I am very good at getting into other people's heads. Not infallible, mind. But good enough to know that I should never try it on anyone I don't genuinely like and want to listen to, because if it works, I'm going to wind up hearing a lot whether I want to or not. It's a combination of intelligence, skill, constant practice, and hypervigilance. It's probably fairly obvious that I came by most of it from being surrounded by dysfunctional people: Two of the things I can spot most reliably are people who are lonely and depressed and trying not to let anyone else know that, and impending train wrecks that I want to stay far the fuck away from. If you live in a house of lunatics and can't get out, you learn this stuff as a matter of self-defense.

I can usually work out if it's welcome or not. It throws some people off-balance; others just plain don't like it, or me, and are not interested in telling me a damn thing. I try to be hyper-alert for signs that someone wants me to back off. I have a lot of respect for the sanctity of other people's heads. It might be a plug board made entirely of patch wires and spaghetti in there, but it's their plug board, and it's important to them even if it isn't to anyone else. If they don't want me nosing around in it, I have no business being there.

Sometimes, I really cannot tell. I have been politely trying to get into Ricky's head since I met him. I ask myself why, and the only conclusion I can come to is that his silence bothers me. I don't take it as a personal rejection; rather, his habit of talking volubly about everything except what he's thinking sets off alarm bells. There are a million reasons why someone might be like that, as there always are when talking about human behavior, but most of the big ones don't seem to apply here: As far as I know, Ricky's not in the midst of a lot of emotionally-abusive people, he's not in danger of being persecuted for his opinion, he doesn't dislike the others in the group, he doesn't seem to be terribly asocial or schizoid, and he's neither megalomaniacal or so beaten down that he thinks his thoughts are valueless.

Inasmuch as he also pins the needle on my Gifted-Kid-O-Meter, I am inclined to guess that he doesn't share because his previous experience has been that all he gets in return for his explanations are a lot of blank looks. It can be crushing to feel like what you think is so alien that it's incomprehensible to the rest of the human race. That happened to me for the longest time, and in fact I did just resort to shutting up unless I wanted something enough to flat demand it without any explanation. Sometimes it works and you get it, but since no one knows why they can't predict what you'll need next, and you have to issue edicts every time; a lot of the time, it doesn't, and you just have to learn how to live without.

I think Ricky is doing a lot of living without. I don't like this idea, mainly because I like Ricky. So from time to time I turn to him and tell him something about the interior of his own head, or note that I am well aware that the books I gave him to pass on to his girlfriend are still in the back of his car, or hand him a sparkly juggling baton, mainly to prove that I'm paying attention and that he does in fact have internal logic that I can follow more than passably well.

Normally, I can tell whether this is being appreciated or not, but Ricky also does not have a single solitary orphaned clue as to what he looks like from the outside. For all I know he adores me and thinks he's being very blatant about it, but because he's so disconnected from his external presentation, he's not getting anything across very clearly. I'm operating under the assumption that he does in fact like me mainly because I think he's bright enough to realize that if he wants me to shut up and go away, continuing to respond my questions is exactly the last thing he ought to be doing.

Ricky does, notably, answer. As far as I can tell, he's being truthful, although I have no guarantees that's not because lying or stonewalling sounded like effort. There are moments that I think he appreciates the interest. I observed early in our acquaintance that he always looked startled when new people talk to him, only being that I am a wiseass and had a couple of drinks in me at the time, how I actually phrased it was, "It's like you keep forgetting you're hot." I'd expect someone who mistook it for a pass to respond by grinning and saying 'thanks' or 'you think so?' or 'you too', but what I got was a shrug and, as if by way of explanation, "Well, I didn't always know."

I made a crack once about getting him to tell me the story behind his tattoo, and was quite surprised by the very definite, "Yes," I got in response, as though I had inadvertently reminded Ricky of something he'd been wanting to do. Events intervened at the time, but I did ask him again months later, and was answered at substantial length, including him interrupting himself to give an answer to a secondary question that I thought was related but turned out not to be.

When I'm standing in front of him, I'm always quite comfortable with the idea that he really is fond of me, but I can find nothing solid to base it on. The more time passes before I run into him again, the more I wonder if he's giving me that impression accidentally. Ricky is an affectionate soul and treats people as if he's not afraid paying attention to any particular one will make any other particular one angry, so watching how he interacts with others doesn't give me any basis for comparison. My own experience with accidentally making other people jealous with this tells me that it's pretty obvious when it happens, because the jealous person goes from zero to throwing crockery in hours, if not seconds; he must be aware of how strange he is in this regard, and simply be uninterested in changing. I appreciate it a lot more than he could possibly know, but it does rather make his friend group self-selecting -- people who don't deal with that well would not be his friends for very long.

I have no idea if he's ever spared two seconds of thought to wonder why I do any of this. Apparently most people do not try. I'm not being especially sneaky. Quite a number of people have realized that I am intentionally going about poking Ricky in the brain; the two others who I think have known him the longest are both encouraging me, in their own way.