I am a starer. I stare at people. I have probably stared at you. Don’t feel special. I stare at nearly everybody. My hobby is to see and be seen, when everyone around me isn’t quite aware of the extent to which they are being seen.
Here’s where I defensively say: it isn’t my fault. I’m sorry. I don’t have control over my eyeballs. They are torpedoes of investigation, boring into passersby, searching for information, like how many earrings you have on your left ear. That looks painful. And because people with dreadlocks look like cartoons with just eight units of hair, I can’t look away.
Same result with trench coats (potentially two very short people, one stacked upon the other, sturdier one), platform shoes, expressions of surprise or people that shouldn’t wear glasses but do. My mother says that when I was young I would command her to “TUWN THE STWOLLUH AWOUND!!” so I could see what was going on over there. I wasn’t really a toddler, more just two giant eyes.
I am constantly averting my glance. Look, avert, look, avert. It’s a nauseating whiplash to avoid being caught. I assure myself that most people take in their surroundings like an Impressionist painting, getting the gist without inquiring too much into specifics. Most of the time, my staring isn’t noticeable… I think.
I can only hope it isn’t, because being a starer means living a life of certainties you cannot prove. For example, I am certain that many, many times I have caused people to think, “Why is that girl staring at me?” They probably think my pair of lazy eyes are fixed on them because I have a rare disease that impinges on socially acceptable eye mobility. And the people that I know really well (or the people I don’t know at all), must think of me as “the staring girl.”
At Penn, there’s a small stable of 50–100 people I know very well but have never met. We see each other in the library, on Locust, in the restroom. But as they’re seeing me, I’m watching them. I’m great at faces. Years from now if I were in a foreign country and saw one of them out of the corner of my eye, I would get very excited, then wonder why I was excited, then realize it’s because one of my non–mutual best friends is there! Being one of my closest strangers is a bond that lasts a lifetime. I almost feel bad for those I ignore. They’re visually bland and they just don’t know how irrelevant they really are.
I don’t stare with menacing or inappropriate intentions. My staring is the harmless desire to know more about the world. People are interesting and I wish they would just walk a little slower so I could read their t–shirts and think about why their haircuts don’t work with their jawlines and wonder at how they see the universe.
Here’s another certainty I can’t prove: I’m not the only excessive starer at Penn. Not even close.