June 21, 2013


I know an absent-minded hug or kiss when I see one.


I have been there, and I might have given a few myself.


The fleeting, out-the-door, going-to-work kiss, where worry interferes and fills out the space between lovers. The I’m-already-gone-I-just-haven’t-told-you squeeze of the shoulder or slap on the ass. The kiss on the forehead when you offered your lips. The superficial hugs called for by circumstance, where newly met strangers end up energized with what was supposed to be your child’s bedtime cuddle.


I have known all of them.


The time we saw Grandma off at the hospital before her bypass surgery. I remember exactly what I wore that day, I remember the last words she said to me. And I remember thinking, this could be the last time I ever see her. It was.


That coffee and cake with a college friend, just after graduation. She was telling me about her thesis, I provided a counter-argument, and we couldn’t see eye to eye. With acceptance and serenity that I can only dream I possessed now, I thought This friendship has run its course. This is the last time we will meet. It was. For many years, after which she found me again, both of us wounded and climbing out of a hole and still getting there.


That rainy morning when I was dropped off at the IT building on campus to get my computer fixed, and the ten last minutes of stompy-feet, refusing-to-breathe, silent scream protest that went off inside my head as I realized, no outward confirmation necessary, that it would be the last time I ever see that particular acquaintance. It was.


That was instinct, and the curse of being a hypersensitive little chucklehead.


Since then, I have exchanged warmer hugs with strangers in bars than certain members of my own family. I have witnessed an eight-year-old’s affection amplified from a timid handshake to falling into my arms in a matter of hours. A feral cat jumping onto my lap, deciding it was time to start trusting one another. I have recognized, in my own gestures, when it was time to pack up and leave. I am a good judge of human touch.


I have learned to be present in these marginal moments. My embraces always last a second too long, because my heart is taking a snapshot. Whether we sleep in the same bed or never meet again, if we were in any way connected, I will want to remember this. Remember you.


So no half-assed pats on the shoulder or pecks on the cheek, please.  No clammy fishy handshakes. We both deserve better. If you put your arms around me, please don’t be one of those people that hug by grabbing a hold of their own arms (you know which ones I mean, don’t you?). Give me a moment to take you in, and accept the piece of my soul that is offered to you in this moment. You can spare a second. Acknowledge this connection. Be present with me.


  1. I'm the opposite. I have a hard time touching people. It used to infuriate my Dad when I was a kid. My "one-armed hug" he used to call it. The idea of full-on, body-to-body, both arms wrapped round one another truly freaked me out. He would yell and scream and say I wasn't human. As a teenager, it was sort of strange the way I could fuck anything that moved, but try to hug me and I'd run away like a scared rat. Even after I got married, it took me a while to calm down and allow a full-on hug. I will hug my husband, my kids, and my Mom, but that's about it. I'd really prefer not to even shake hands. I do this little one-finger wave and say "yeah... nice to meet you, too...." It's all very icy. It keeps people at arms length until I have a chance to gather all the reasons I dislike them.

  2. Apparently, I was the same way with my Mom when I was a baby. "All the other children would put their arms around their mothers' necks when they picked them up, but you never did." Um, I don't even remember this, Mom. Sorry.

    I tend to be very strict about who gets how much of me, and the touchy-feeliness increases exponentially the closer you get. I don't go out hugging random strangers (for instance, I find that free hugs performance project personally very off-putting), but it doesn't take me long to establish if I want a certain person in my inner circle or not, even if we just met. And as always, I am an introvert - I need to feel welcome and invited before getting closer and don't just get in people's faces.

    There is something very old-school traditional about the handshake. It's a sign of trust, of doing business together, of respect and acknowledgment. I find it a reliable way to estimate character. But I understand that it isn't universal - I learned something new in Heidelberg this year, when the American participants got weirded out by shaking hands upon introducing yourself. "What's with the handshakes? Can't we just say Hi, I'm Jane?" I like the one-finger wave. It's creepy and hilarious.

  3. Wow Chris. This post really got inside of me. I’ve taken those same snapshots and been right too many times about “last times”. I felt those half-hearted hugs and the miss-the-target cheek kisses. I’ve embarrassed myself by holding on long after the other has released. I’ve given and received “burp the baby” hugs, keeping a cool distance between torsos, and heard the echo of goodbye behind a slamming door.

    Email and phone last times are the worst sort. They are a sterile intercourse, best suited for cowards, lacking the conviction of eye-contact, and the distressing memory of two quickening pulse rates between a pair of thin cotton t-shirts.

    Boy, do we need to talk.
    I love your writing.

    1. Just say when :)

      You know what I hate more? Melodramatic promises of staying in touch, when both parties know it isn't happening. Save your breath and both our dignity, buddy.

      Last summer I was leaving the seaside two days earlier than everyone else, and my future brother-in-law told me he always got Reisefieber when someone close was leaving, and that he hated farewells. Two days, mind you! I told him not to think of them as farewells, but as everyday hugs, because we are all just moving anyways and the formality of greeting has no bearing on twists of fate. Sometimes I am too wise for my own good. Or just full of it, I don't know.


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