For about five years now, it’s just the kids and I who have been living together. With kids around, the snuggles are quite a few. What’s more, however, is them bumping into you, them wanting to be picked up, them stepping on your toes shod in new shoes, their elbows digging into the soft flesh of your thighs, their feet on your faces, their heads crashing into your PMSing breasts, their grubby, food-hands on your arm, them clambering on your shoulders for a better view when all you’re trying to do is sit quietly in bed and find some peace. To some, that sounds romantic and sweet, and in all fairness, it is quite cute. I know I’ll miss it when they grow up and stop touching me so much. I started to wonder, though, why was I so conscious of their sense of utter claim over my body. Why, like most mothers, wasn’t I taking this for granted; in a sense why was I even thinking about it.
The answer came to me a couple of weeks ago, when my parents were visiting. My mum, mostly reticent about physical expressions of love, casually stroked my back. At any other moment in my 20s, that would probably have translated to me as a warm assurance of something she was thinking about. This time, however, that touch electrified me. It made me stop what I was doing and tell my mother, I like it when you touch me like that. As is my wont, I said it before I thought about it and the more I thought about it, the more absurd it sounded to me. That a little motherly touch like that would awake all my nerve endings. From there, thought was but a giddy spiral and things that I hadn’t thought about it years, or perhaps ever, emerged.
For someone who thrives on touch, who actively likes all forms of physical affection, I realise I haven’t had the comfort of touch in years. A quick hug these days has become like shaking hands, but sharing a hug with someone who genuinely loves you — as a friend, as a lover, in a filial way or in a fraternal way — has healing qualities that one cannot ignore. Holding hands with a woman when words are not enough, sitting in the crook of a man’s arm as you watch a film, being hugged by a caring, affectionate friend, feeling strength and love in that embrace — those things have come rarely and intermittently to me in five years. And I didn’t think about it till recently, when I realised each nerve ending in my body was screaming to be touched, to be told in more than words that someone cares enough and likes you enough to hold your hand, kiss your cheek, ruffle your hair, and not just get into your pants.
I argue, then, with myself, as I am prone to doing. Isn’t the touch of my kids enough? After all, I am always cuddling them, kissing them, holding them, touching them in a sense that is complete and natural. They reciprocate too. Little imprints of wet tiny lips stay on my cheek for hours after I’ve had a kiss. And what kisses they are: the kids put everything into them, their entire body arches up into mine, and they pour every minute of their existence thus far into kissing me, hugging me. That should be enough, I think, and yet I find it isn’t. I cannot understand why it is so, but I know it isn’t.
I do not miss the sexual touch at all. In fact, I miss it least of all. There is warmth and comfort in that, no doubt, but I don’t find its lack big enough in my life to go looking for it. A loving hug, hell I’ll walk miles for it. I lose words sometimes, I am severely limited by the fact that I can only think in two languages, neither of them my official mother tongue. I find English severely limiting when I want to express the overflow of love I feel for some people. I find it frustrating that I can’t say anything beyond I love you so much my heart feels like it’s drowning and bursting at the same time. In a non-platonic relationship, that feeling is easy to translate. But in a friendship that’s pure and simple about love, what does one do? Invariably, then, I express with my body and skin. My skin that revolts belonging to the rest of me and rises up in a life of its own, my arms that love hugs and being filled up with the form of someone I love.
In moments of intensity, I observe my skin like a layer of ghost. It separates from the rest of me and between itself and the next layer of flesh forms a raging, roiling river of energy. It lifts in a blue, restless wave, crashing against itself because it has nowhere to go but back in the channel formed between my skin and flesh. I know this energy is calling out for soothing. I know this cold fire that my skin is on is willing to be doused, but all around me, most times, is the freedom of space, and air and the wind. Too much of everything.