On Touch | Free Word

In place of her in-person workshop on kitchen table organising originally scheduled for our Finding Power In Isolation season, writer, performer and artist Selina Thompson shares this powerful, poetic written piece on touch.  


114 days since I last touched another human. Weird. Maybe more, by the time you read this.


(The Wiggle:


I’m in my mum’s kitchen – we are allowed this close now – and for a second, full of daring, we look at one another and she says ‘shall we have a hug?’ and we think – it hangs in the air ‘no one will know!’ – but I will know and she is shielding and I worry about her dying all the time, so much so that I cannot bring myself to call her sometimes, so I shake my head –


She is tiny, my mum, she always has been, very short and very slim, and yet she has found ways of intimacy with me in which I might be small. I miss her hands too, but I also miss sitting on the floor beside her – as though she were about to do my hair – and feeling her hand stroking my face while she talks all the way through a film. It’s by my ear – so I can hear it, can hear the silvery rasp of the touch. I miss pressing my cheek to hers and being told I am cold. I miss hugging her when my body radiates heat from the exertion of the walk to hers, and being told to get off her, because I’m like a radiator. I miss stooping so she can wiggle me from side to side, the tipping, the almost losing balance. I miss my hoops getting caught, and trying to maintain the love, while not tearing my earlobes off. Almost. I almost miss that)


Touch starvation is a thing, apparently. Exacerbates stress and what not. We know all the things that accompany increased stress: the depression, the anxiety, the fucked appetite, broken sleep, ongoing nausea, endless headache; the body’s various systems in quiet revolt until such time as they know they are safe. I won’t bore you with that. But suffice to say, the absence of the most bodily of the senses, the one that arguably defies language the most, fucks the body on multiple levels.


(The Fold:


I miss being able to fold someone into myself. Being able to share the solidity of my body, the way in which its size roots it in the earth, being able to bequeath that to somebody, just for a while. Entwined together like the green and yellow of an earthing cable, dispersing the tension. After performing, I seek out physical touch to decalcify, to break down the boundary between performer and performed to, to cross back into human, not commodity, to seal myself again. Now I think I am open and sort of fizzing, foaming – then soft parts hardening, then fizzing and foaming again. A sort of mess. I can write all day, but not come back to myself in the same way)


Sometimes it is a very specific physical and tactile experience. There’s this moment in Sartre’s play, No Exit, where one of its three characters (they’re stuck in hell, and it’s just a room with the three of them) says that without a mirror to look at herself, she starts to doubt that she exists. The lack of touch feels like this. What are the boundaries of my body? What is its shape? Can I feel its outer limits? I feel this most profoundly perhaps in my arms and hands, where most causal touch is located.  If I think on it for too long, there is a throb of muscular pain, a spasm in my triceps. So I don’t think about it.


(The Rub:


I miss my Dad’s hands. I tell him this, and he says ‘because they’re so soft!?’


And I tell him, no, because they are rough – they are lightly coated in the dust of a dried out garden, moisturised only when my mum demands it, or when she has excess lotion from creaming her legs. I miss the groove between the edges of his nail, and the thicker, raised skin beside the cuticle.  I miss the cross hatching of the fleshy bit just in front of the thumb. I miss their odd weight: despite the fact that I am undoubtedly bigger than him now and must weigh more, his hands have gravity; the weight of being a good father, I guess. There is a moment, when we greet each other, and the touch hangs there. I walk past his chair, and realise-remember that in another world, another life, I would have rubbed his shoulder, because the sight of him, glasses way down his nose, tapping with his two forefingers invites affection. He refers to the length of my dreads, and I know in that moment, that in that other life, he would have lifted them up to watch them fall, slapping on my back now, as well as my shoulders.)


I thought that I did not like touching too much – but I don’t think this is true – when I worked at Lush, I loved touch, both the touchy-feely quality of my colleagues, and the ongoing tactility of the job – washing hands and massaging oils into skin, the contact was endless. I think that people sometimes baulk at intimacy with a body of my size, so I have learnt and taught myself to avoid it: I can feel the vibration of tension in my jaw, like my teeth are rattling, when I think of moments where someone has hugged me, or placed a hand on my back and swiftly withdrawn their palm having interacted with a fold of flesh too sensual, too abundant, too bodily for them to handle.


(The Bounce Back:


That being said, I miss hugging my fat siblings. I miss when the hugs are accompanied by warm laughter, and we almost repel each other, in our joy. I miss feeling laughter rippling through somebody else’s body, and I miss the warm moan of a really good hug)

The cat will have to do! And what a substitute. I am lucky, somehow, inexplicably, despite insisting on washing herself with her tongue after eating a load of turkey and ham, she smells like fresh air. The internet says to hold her secure to my chest so she can feel my heartbeat, so I do this, and in turn I feel her heartbeat, and also the other vibrating of her purr, and the (agonising) piston like movement of her paws and claws, opening and closing on whatever bit of flesh is closest. This touch, this intimacy, greatly progressed over the 4 months we have been together day in day out, was earned.


But what I would not give, for a hug.


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