Empathy for the Devil – Kyle Groetzinger

             And somehow I ended up on top of her. I’m not sure how exactly, though I vaguely remember her legs spreading to accommodate me, my elbows finding purchase in the very slightly damp grasses of the garden. It was all strictly first base activity, but that was probably for the best. We were both a little drunk.

            “Well hello, stranger.” Her dimples were even cuter up close.

            “We’re not strangers anymore.” I whispered and it was quiet for a moment. Good quiet. I can rarely tell good quiet from bad quiet, but this time I was absolutely sure it was good quiet. Maybe it was just the rum.

            Some time and tongues later, I rolled off of her and onto the almost damp ground with a soft thud, which brought on the slightest fit of giggles from the both of us. I lay on my back, with both arms outstretched like a snow angel, and stared at the dark clouds above me.

            She scooted back and her head nestled into the crook of my arm. The bottle of rum, only half drunk, lay forgotten at my side. The thrum of the bass and laughter from the party seemed a million miles away as we lay in the shadow of the dying bonfire. For a moment we were well and truly silent. I took great pleasure in the knowledge that I was sharing the same ground with her and staring at the same clouds as her.

            She snuggled closer, almost as if she’d heard me. Had I said that out loud? After a while she spoke, “What are you thinking about?”

            “It’s interesting,” I said. “Because what I’m thinking about right now is a thought that I have had like ten million times, but right now it feels somehow more real. Ever feel like that? Like that reality just skyrocketed?”

            “Don’t hold out on me. Tell me your deepest, darkest, dumbest, smartest drunk thoughts.”

            “Okay, well, have you ever thought about what the greatest weakness of humankind is?”

            “Come on, we were having a good time. How much rum did you have?” I could almost hear her eyes roll. I didn’t blame her.

            “Empathy. It’s definitely empathy.” I forged on.

            “Empathy is a weakness?”

            “No no no I meant like…lack of empathy. The lack of an innate human ability to fully empathize. That’s our biggest problem. We don’t get other people. I have this…theory.” I paused. “This is stupid. I don’t wanna be that guy at the party.”

            “We’re not even really at this party. If it’s stupid, it’s stupid. And it’s probably not, because so far nothing you do is stupid. At the very worst it’s silly.”

            I wanted nothing more than to flop back over and messily kiss her until my lips turned blue. So I tried. She was having none of it. “Nope. That portion of the evening is on pause. You started this. Finish it.”

            “Fiiine. My theory is that the biggest problem facing human interaction and decision is empathy. Even the best of us are relatively bad at it.”

            “Relatively?”

            “Relatively. I could be the most empathetic person in the world but at the end of the day I’m not anyone else but myself. No matter what advice your mom gave you in the fifth grade, you can’t truly walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Even if you tried, they’d likely wear different shoes of a different size and you wouldn’t experience anything new. You’d just be trying out someone’s life or someone’s ideas, someone’s journey, but you would never actually be that person. The best we can do is try to empathize with each other, but true empathy is mostly impossible. But what if…what if you could live someone’s entire life for a day? I don’t mean, like, wake up during their first memory and at the end of the day you die surrounded by their grandchildren. I mean if you could wake up and live one average, everyday normal day in someone else’s skin, but with all their memories and all their thought patterns, all their anxieties. You can’t do that, so you never really know people. You see their smiles and their nods. You see what they let you see, but you don’t see their knee-jerk mental reaction. Do they scoff at you as they encourage you? Is their outward optimism constantly curtailed by their inner cynicism? You don’t know if they’re good or they’re bad.”

            Quiet. Good quiet? Bad quiet? Just quiet? I had no idea. I was about to apologize again for being that kind of drunk when she said softly, “So you want a day as another person?”

            “Maybe if we were in each others’ heads for a just a little while, we’d know them. And when we got out, what would our reaction be? Having seen all their life and all their good and their bad and their ugly, what would we do when we woke up next to them? Having seen their soul for all the mess that it may be, would we punch them or hug them?”

            Quiet again. I tacked on one last part. “Personally, I think it would be both. If we woke up on this grass tomorrow and you’d been me for a day, you’d kinda…you’d punch-hug me. I don’t know which would come first, but it’d definitely be a weird punch hug combo.”

            She laughed, hard. I felt embarrassed until I felt her hand graze mine. Then, bravely, I asked, “What do you think?”

            She waited a long time before answering.

            “I feel like people aren’t that static. You could sit down inside my mind for a day. You could know all my deepest darkest secrets and live as me for that day, but then it’s over. The next day I could be someone completely different. I mean, maybe not completely different, but…different. It’s not just that we’re all some mixture of good and bad and light and good. Everyone knows that. It’s that on every given day we’re a saint or a sinner or an angel or a devil or all of those things. We fall. We rise. We repeat.” She savored the last word.