter?”

“Ya, why? Is there a fire?”

Then I was trapped. The gratification of correctly guessing this stranger’s profession was instantly clouded by the fact that I had no next move as to what to say to a firefighter whom I guessed was a firefighter but had absolutely no need for said firefighter abilities. I earnestly explained in the least creepy way I could muster that it was a game I played with myself to guess strangers’ backstories. Luckily, he laughed — a genuine, hearty laugh.

He explained that he, too, people watched, but that he’d never gotten the courage to break the barrier between observation and interaction. From that point on, I decided I’d bug more strangers about their lives because, given the chance to really know Wilton one stranger at a time, why wouldn’t I?

Alex Myers is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.