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The Sense of Touch

I hear the water turn off, and my entire body tenses up as your footsteps approach. As you do every night, you pause behind me, and run one finger up my back along my spine. It tickles so much that I have to bite my lip to keep from screaming. You are not ticklish at all, so you don't understand, and I know you're intending to be affectionate. Nonetheless, for the rest of my life I will be slightly paranoid about people standing behind me.



As you lean in to hug me, your hand brushes along my neck, from just below my ear to my shoulder. Instinctively I lean into the touch, just short of purring. You rest your head on my other shoulder, and your breath is hot against my neck. I try not to react, because I know you would be horrified to learn what I'm thinking right now. You know how I feel, and you're very careful not to lead me on. And yet, you could not have found a more effective way to seduce me in public had you been trying.



Your tiny hand wraps around just one of my fingers, and you toddle off, pulling me along with you on a grand expedition to the wild mysteries of the other end of the hall. Back and forth we walk, until you tire. Your wide eyes look up at me, and you stretch out both arms. I scoop you up and snuggle you close to me. You pat my chest just below my neck, and your head droops lower and lower and finally rests against my shoulder.



Your hand is on my leg, and I put mine alongside, barely touching, but cupped around your thumb. It's nothing much, and yet I feel very bold, and at the same time very silly. I don't move when you lift your hand to make some gesture, and much to my surprise, you put it back again - tucking your thumb under my hand. Another day, your foot rests against mine. I try not to think about it too much, but my overactive brain continues to catalog each small touch, each quick kiss. I don't know whether it's just the way you are, or whether it actually means anything. I don't really want to know. I'd rather be confused than disappointed. Whatever it is will be fine, and I will be happy with whatever I can get. Except, late at night in the moments before sleep, when Olivia's poem/song runs through my head. "And I used to think that a kiss meant so much, and I gave so much meaning to a simple touch, and I learned the hard way what kisses are worth: they are the cheapest things on earth." That's when I wonder whether I have any idea what I'm doing.



You're struggling, fighting to get out of bed. You don't seem to recognize that if you try to get up, you will fall. I put my arms around you to hold you back, and you stop fighting. If I let go, you struggle again. I can't tell if you can understand who I am, whether you know who is holding you or just that it is someone who loves you, but I know that my touch is the only thing keeping you calm. So I stay as long as I can, holding you and crying. I don't care who sees my grief. I know this is the last time I will ever see you. I know it may be the last time you are ever held by someone who loves you. I know that by the end of this week, I will be back here, helping to carry you to rest beside your husband. And I know I will never, ever forget this moment as long as I live. When I finally have to go, I am still crying as I drive home. I promise you through my tears that I will remember that no matter how powerless I feel to help the ones I love, I can make a difference just by reaching out. A hug can't solve the horrible things that can happen, but it can remind someone that no matter how bad it gets, they are not alone.




I hope it is obvious that these are five separate scenes from different times in my life and featuring five different people, but I know better than to assume.

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