Sometimes people have an inexplicable urge to lay hands on my person. They grasp my arm, they tousle my hair, they rest their hands on my shoulder, and sometimes — God forbid — they wrap their arms around me in that oppressive maneuver, that universal gesture that engulfs, that binds me in hideous sensations of warmth, love, and nausea. Like a wet sponge wrung out over the sink, their embrace squeezes the darkness from my soul, but I hate it, hate it, hate it. People perform the aforementioned behaviors to reinforce our (presumed) friendship, but for me, they are popping my security bubble. It is jarring. It is unnecessary. The bubble keeps me from feeling connected to the world around me, which is absolutely essential to my well-being. It allows for the sustained illusion of safety.
The other day, someone at Best Buy grabbed my arm and led me gently from the door marked entry to the one marked exit. As he did so, I said, “Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.” Not loudly; just enough to convey the tone of my inner monologue: Touching, I am being touched, do not want the touching, do not like, do not want, make it stop, feelings of unease, feelings of unease, feelings of unease. When we reached the exit door, he looked at my wide eyed expression and said, “You okay?” I said, “I AM FINE THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME MY SKIN IS TAINTED BY FOREIGN FLESH,” and moved on with my life.
Another time, as a means of enunciating her point, a lady put her hand on my shoulder and shook it a bit. A noise was emitted, a high pitched frightened zebra wheezing, and she blinked at me. At this point, I had to transition seamlessly into “I am a normal human” mode in which I pretend that people grasp hold of my body parts on a regular basis without me acting like a crazy person. She shook my shoulder again and scrutinized my reaction. “You seem disturbed.”
Who are these people laying their dirty mitts on me all willy-nilly? What are they doing? What are they thinking? I’m not the crazy one this time, no, not this time; they’re the ones being weird. I am the pilot of an organic machine I use to navigate my environment, one that is carefully cleaned and maintained by means of showers, deodorant, teeth brushing, and, I don’t know, shaving. It’s not the fastest, strongest, or most handsome machine, but it’s the only one I have, and I cannot abide a bombardment of groping upon its surface from a horde of anonymous randoms. Unacceptable! Intolerable! My smooth unblemished bone-white skin does not require whatever dirt and grime lies caked between the microscopic crevices of their fingertips!
Earlier this week, after performing an undoubtedly hilarious improv scene, one of my classmates grabbed my arm. There must have been a perfectly reasonable context for this because when I jerked away and shouted, “I am being touched! What is happening? What are you doing?” everyone acted like I was being weird. My classmate said, “Whoa, sorry for touching you.” Thinking fast, I said very casually, “Oh, yeah dude, it’s all good in the neighborhood.” But make no mistake; it is not all good in the neighborhood. The neighborhood lies on the verge of anarchy, of violent self-destruction, at all times, always, forever. It is a neighborhood perched on the edge of a cliff on a tectonic fault line in the shadow of a meteor. It is a neighborhood in west Baltimore.
I remember as a child, various uncles would perform a deep tissue tickling in which they tickled so forcefully, I thought they’d crush my organs with their brutal stabbing fingertips. They’d tickle and tickle — and I’d be laughing, yes, but it was the agonized sort of laughter where I can’t freaking breathe, and I’m dying, suffocating, and they don’t care, and Jesus Christ mom, are you going to stop him from murdering your child in the middle of the family Christmas party? My dad had an even more diabolical tickle method called “The Crab” which wasn’t tickling — pause for reader’s fearful anticipation of molestation — it was pinching on my arms and legs and chest. Ouch.
Being a tiny person for a large portion of my early life, cousins and physically superior “friends” would often pick me up like a rag doll, dangle me from the tops of staircases by my feet, and toss me into objects they estimated (sometimes mistakenly) were soft enough not to cause permanent damage to my bones. Just a year or so ago, a former roommate of mine decided, after I shoveled mud into his boots for no reason, to pick me up and toss me onto the back of my neck, inflaming the muscles around my spine, and leaving me in a state of agony for months. (He refused to share medical expenses. He later attempted, via check fraud, to steal the deposit money on our home. We are no longer friends.) I suspect the cumulative impact of this history of, dare I say, physical abuse has led to me being a bit leery of touchy stuff.
However, let us be clear: sudden unexpected skin contact with other people can be disconcerting, but it’s not always unwanted — pretty girls need not fear caressing me for I will not recoil or ruin the moment with, “Why is this happening to me? You dare pollute the holy temple with your filthy girl fingers?” No, that won’t happen. People I’m familiar with — friends, family, acquaintances — for these individuals, I can handle minor incidents of physical contact/ manhandling. Just don’t sneak up on me.