I have decided that I might be a ‘touchy feely’ person after all, in spite of being English and uptight and most definitely not into showing affection for anyone, ever.
Perhaps this will come as no surprise to people who know me In Real; after all, the people to whom I’m closest will have undoubtedly had their share of hugs, linked arms, held hands, kissed cheeks, shoulder massages, and the dubious pleasure of sitting close, talking, with various bits of me draped across, over or around them. Touch (especially skin-to-skin) is a bonding thing: it releases oxytocin – a hormone we need to thrive. And it’s a hormone which can’t be generated any other way – our brains only make it after warm, responsive physical contact (probably) – and it’s something which has slightly frustrated me about the geography of online friendships, because within them it’s absolutely impossible to tap into any but those very small portions of human communication which are afforded by words. And maybe pictures, and to a lesser extent, snail mail and videos.
This is perhaps what has led to so much pooh-poohing of the online friendship – the prospect that two minds, hearts and souls could meet in the World Between the Wires and connect deeply, beautifully, irrevocably, is somehow too skewed away from the hormone-drenched, far more visceral understanding of friendship – is just too much to be contemplated.
I’ve always been torn, but I’m very aware that in less than a month, I’m to embark on what is going to be one of the most beautiful journeys of my life as I wend my way across America, cradled in the help and support of my friends, who have become integral parts of my everyday, in many cases, and I will get to meet them and learn their movements, their height against my own, the way they look as shadows move over them, and most most of all, I will be able to hug them, if they let me..
This whole trip is going to be a MASSIVE oxytocin-fuelled high.
I can’t wait!
That said, I adore the sense of touch in other ways, too (yes, that too but it’s not what I’m talking about here so shush!), and a small, unassuming moment this evening reminded me how important it is to me, and so I thought I would let that steer my thankfuls this week.
The small and unassuming moment happened when I was sat astride my bike, in the car-park next to Jenny’s alcove, chatting. I’ve mentioned Beki a long time ago, and she’s back, fled from her accommodation because she was allowed to be in danger, and an appalling lack of compassion was shown towards her by the staff there. She feels safer with Jenny looking out for her, so that’s what she’s done, and she has a burrow of cardboard boxes (and a sleeping bag and pillow) the next alcove along.
Anyway, she’d been sleeping as Jenny and I wiled away the time chatting, and when she woke, she shambled out into the car-park, still nap-dazed and tired, and as she walked past me, she reached out and let her hand rest gently on my elbow and cradle it – her soft, warm skin to mine – as she asked “Y’alright?” I realised with a shock that in spite of the fact I’d seen a clinic-full of patients today, and had contact with each one of them as I administered their eye-drops, this was the first moment of contact for me – the first time that day that anyone had reached out and touched me with affection.
It was stilling and lovely and also a bit sad and tearful-on-the-inside, because this wonderful, messy-beautiful, person, with next to nothing of her own, had nonetheless given me such a beautiful gift – just her care.
Last weekend was one of child-sized hugs, which were beautiful. There was the Niece-shaped full-body-wrap, with her legs squeezing tight around my waist, her arms clinging around my neck and her head nuzzled into the side of my face, with every bit of her pressed into me. There was the Bear hug, which involved sitting and holding and foreheads pressed together, and deep stares into one anothers’ eyes from an inch away. There was the Pickle hug, which is more of a swift, crouched over, light affair as she continues her day. There were no Neff hugs because Neff is at that grumpy stage of Not Wanting, and will even try to duck (with a glinty-eyed scowl) any kisses blown in his direction.
I also had big hugs from the friend I went to visit. Then we had sunshine and long talks, and the wonderful ease of time which passes when you both ‘get’ it, because situations in your lives are so very similar, and you end up with an instant empathy.
On a long drive, I was reminded of times as a child, when mum would sit in the passenger seat with both arms jammed around behind her, offering we-who-were-sad-in-the-back-seat the chance to hold a hand and feel the gentle, soothing repetitive stroking of her thumbs, and feel peace begin to be restored in our woeful selves.
I’ve had lots of hugs from mum and WonderAunty, because this week has been particularly-especially tough with regard to paperwork and Ending Things, and trying to tick all the boxes (at the expense of an appeal, because the manner of writing had left things too open to interpretation and no boxes were tickable (which they SO very need to be)). Their hugs are warm and familiar and feel instinctively right, for they have been part of my world since birth, and are integral to my understanding of hugs and loving contact.
Vince gave me some wonderful, outstanding cuddles and looking after, when I had a huge Abyssal evening after hearing the bad news about not meeting the divorce criteria, and I ended up behaving in some spectacularly banal self-destructive ways (not least of which was booze). He told me off and then looked after me most beautifully, and I really needed it.
Nose-MURRRRRRPs are a tradition between WonderAunty and I from before I knew what time was. I’m sure I’ve spoken about her MURRRPs before, but they are wonderful fingertip-to-nosetip moments where I forget everything and just smile, my heart filling with happiness because that’s what it always has done in response.
I had hugs from Gabriel too, and unshaven, giggly kisses on my shoulders as he tells me he looks like Jason Statham and Jenny’s eyes turn to fire and laughter and she chases him across the car-park. In spite of their homelessness and the increasing pressures on their situation, they still laugh, they still love, and they still have had the largeness of heart to take me into their community.
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The rest of my input has been made up through the written or spoken moments with my friends in the World Between the Wires. We’ve danced and hugged and kissed cheeks and tickled and put arms around one another, all in that safe. small, manageable way the internet affords, and which I plan to recreate IN STYLE, in person, when I visit.
I. Cannot. WAIT!