Staying In Touch

I remember the first time I held hands with a boy.   I was 13.  We met in Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs, and some time around our second or third meeting, he asked me to take a walk on the beach with him.  It was early evening; the colors of the sky were lavender and Easter-grass green and ripe summer peach.  The waves lapped the edge of the small shoreline as we strolled side by side.  We touched our fingers to the water, and the sea was warm and soft.   We sank down in the sand together with our backs against the sea-wall, talking.  He took my hand in his.  I could not think about what he was saying.  I could not think about what I was saying.  I could only focus on the warm hand grasping mine, on the way his fingers gently moved against my fingers.  He shifted his hand so that our fingers were interwoven, and I had never held hands that way.  There was a strange oneness to our hands, and this boy I didn’t even know took all breath and thought away from me.   I had never been so aware of touch in my life.  I felt tiny grains of sand rubbing into our skin but did not move to brush them off; the feeling of our hands and fingers was too delicious to interrupt with something as mundane as sand removal.  He was just a boy.   I don’t even remember his name.  But I can feel the way it felt to have my hand held by his as if it happened only moments ago.

Touch.  It is intimate.  When I was young, my mother and my father picked me up and held me close, snuggled on the couch with me and my sister to read stories.  My grandparents and auntie were generous with hugs and kisses, rocking chair lullabies at bedtime, hand-holding on walks.  As I grew older, touch became something even more intimate, tied to sex, and there were boys to kiss and make out with, then men.  Then a husband.  Later came the babies, with their soft,  down-covered skin.  Their velvety foreheads, little bellies, and round thighs all begged to be kissed, nuzzled, tickled.  After the babies, though, I started to take touching for granted. I didn’t marvel in it so much any longer, because I could touch whenever I wanted to— hold hands with my husband, lay down full length against him and feel every inch of us— skin, muscle, soft flesh and bone, side by side.    I stopped thinking about touching for a while and just did it.

Touching can be funny.  I have noticed some people don’t like to be touched, will back off if I get too close.  I have friends who are willing to hold my hand if I’m scared during a movie.  They are the ones with whom I will actually go to the movies, because I know what I expect and need to trust I can get it from them.  I have friends who greet me with a hug and a kiss, others who stand back and smile at me in greeting.  I have learned it’s good to warn people if I plan to touch them so they have a chance to prepare.  I don’t like to be touched by strangers, nor am I fond of professional massages.  I can’t relax my body.  I feel myself tense up, my muscles lock in defense against such an intimate gesture.

As a personal trainer, I work with clients of various ages, from teens to seniors.   When I train a client, it is inevitable that I touch them.  If I thought about it ahead of time, it might not be as easy as it is, this touching.  But as it turns out, it feels good.  Everyone has soft skin.   So far, everyone smells good.  One client showers before we work out.  And everyone gives just the littlest sigh when I stand close behind them and wrap my fingers around their wrists, lifting their arms a little higher in standing ‘V’ pose.  They close their eyes, if even for a moment, when I kneel over their bodies and slowly slide their shoulder blades down, or slowly place their arms in a soft ‘A’ position.  They moan to themselves, seemingly unaware of the sound that escapes them when I turn their shoulders to the left or right, or when I stand behind them and pull their hips back into a deeper forward stretch.

I warn them ahead of time.  “Okay, now I’m going to stand behind you and lift your arms up a little higher.”  Or  “Get ready.  When you roll to the side, I’m going to press down into your hip and assist you in this stretch.”  Or even, “I’m going to help you lift your hips higher in bridge, so you can feel where you should be trying to go with this exercise.”   It feels kind of strange, to give a warning, but I can’t always tell what they expect, and I certainly don’t want to take anyone by surprise.  Instead, what has happened is that touch has again taken me by surprise.  I like this new awareness, this new way of using touch.  It is still intimate, but with a fresh purpose.

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