This email contains a story on The Importance of Touch +
After Covid restrictions were lifted I realized how great it was to touch someone. That act I always took for granted before the pandemic. Guest Blogger Carolyn Hart -a student in my class wrote this story about touch! I hope you enjoy it!
I lie in bed, alone, feeling the night-house. It is old, it shifts, it settles. I try to settle, roll over, missing the body that is usually beside me, now far away, half a continent, the absence palpable because I know what it feels like when he is beside me. I reach my arms out, nothing. I languish a leg out, nothing. Emptiness, a longing, a missing breath.
It has taken me a lifetime to learn how to touch, to be touched. I am always near it, reaching for it, craving it, unsure how to claim it. I have spent years curling my body into itself, folding up like I am collapsible, twisting my limbs in a spiral so that there is no space for anyone else. I cover myself with a shield that I thought was invincible, that is now disappearing, like the finish on a worn piece of furniture.
My daughter sinks into touch every day, melding her body into mine, searching out my calm heart rate, my slow breathing. She dips her head into my shoulder, as if she is still small, resting her cheek against me, her long hair tickling my neck. It is a whole-body touch with my daughter, pressing herself against me as if she would crawl back into my womb, where it is quiet, warm, contained.
I watch her, as a little girl, on the playground, mostly alone, unsure of how to join a group. I remember myself, at her age, standing alone in the schoolyard, the daughter of teachers – an outcast. The girl I walk to school with quickly abandons me to be encircled, shoulder to shoulder, by her group of friends, huddled, secreted, giggling. I am not welcome there, so I stand, alone, my toes turned in, clutching my homework to my chest.
My mother and father seldom touch. My mother tries to extend small hands to the warmth of his shoulders. My father tries to kiss my mother but forgets to pause and savour. Mostly they touch in the kitchen because the kitchen is small. If my father is reaching for coffee, and my mother for something in the refrigerator, their arms might connect.
I search old photographs for contact, always their children in between them, my mother’s hands pressed tightly between her knees, my father’s hands resting alone, on the arm of a chair, on his leg. At night, my father sits and reads his book in the living room, my mother tidies the kitchen, puts laundry away.
I remember once when my father touched my hair. He sits on the couch and I sit at his feet. I am six. He absentmindedly twists my long brown hair around his fingers as we watch television. The pulling tickles the back of my head and neck and I sit very still, afraid that if I move, he will notice what he is doing and stop. Eventually, he ties a knot in one of the tangled strands that he can’t undo and has to cut it out with scissors.
My grandmother always touched me – her hands soft, thin skin like crepe paper, veins protruding like a topographical map that I trace during those long moments at church on Sunday, turning her hands over to see the gentle lines on her palm, finding her wedding ring, her diamond. She never tires of me.
At night, falling asleep, on those special occasions when I stay over at my grandmother’s, she runs her fingers up the nape of my neck, pressing them into the top of my spine, and my eyes close in luxury.
I want to pass this touching onto my new baby, born so early, surrounded in plastic, attached to tubes. He is so small. I have to wait. It is so difficult. I have to wait to touch my son, who is struggling to breathe, wait until the tubes come out. One finger, just the tip, reaches towards him.
I watch my aunt and uncle, walking, always hand in hand. They play with touch, patting each other’s bums, holding one another hip to hip, snuggling on the couch. The affection is fascinating to me, so different from my parents, and I try to memorize it. It fills my heart with a warmth that makes me smile, that I want to be a part of, just not with them. With someone else.
I remember the first time a boy touched me. I am thirteen. He presses me up against the wall of a school, out of sight of the rest of the world, lifts my long hair from the back of my head, leans in with his tic-tac breath, and kisses me. His mouth is soft and warm and frightening, as my body tingles, wanting to both push me away and pull in, his tongue sneaking in to touch mine. My hands reach for his arms, feeling the tense muscles, the small hairs, the otherness.
Sitting on a bus in Montreal, I feel the heat of the person beside me. I have seen him before, we have taken notice of one another. He moves his leg closer to mine, so that our thighs touch, and turns to look at me, his head dipped to one side, his smile easy, open, questioning. I linger in the touch, wondering what would happen if I ran my fingers across his leg, his stomach, his chest. Then it is my stop.
You reach across the table and run your fingers over the back of my hand, a caress as soft as the wing of a bird. I fold my hand over yours, trace a line up your forearm, down to your wrist, feel the beat of your pulse, alive, warm, present. Under the table, I slip my foot out of my sandal, move it so that my toes tuck under your pant leg, intruding onto your shin.
In the deep darkness of night, when I am awake, sleeplessness pounding my body in waves, I roll towards you. I drape one leg over yours, press my chest up against your back, tuck my head into the space between your shoulder blades, breathe you in. I settle into a calm that soothes. That heals.
Carolyn Hart is a French teacher working with students who have difficulty learning. If she could live outside year-round, she would run, ski, kayak, hike, and grow most of her own food.
What do you most love about post COVID connections? Is it touch? Laughter? Hard to decide, eh?
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