The light from the television cradled his body, electric blue dancing in his eyes, a cool shadow on the other side of the bed. He rolled around, heavy with worry, his head thick with layers of confusion. A glimpse of a laugh, the rush of lapping it up, the memory of leaving. Crashing into him and forcing him to roll over to find a way to rest.
Beneath our bodies, we are constantly putting together a jigsaw puzzle of our portraits. Some of us are fortunate enough to find our own pieces while others need help from outside sources. People come to assist us in the form of friends, family, and lovers. They can often point out the parts that are hiding right under our noses.
And sometimes we take pieces from their puzzle to try to fit them into ours, thus changing the puzzle, thus changing our portrait. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The piece gets stuck and we end up carrying it around with us, even after the person in prior possession of that piece peaces out. The puzzle grows in complexity with all the extraneous parts, making it even harder to form a coherent picture. And when someone new comes along, they have to sort through all the clutter to help us assemble ourselves again. It gets messy and complicated and time-consuming. Some people come with a lot more pieces than others, and some with many more missing parts.
At the precipice of dreams, a hand brushed against his nose. A subtle stroke that stole his sleep. Constantly swiping back and forth, a ghost that gutted him slowly. A thief in the night, an omen of bad luck, proof that God hated him. Each imagined scenario avalanched his peace of mind, his desire to move on, his plea to just forget.
“That was the easy part,” he thought to himself. “The mouth conforms to shape and size and silence. Anyone can figure out the physical. But what lies beyond the bend? What compels someone to desire, devour, then desecrate someone else?”
It’s a balance of working at that puzzle without feeling the pressure to complete it. Because maybe the puzzle is never really complete. And maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe it’s a lifelong exchange of pieces between partners, constantly fitting and subtracting, giving and acquiring. The portrait always changes, shifting with our choices, growing as we do, damaged as we are, and falling apart as we come undone.
His eyes finally fell down. Time tripped up the ghost. The words that poured from his fingers told him he would endure. It was the effort of living, the trials of falling, the grace of patience that showed him he had a lot to learn about people and intimacy, fear and greed, boundaries and the boundless hope that still resided in him. For his puzzle, while not nearly complete, was not frayed at the edges or bent in the corners. It wasn’t so much that his pieces had been handled with care. They simply hadn’t been handled at all. But they were just as good as anyone else’s and worth working on. There was potential in those pieces.
But can’t you still enjoy the picture that’s being formed even if there are a few vacant spaces? Maybe that’s the most difficult part. We want the end result, the complete picture. But how often do we stop to appreciate the progress we’ve already made? When he looked at his portrait, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. It had changed. A few fingers were missing, a part of his left cheek, but while his eyes were closed, both his arms were outstretched. And there was the faintest hint of a smile. Like he was ready.
It was a nice thought but he wondered if he would ever find himself worthy of continuing his puzzle. Was it possible that the empty space between those arms could one day be filled? That his eyes could be opened to all the joy that life could bring? Yes. It was easy to say. Everyone deserves love, right? He could say he was worth it. And maybe someone would one day come along to convince him. But people came and went. He needed to know it for himself. He just couldn’t see how he could. It was a lesson that could take a lifetime to learn.
Maybe the steepest learning curve of all.
People cuddle people. Animals cuddle animals. People cuddle animals. I’ve watched enough cute puppy videos to see the comfort it brings both human and non-human to snuggle up to something else warm and breathing. It’s interesting to see that need for safety, security, and stability in another type of creature. When you think about it, you realize that need spans across all cultures, religions, and species.
I know I’m generalizing. Not everyone is affectionate or wants physical interaction and that’s okay. I still struggle with whether or not I’m that type of person. I’ve always liked the idea of touch but in actuality, it makes me uncomfortable. I wonder if it’s because I’ve been starved of touch for all these years and this is my new norm. Maybe I have just romanticized how therapeutic touch can be and maybe I made it more transformational than it really is. Or maybe I’m just naturally distant. Or maybe I’m just selectively affectionate.
But with the emerging popularity of weighted blankets and the undeniable adorableness of otters holding hands, there’s something to be said for being close. In the animal kingdom, it’s mostly instinct. Survival has a lot to do with it. Safety in numbers. But is it just about the body surviving? That closeness must encourage the head and heart to survive as well. It’s not just a physical need but a psychological response. Maybe when these animals get close to another willing creature, it lets them know they are worth surviving.
That instinct must extend to humans as well. I wonder if that’s where my desperate need to cuddle comes from. When I was cuddled for the first time earlier this year, I felt special for the first time in my life. And for a man who always feels worthless, it made a difference. I felt I was worthy of touching. I was worthy of getting to know. I was worthy of surviving too.
But now that it’s gone, it’s also made a big difference. And I wonder if I was wrong about being worthy of survival after all.
”Something’s missing in me
I felt it deep within me
As lovers left me to bleed alone
Down here, love wasn’t meant to be
It wasn’t meant to be for me”
”When you close your eyes even then your eyelids are beautiful
for so long there have been traces of you in blood vessels inside my skull”
-Showbread, I Want to get Married
A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to a wedding with an old friend. I didn’t know the married couple and all the attendants were new to me but the friend needed a plus one and borrowed me for the occasion. You see where this is going. I just needed to find something blue.
Despite my anxiety around crowds, especially crowds of strangers, I figured it would be a change of pace. A chance to do something different, to ask off work, and dress up a bit. I just hoped I’d be able to squeeze my binge-eating butt into my old slacks. I did…but barely.
The ceremony itself was fine. It was simple, inside a simple church with simple decoration. No blue sashes or neckties. No blue in the flowers. Just a red-faced toddler sitting in front of me and a bellowing baby sitting behind me and they both screamed in unison just as the ceremony began and continued their commentary throughout because my life.
Despite my current situation, I didn’t feel too bitter or sad about seeing two flesh become one. I was pretty unaffected witnessing the standard union of two people, in love and full of life. It happens every day. Life goes on. Good for them. The only discomfort came from those slacks. But one moment did stick out to me. The pastor read a quote from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 that goes:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Having never been in a relationship, I wondered why I’d never been able to find my own plus one. How had I made it 32 years while God made sure I remained lonely? If He had allowed such a declaration to be included in the good book, why have I always been denied the privilege?
While the ceremony was about 30 minutes, the reception went on for three and a half hours. And it was mostly held outside. No blueberries in the fruit plate while the newlyweds went off to be photographed with family. No blue ribbons adorning the arches. Why do people in the south insist on having outside weddings in the middle of summer? I was drenched in sweat and wanted to leave but the girl I went with wanted to stay for the cake cutting and to try to catch the bouquet. Don’t get me wrong, the cake was one thing this big boy was looking forward to but in this case, I’d rather have air conditioning than confections. I was a good sport, however, and smiled and blotted my face and tried to inconspicuously unstick my bat-winged balls.
And when it was cake time, I eagerly got in line. No blue fondant. The lady serving the cake cut off the smallest piece possible for me. Oh, sorry ma’am, I thought I was gonna be able to get more than a few crumbs that fell off your knife. I looked at her, thinking she would realize the error of her ways and cut off a little more for me but she just stood there so I quickly dipped out and ate the slice in three bites.
It was a little dry.
Turns out, the bride wanted to wait until it got dark outside so she and her husband could walk out under sparklers. Which meant more waiting, more forehead blotting and being the iPhone photographer for everyone else who knew each other and wanted to blow up Instagram with high school friends in rolled hair and pretty dresses.
Even the girl I attended with drifted away for a while to take pictures with former work friends she hadn’t seen in a while. I looked around me and saw everyone with someone else. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Wives and husbands. Best friends. The caterers and photographers doing their jobs. Everyone with a purpose. I stood by the wall, unsure of what to do with myself. And I felt like there should have been someone next to me. Someone to help me up, to keep me warm, to defend me against my own self-destructive thoughts. Someone to make me feel like I also had a purpose. But the only thing that ever stands next to me is an empty void and that void only reminds me that I don’t have a purpose.
Night fell but the heat did not wane. It penetrated through the dark and doled out more sweat for me. All the single ladies gathered around the bride. As she flung the bouquet into the arms of an overzealous 20-something in a billowy yellow dress, I realized I had found my something blue. It was me.
God knows my heart, knows I have a lot of love to give, and yet I always stand alone. Sometimes I think I’m getting close and despite my hesitations to let anyone near, I do because there’s always the faintest hope that maybe my person has finally come, that this could be the one to turn it all around. But they only turn me in the direction I’ve already traced too many times. And I wonder why God would tease and punish me in this way. Denying me is one thing. This just feels deceitful.
I’m not saying I’m more deserving of love than anyone else but I do think I need it more than most. I can’t do life by myself. I can’t conquer my demons all alone like this.
The ache never really goes away. Sometimes it gets easier to deal with but it’s never defeated. Do you know what it’s like to see the world through glass, to feel others through gloves? To live life for bitter and worse, to endure sickness and hell, to forever be separating until death does me apart?
To be one strand already broken?
I get very confused about people and how to relate to them. What’s the difference between flirting and just being nice? What’s the difference between standing up for myself and just being a jerk? I haven’t always been so out of sorts. I used to be well-liked. And I used to think I had a grasp on grafting myself onto others. Then depression settled in and I withdrew my social self from the world. And instead of experiencing people, I just observed them. And by the time I wanted to step back into human relations, it seemed too late.
I think the best way to understand humanity is through both research and relation. I only achieved half of that. And that’s why I think I have some knowledge of correct and appropriate behavior but not enough to be successful in having fulfilling relationships with others. It’s that experience I lack, the on-the-ground research of getting to know and love and trust other people.
It’s hard to put myself out there because I’m insecure. I’m 32 with not much to show for it. I know we all have our own timeline for achieving goals in life but I have more potential than what I’ve produced. And this feeling of knowing I’m better, more capable, than what I’ve accomplished makes me very hard on myself.
It’s true that I hate who I am but unfortunately, it’s not self-contained. It seeps into conversations I have with other people. Long-term acquaintances are familiar with the inner insults I hurl at myself. I don’t even think about it. I’m so used to putting myself down as a self-defense mechanism and form of humor that it comes naturally to me. In my fear of being judged, I try to beat others to the judgment, pointing out my flaws in a funny way so we can all relax around my receding hairline or chuckle at my chunky body.
It’s usually when I meet new people that I become aware of how easily, how quickly, and how viciously I tear myself apart. When new acquaintances ask me to tell him about myself, the flogging floodgates open right up. It’s only after the conversation is over and I can reflect on the car ride home or before I go to bed at night the ramifications of my self-flagellation.
I want to be accepted but I also know I have several mental and emotional issues that could be off-putting. So I always have this need to explain away my crazy. But I over explain and end up making things worse. Instead of staying, people scatter and I’m left confused and lonely. I have to wonder if I should start keeping more things to myself. I always find it refreshing when people are open and honest. And so I try to be open and honest as well. And I never realized that other people could find that unattractive.
Should I change who I am and how much I share in order to keep people around? Or should I stay the same and hope that someone accepting will eventually find their way to me? It feels like a balance because you want to better yourself but you also don’t want to bend over for anyone else. How much change is too much? When do you go from improving your relations with others to compromising your personality for them?
I just wonder how I can be charming without charring my character. How can I make jokes without making myself the punchline? I’m sure it would be easier if I liked myself more but how am I supposed to do that? From the outside, it might seem like I’m well-adjusted and have a lot going for me. In some ways, that’s true. But only I can see the real me, the small squishy parts on the inside, the place where all the self-doubt and anger and despondency live and flourish. And it’s hard to like the person those qualities belong to, even when it’s yourself.
But I do understand that doesn’t have to be the case. And I suppose that’s at least one step in the right direction. And maybe one day, if I can get myself aligned with love instead of lashing, I might actually make a friend who will want to stick around.
For the past several months, I’ve been listening to a podcast called Suicide Buddies. It’s about two comedians who research and discuss famous suicides. And they tell a lot of suicide jokes.
It’s crude. It’s not PC. But that’s my kind of humor. And I listen mostly for the great rapport between the two hosts of the podcast. Those guys just crack me up and that in itself can lighten my mood when it goes dark. The podcast is definitely not for everyone and I can see how it can be triggering for some. But they don’t make fun of suicidal people or suicide itself and certainly don’t try to trivialize it. One of their aims is to destigmatize suicide and talk about it in an open, honest, and funny way.
I think it’s safe to say most people have had suicidal thoughts in the past. But no one wants to talk about it. It’s the same reason why people don’t want to go to therapy or even discuss their problems with friends or family. They don’t want to seem crazy. No one wants to feel weird or be shunned for their innermost maladies. That’s understandable. But I’ve just never been that way.
I’ve been pretty open about my suicidal thoughts. Well, maybe suicidal is too severe of a word. I think about dying a lot. I think about being dead. A lot. There’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t think about having my head bashed in by a heavy object or being riddled with bullets until I’m just a smear on the floor. When I stand back and look at the mess I’ve made of my life, and the mess I’ve made of relationships, I think it would just be easier to be obliterated. But as far as actively taking my life, I haven’t thought much about it. My parents co-signed on my student loans so I’d hate to leave them 50 grand in debt. So for all those who are concerned, don’t be. Not yet anyway. I’ve still got a few years of payment left.
I’ve talked with a few friends and acquaintances about their brushes with suicide. I get it. I empathize. And we talk about it. And I hope they feel better afterward, for being heard and for not being judged. Because I’ve been there too. And I’ve wished someone would have been there to listen to me. So I try to be the listener. I always try to be the listener.
And I make my own jokes about it. I don’t try to hide it or deny it. I think in some ways, it’s just a part of me. There’s a darkness there that has been with me for so long it’s like it’s own limb now. I almost feel like I can’t go about my life without at least addressing it to others. ‘Cause I know they can see it, like a giant lump in my throat.
And I hope my own talk of suicide and wanting to be dead doesn’t get others down but helps them to face their own thoughts of death and dying. That having these thoughts may not be normal or all that healthy but it does happen and it’s doesn’t mean you’re crazy and it’s probably more common than any of us think. But we’ll never know the full scope because no one wants to talk about it. But talking about it could be just what some people need to lessen the severity of their struggle. At least momentarily.
Back to the podcast, the hosts have talked about their fight with mental illness, the years of therapy, medication, and other methods to quell their suicidal tendencies. And through all of that, they still struggle to this day. For the most part, they are better. They still slip up. They relapse. And they are far from cured. But they feel they have a better grasp on it than they used to have and that in itself can feel like a monumental victory. And they aren’t the only ones who continue to struggle. I’ve read about celebrities with access to anything they’d ever need to achieve mental improvement. And some of them have had tremendous success. Some have had moderate. And some haven’t seen much success at all.
And it makes me wonder if these people have access to the best resources and still can’t shake their depression, how am I supposed to get better with nothing more than my diary and a bag of Doritos?
It all feels pretty hopeless a lot of the time. There are degrees of depression. Certain kinds can be treated in certain ways. And maybe some can’t be treated at all. And it’s not always this Lifetime movie madness of staying in bed for weeks at a time or constant crying. Sometimes it’s more subtle. It’s the kind of depression that digs deep and lives inside your bones. It doesn’t disturb your daily functions. It just settles in and lets you know it’s there to stay. It’s like a continuous buzzing in your ear, a lash in your eye, a punch in the face at every step. It’s not an outward curse. It suffocates invisibly.
And until you’ve been there, you’ll never understand. It’s easy to scoff at suicide, to say it’s selfish or a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I hate that phrase. It comes from an assumption that depression doesn’t lodge into your lungs and doesn’t stay with you for months, years, decades. But it does. It’s often unyielding. But until you’ve reached that point of complete hopelessness, looking at your life and seeing a landscape of agony as far as your pained mind can imagine, to feel as though death is the only relief to all the pain that courses through you each day, you’ll never understand.
But it would be helpful to try, to not be so quick to condemn but to make an effort to empathize and offer help in the form of listening or just being there as an anchor when everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control.
Again, it differs. It’s a bad day. A horrible week. A tumultuous year. It’s a cranky minute, a desolate week, a half hour of agony. It’s self-harm, crying fits, bad moods, desires to die, cravings for food or sex, binge-watching television and screaming at a loved one. It’s about releasing, pushing the pain out however necessary to feel better. Sometimes it’s about actively killing yourself. And sometimes it’s not about wanting to die but just not wanting to be alive anymore. It could be so easy, like a light switch. How can that not be tempting to some?
I’ve just never seen the harm in talking about self-harm. Sure, it’s not the best topic to bring up at a baby shower or wedding reception but between close friends and family, I think it’s beneficial, might even bring each other closer. It helps for the one listening to get a grasp of what you’re going through and provide a new perspective on your journey. Who knows, they might have been there once too. Might even be there now. It might help for them to know they don’t have to go through it alone. That they don’t have to leave. That they can stick around for a bit longer and talk it out.
The impatient heart, a drumbeat that bursts forth for attention. Eyes tracing your lips as you read aloud. Soliloquies and serenades, speeding through the verse to get to the verdict. Watching your mouth ever so vigilantly as it moves nimbly to enunciate every emotion. Fingers tap and dance in agitation, the mind races in anticipation. Watching your pupils scan and jump in tempo with your tongue.
Finding distance a distraction, skirting my way across the couch, my hand covers the page. You look up, accidentally aligning yourself with my mouth. Your eyes, once vibrating, stand stone still before glistening in an impish twinkle.
Tapping into a tapestry of thought, navigating paths of pondering, of desire, of planned action. The awkward initiation of an advancing smile, pressing into a personal bubble. The shy shame, the unapologetic hunger, the delicate acceptance of action. A nervous giggle gives way to a galvanizing stare. Brilliantly blinded by bold blue hues. Your rods and cones crash into mine, rendering me paralyzed in predilection of your face.
Hands appear behind my neck to stroke the bristle between ears before pulling forward. I close my curtain eyes, queuing up a crescendo of sensations. The smell of mint and honeysuckle, the slick feel of the fabric of your shirt, hearing the rush of wind and breath. My stomach jumps as the acid rushes forth in sync with the excitement. Nerves ignite, skin bubbles in anticipation, an expanse of goosebumps that give way to feeling illuminated. The dizzy hits my temples as space fades between foreheads. Two pairs of smiles slice through nerves in expectancy of the rushing reverie.
Drunk without a drop of alcohol. Sober with serotonin streaming through my system. Lids closing, heads tilting. The hesitancy of direction. Stopping to savor the delicacy of impossible stillness. Sharing shallow breath. A moment hung in time. One thousand years condensed between lips before the unbearable urge pushes forward into plush softness. Infused nerves. Face awash in ecstasy. Sinking into the skin of another, pushing past pretense and plans, ascending above the couch cushions and concerns of rejection.
Swapping saliva and sympathies, extending safety to each other in the warmth of arms and chests. Sinking further into the valley of escape, skimming the surface of peace and acceptance. Melting and conforming, shaping and building, a pliable tongue across a bristly beard. The starving need, the satiated gratification. Turning over and telling me
you don’t have to leave tonight.
That melatonin mouth, those sleepy slits for eyes, the way your drowsy digits distract from the divots in daydreams. Running from cheek to chest in figure eights. Seeping into couch cushions, a frail mixture of suspension by fear and being grounded by the contentment of forever.
Cocooned in a warm satisfaction of touch, of breath, of bone and heart. Grasping at shirts and scents. I close my eyes as your words pour over my head, making way toward the inside of my shirt. I clutch at them, hold them aside, afraid of what they mean for me. They sound so familiar, a clone of compliments, a ghost of past gratitude. But the words always fell out and then fell flat. Semantics never solidified into serious sentiments. It was all a study, a well-worn phrase meant to subdue or temporarily satisfy. The lips they came from left so soon afterward.
And here I lay, those same sounds sliding toward me. The fear bubbles up, the familiar foul temperament of mistrust. Yet the words flow, so sleepy, so sweet. Hands guide them to my chest, massaging away the meanness, the masochistic monster inside. Gently pulling him aside, making way for the words that lost meaning, the syllables and sentence structure that no longer sway me, that always skimmed the surface but never settled. But this is a different mouth, a different hand, a different body holding me for the first time with an intimidating ease.
Slowly filing away a lifetime of fastidious downfalls, excavating a heart once buried in stone. The newness of calm, the excitement of eliciting emotion, winding down the days with someone who cares to know about mine. How do humans have the capacity to bend and mend each other, to crack some and caress others, to be chosen to be fixed, to abandon when bored, to want to stay despite the struggles?
Pain stretched as long as the days I lived, an oasis of degradation. I never knew how far down it dwelled, how unreachable I was until now. Because now I have been touched, a hand grasping for me, words ushering in a blinding possibility to be a person. To feel lifted, light as air, no longer burdened by the weight of my own head, my own soul, my own desires to destroy myself.
I just don’t know what this means. And I don’t know what this feeling is. I guess it should be transformational.
Your hand grows tired as your body shuts down. It finds its way wrapped around me before settling, a warm heat on my stomach. Should I loosen my grip on this group of words, to allow them to join you in nuzzling up next to me? What if it’s time to let them go, to allow them to resonate again? Can it really be true this time?
Can we ever really know?
I feel you fading beneath me. Your breath hitches, the familiar jostling of your heart signifying sleep. One last exhalation precluding a final thought before bed.
“I could get used to this.”
I’m taken aback, struggle to understand, gutted yet guarded. I want to believe you. God, I really do.
‘Cause I think I could too.
You blow your smoke in my direction, a dragon’s fire giggle that seeps into my shirt. Stray smiles set against a backdrop of binge-watching wizards and warlords. Analyzing and summarizing relationships, reactions, and reclusiveness. Discussing the dance of desire and apprehension, digging deeper into each other’s motivations for laced fingers and fast heartbeats.
Smoke blooms around our heads, mandarin and mango, long lashes and laced fingers. Hypothesis preludes playfulness. Setting faraway thoughts into action, making moves to make myself human. A robot racing to become a real boy.
And with your head in my lap, you break through years of isolation and deprivation. To feel the weight of your body is to feel the gravity of humanity, to tap into the basic needs of every person: safety, security, stability. I hold your head in my hands but you hold my very being up and pull me from the dregs of depression, if only for as long as each episode runs concurrently. Falling away from the stressors of jobs and jabs, bosses and bullies, we are willingly secluded together, embraced and braced for impact.
Using hands to separate strands of hair. Using words to parse past regressions. Using hearts to find each other in a world of obstacles, disappointments, and decay of all hope. But that hope still shines like light through a pinhole, tiny dots of fitful faith in the face of years of erosion.
Awkward and hesitant, comfortable and confident, settling onto your chest, hearing the pump of blood, feeling the cymbal crash of your heart, curious to decode its contents. Time transposes reality, shifting from minutes to hours in the time it takes to exhale. And trepidation turns to tranquility, dreams from the past pivoting into a pleasant surprise.
Bodies begin to relax as awkwardness drains away and is replaced with a safe sleepiness. Your breath trips, deepens, then deposits itself into the air like so much smoke. I catch you crossing over, falling into a haunt of dreams. And I, for the first time in my life, catch a glimmer of how things could be. How I thought it would never be.
It’s not a fantasy of falling in love. It’s the privilege of falling asleep in someone’s arms, to have someone willing and wanting to fall asleep in mine. To be allowed the simplicity of touching skin. To feel secure in my own. To be intimate in a way that few people are. To be emotionally tied while loosening the binds of sadness. To feel real and solid instead of vapor that dissipates. To open up to others and to myself.
Are you still watching?
I’m no longer occupied by the television screen prompting us to carry on. I’m much more focused on the smokescreen between us, hoping this might last more than one season.
Ensured that you’re stable in your slumber, I slip away to my own bed. And when I slip off my shirt, I catch the last fume of your smoke. The aroma brings you back to me, just for a moment.
As if you were watching me fall, too.
My supervisor at my retail job hugs me every time she sees me. I try to dodge her but she seems to hone in on me like some sort of snuggle sniper. She’s a short blonde waif-like lady with a Tinkerbell haircut, frosted eyeshadow, and thick square-framed Coach eyeglasses. She always grabs my arm and throws it over her shoulder, then wraps her arms around my waist.
And it’s uncomfortable. Not Weinstein-level uncomfortable but I’m just not used to being hugged and it feels abnormal to me. Which probably makes me abnormal to everyone else.
My supervisor knows I am not on board with touch but she tells me it’s good for me and I’ll get used to it in time. And maybe that’s why she’s so insistent on tackling me. She thinks she’s helping.
“Hugs are healing,” she told me one time. And it made me think back to all the times I’ve seen people embraced when they were sad or in need of some kind of emotional support. Her statement seemed to ring true…for other people. I can’t think of a time when I was upset and in need of a reassuring squeeze.
Outwardly, I don’t like touch. But sometimes humanity pierces through my robotic veil and… I kinda crave it.
I didn’t grow up being hugged much. My family is not affectionate. And I somehow found myself with a group of friends who were also not affectionate. So, for me, hugs just didn’t happen often. So now, when they do, I clam up. I’m not used to another person’s skin, a firm embrace, a gentle touch on the back or brush of the arm.
It’s all foreign. And most people fear foreign.
A lot of the fear of touch stems from how I feel about myself. Hugging me is like cuddling up to cottage cheese. I’m lumpy. I don’t like touching myself so I can’t imagine anyone else lusting for a handful of my hindquarters. I always think it would be better for everyone if everyone stayed far from me. But does that physical distance manifest into mental ramifications of a lack of physical contact? If hugs are healing, is distance damaging?
I don’t feel human most of the time, for various reasons. It’s nature and nurture. It’s chemical, mental, and physical. I didn’t experience those near-universal milestones. I don’t understand the concept of first kisses and first brushes with other body parts. I can’t relate to or share those experiences with others.
Touch is one of the ways in which people bond, not just to each other, but to something higher than ourselves. Even animals cuddle. They cuddle with each other and with us. It spans across sex and species, blood and brotherhood. It’s not just an every person thing. It’s an every creature thing. It’s universal. It’s how we can belong, provide protection, receive comfort, share safety.
And when you don’t have that, it’s very much alienating. Not to mention, potentially physically harmful.
While I fear it, I’m not totally devoid of the desire to touch and be touched. I see couples holding hands, hugging, kissing. It’s on tv and movies and in books. And what about those “touch porn” Taltz commercials?
But my problem’s not psoriasis. It’s psychosis.
Anyway, I think, “Wow, I want that. How nice would that be?” But since I’m kind of asexual, I’ve never had that in my life. I don’t know the intimacy, the close proximity of sharing a breath, the feel of two sets of lips pressed together.
And that’s where the conflict kicks in. I abhor and admire touch. I rail against it while daydreaming about it. And that sentiment transfers to other people too. I think about those who say, “I’m just a hugger!” Like my supervisor. She has no problem touching people, hugging, pulling in close. And I’m envious of that. It almost looks freeing, to be so open with yourself and others, to be able to express affection in that kind of way.
On the other hand, there’s something very attractive about someone’s cold demeanor, those who don’t want to be touched, who put up a wall against physical adoration.
So where do I fit into the fold of fondling and fleeing far away?
I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy. When it comes to food, I’ll either starve myself or binge my face off. And when I think of touch, I either want to fully embrace it or shrug it off completely. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around wanting to wrap my arms around everyone. But who said I had to do that? What if I was just selective about who I touched? And what if that selectability makes touch all the more special?
It certainly looks special. Human. And once I can get over the uncomfortable hump of being hugged, once I can recognize that I am touchable, that I deserve someone else’s hands on me, maybe I can learn to like it. And maybe my supervisor was on to something. Maybe hugs are healing. I just wonder what, and who, it’s going to take to get me to start believing it.
Have you ever just clicked with someone?
When I was visiting my college friend and her husband in Atlanta, I was floored by how open they were to complete strangers. If they had questions, they walked right up to people and asked them. They chatted with our servers, made conversation with our Uber drivers, and did not seem shy with anyone at all. All I could do was stand by and be amazed at their ability to converse.
I wanted to talk. I wanted to share a genuine smile, to give a compliment, ask an open-ended question. I wanted to elicit a laugh, to leave a good impression. I wanted to have that connection with another human being, no matter how small. But despite my best efforts, my mind just doesn’t work fast enough to form a thoughtful word and before I know it, I’ve exchanged greetings and goodbyes and I’m left wondering how I scored.
I really want to be good with people. But the problem is I just don’t like people that much. But I am fascinated by them. They are simultaneously the most basic and the most complex creatures. Most humans want love, connection, safety, and security. That goes across the board. But the way in which they obtain those things is where it gets interesting. And confusing.
I haven’t had that many great experiences with people. I don’t have any long-term friends. Never been in a romantic relationship. I don’t fit in with my family. And I’ve worked in customer service for well over a decade. If that doesn’t sour your view of mankind, nothing will.
I think people have the potential to be great but most of them just suck. Especially me. I don’t give people enough of a chance. I make snap judgments and can be too quick to cut someone out of my life. I know there are good people out there but I’ve been dropped so many times that I just expect people to give 20% before crapping out. But does such an assessment make me an ass?
Maybe I’d be more inclined to have a genial response to a welcoming hand but I just haven’t experienced that alleged human connection, love, dedication, and care.
And I just really want to.
I could learn a lot from people. But I’m put off by them, thus I don’t want to interact with them, thus I never learn proper people skills. So when someone cool does come along, I can’t capture their attention. I can only bumble around like a butthead.
I understand that I need to work on things. I’m flawed and frazzled and often stutter and sweat when nervous. I have trouble continuing conversations, finding interest in others, picking up on social cues and niceties. I’m a huge mess and therefore I can’t always be surprised when I feel left out of the crowd. I know I’m not always a lot of fun to be around. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to fix it.
I’m wondering how I can break the cycle of simultaneously wanting people and pushing them away. I suppose I should just practice. Just talk to people. Ask questions. Show care and concern. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Maybe the skill of learning to connect will come to me. All I know for sure is the connection itself will not. That is something I will have to make happen.
I’ve waited for years for someone to come along, to care, to be in my actual life. I’ve wanted that feeling of finding my people, of discovering my complement. It hasn’t happened. It doesn’t mean it won’t. But with every lost chance at a friend, it does become harder to carry on, to finally experience that immaculate connection I’ve craved for so long.