The world was all scribbles of inky blackness, at least in this little corner. Flashes of white and gray shone in between. As her eyes adjusted, she could see that the long arch ahead was a bridge. At the tangle near the bottom was the base, where the river bank was.
Because she felt lighter than usual, as though her tangle were unfurling, she made her way there, to see better.
Within the tangle at the base of the bridge support, once she looked, she could see other pockets of lighter colors. Stones tumbled from the pale gray dirt to lean up against the concrete wall. Another tangle of blues and blacks and grays and greens and a faint other color sat on the stone.
Because she was curious, she walked even closer.
The tangle on the rocks was a person. Long legs and arms covered in clothing that was still inky, but maybe colors. Jeans on the legs and green and gray sleeves on arms long for holding things. The person was looking away so she thought the tangle on top was hair. A curly mop of perhaps brown, perhaps red.
Because the shoulders were slumped, she walked even closer.
The curly tangle of hair was definitely red, although hard to see in the shadows. Under the bridge, her steps made a quiet echoing sound in the dirt and gravel around her. The person looked up and was a man with quiet guarded eyes. The eyes watched her, and then, softened. His shoulders were still slumped, but not at all imposing. Perhaps tired, or sad.
Because she wanted a friend, she stepped under the bridge beside him.
“Hello,” she said. “Can I have a hug?” And the man’s arms opened and she stepped into the inky tangle which lit up with warmth and light.
Today on Twitter, I said:
Forgetting and then remembering you can be very tactilely affectionate in a world that discourages it is momentarily jarring.
And it’s true. I think, as a kid, if I liked you, and hadn’t seen you in a while, my immediate impulse was to hug you in a sort of “welcome back!” gesture. I know that I would insinuate myself into people’s sides (or laps, when I was small enough) to be able to be with the people I liked. There are strong memories (and probably a few pictures) of me in some of my dad’s student’s laps during strike parties*, assisting in hands of Password, Domino, or rounds of Charades.
When I was growing up, I was told to stop acting like that. “Don’t climb into his lap, honey. You’re getting too big for that.” And sometimes, we translate it to mean people don’t want hugs either. In some ways, that’s perhaps because we don’t see adults hug (except at holidays, or after having been apart for long periods of time).
But I think that’s sad. At least, for the people who are all right touching each other. (Some people are very picky about when to touch or be touched, and it’s less about societal restrictions and more about personal safety or comfort preferences.) It creates a wall that can be hard to break down. We all need touch, to some degree. Even if our preferred method of delivery is via cat, dog, ferret, rat, lizard, snake or some other pet, we need affection in a physical manner.
When my mom was dying, it was hard, because she needed touch. But she was obviously uncomfortable with asking for it or even wanting it. She apologized, repeatedly, for needing help with daily tasks like getting dressed, getting up and down, trimming toenails she couldn’t reach. The one thing I found she didn’t apologize for (because it felt so good to her that she seemed to realize it was silly to apologize for wanting), was smoothing lotion into her skin after a shower. We basically set it up like a massage table, and I’d warm the lotion, then smooth it in. Cancer patients can have very dry skin and often be sensitive to scents. Her own sense of smell was almost dead from an earlier health issue, so we didn’t have to worry about that. We could use her favorite scent, and she could almost smell it (her whole apartment filled with the scent, luckily it was one I liked also). She was basically getting a good 20 to 30 minutes of caring touch, without having to worry about feeling awkward.
Part of what brought up these memories and oddness was seeing someone at her work the other day. I hadn’t seen her in a few months, and even though she was at work, I wanted to give her a hug hello. So I asked. And she grinned and said sure, and we hugged and had a nice, if very brief chat. It was awesome. But it’s not “normal”, even in the slightly off-kilter place I live in. On the one hand, I don’t care. And I’m not embarrassed I asked. But on the other hand, I kind of wish it was more normal.
Another trigger to my thought was noticing that when paying attention to training from my supervisor (who is also a very good friend) at a new job, I was comfortable leaning close enough to her to be basically pressed shoulder to shoulder to better see her screen. The line is a bit blurry there, but so far is fine. And we can be “professional”, but at the time we were trying to track down a weird issue and it was easier to be able to see all the screens from almost the same angle.
I think my brain is still just going in circles – where I grew up, this is odd behavior in an adult; on the other hand, this sort of affectionate behavior makes complete sense in family and friend groups.
There’s the added problem of people misinterpreting. I like being affectionate. I don’t like it when people assume I’m flirting. Generally, I like you if I’m leaning against you, I hug you, or I at least am attempting to reassure/soothe/connect with you if I touch you when talking to you. But I’m hardly ever actually flirting. And yet, I’ve watched people mistake all of those behaviors as “flirting” in others and myself.
So I just don’t know. I wish there were an easier way of being physically affectionate and expressive without it getting over-thought everywhere.
*A strike party is what happens after you “strike” or take down a theater set.
It’s interesting to me the small assumptions we bring to literature/film/television/music/entertainment media.
If someone has always been told “Shut up.” is a rude, dismissive thing to say/be said, they can never hear a nuance of love in it. Seemingly ever.
If someone as a young child, heard someone in a film, like Cary Grant say, “oh, shut up…” in a very gentle, loving, reassuring way, and has a visual memory of the flustered person being tugged into a hug and comforted as they are actually allowed to keep fussing on and perhaps even weeping in relief, well, they can.
Sometimes the latter person does allow larger margins for “shut up” than perhaps they ought. It’s not perfect either way.
People who have always experienced rape culture or been more aware of it for example see “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as a horrific song. (And honestly, with that reading, it is… I mean “what’d you put in this drink?”)
People who used to watch the old Doris Day films? They have memories of her being an adorable klutz. They know the back story of how she was kind of crushing on a guy (we’ll pick on Rock Hudson but Tony Randall actually could work too), but finds him to be a bit of a jerk. The guy is often a bit of a play boy, but maybe realizes he’s a jerk. She’s somehow, via shenanigans, trapped at a place that is basically his. Perhaps his office. He fixes her a hot drink, splashes a bit of brandy in it because that’s what you do to help chilled people warm up (literally, not inhibitions wise) and… the scene is set.
Again, viewed in modern context, still a little shady. At the time? Honestly the films were intended to have various levels of understanding. A certain naiveté with a certain naughtiness. Kind of like the classic Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, and Pink Panther. But those people familiar with those films might forgive more. Should they?
The assumptions we bring mean we both grasp various levels and ignore various levels, especially on a light viewing/reading/listening. Sometimes I’ll dislike a thing fairly vehemently, and won’t watch it again. Sometimes I’ll love a thing, hear a critical review and re-experience it, trying to see the reviewer’s point. Sometimes I can see how they got there, but still disagree.
Not sure there’s a point, other than I saw another thing on another site again today attacking a character and… and I guess it just frustrated me and made me tired, so I wanted to natter at both sides. Haven’t answered anything for myself, but at least I wrote a bit, eh?