I do not like being touched. My friends (mostly Paul) have joked about this for years. Paul’s favorite story about this aspect of my personality is about how he brought a very nice friend to brunch one Sunday morning when Chicago was lucky enough to have Paul here full-time. I can no longer remember the friend’s name, but he was tall, fair-haired, warm, and fuzzy. We ate at Wishbone on the west edge of the city. The three of us had a really nice time. As we prepared to part at the empty lot at the next corner, Paul’s friend went for a hug. I began the dance of avoidance. I started to edge away. I made myself as small a target as I could under the circumstances. I ducked when those long and cuddly arms came at me. There was no escaping it. I was enfolded in a great bear hug by a really nice person and I knew that my pain was evident in my grimace.
Paul and I still laugh about it. While he lived in Chicago we negotiated the matter and settled on the fact that he could hug me once a month. And we’ve been close friends for about twenty-seven years.
I come from an undemonstrative family. I can recall coming home after being away for a year at college. My dad wanted to hug me and I flinched. He realized for the first time how uncomfortable I was with hugging. He said, “You know, I wasn’t going to hit you.” I knew that. Now my dad has been dead twenty years and I see my mom every week. When we part I kiss her cheek. I tell her I love her and she pats me on the back or shoulder as I walk out. Sometimes when we talk on the phone she tells me she loves me. The glaciers are melting. It’s a case of global warming.
I recently went for a manicure and pedicure. It hurts a bit for me to work on my feet these days. I still have some pain in my knees. The toenails had gotten long. I inherited my dad’s hangnails. My hands were looking scruffy. I did my best, which was not very good.
In the last year I have had a hysterectomy. I have had two catheters put in place. I had radiation on twenty-five occasions. For each of those appointments I was naked from the waist down, my feet were strapped to a styrofoam block, someone used a magic marker to tattoo me, including the all-too-embarrassing navigational marker “X” that someone wrote on a place so intimate that when I was marked I thought I might die of shock. My hospital gown got caught one day after I had been given a couple of bags of Benadryl and I flashed a bunch of men waiting for radiation, I have had people install ports and drips and lines into my body for blood transfusions, chemotherapy, magnesium, I.V. fluid, painkillers, potassium, all manner of things. A friend has whipped up my hospital gown and examined my incision scar and run a scenor across my body to help heal me.
If Scotty were on board this ship he’d have been yelling that “our” shields were down.
I cannot say I like it.
In the last two months I have had my hair cut by someone other than myself for the second and third times since about 1987. I had the third or fourth manicure that I’ve had done in my life. Now I must admit that I have had a pedicure. the first in my life. Oh my! What a nightmare for me.
I went to a place in a little mall. I asked for a simple pedicure. No funny nail polish, just the clear stuff. The owner of the shop is a cancer survivor. She wore a tank top and the scar was visible when she sat on a tiny chair and pulled one of my feet out of the nearly hot, blue as the Tidy Bowl man’s sea, rapidly churning water. She pronounced my toes a disaster and started snipping. I felt like a cat about to get a bath. I gripped the arm rests of my chair and held my breath at times. I squirmed. When she took out her razor to scrape my heels I nearly yelped. Sometimes it tickled. Most of the time I just felt exposed and unhappy about it.
She cut my nails, cleaned up my cuticles, rid me of dry skin, buffed my nails, filed my nails. Yikes! Then she massaged my feet, which were so tense it almost hurt to have her rub them so vigorously.
I wish I could say that it felt so good that I now intend to have my feet pampered regularly, but I know me better than that. It was agonizing. I am still laughing about her reaction to my grimaces. She wiped her hands, gripped the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger like she was in pain, too, and said, “It’s not supposed to be torture. Some people like it.”
I laughed. I realize that people like this stuff. I don’t really know why I am so uncomfortable with it.
My defenses against being touched have been in place for a very long time.
Today I received an email from DePaul University announcing that I will be one of a number of honorees at the Seventh Annual St. Louise de Marillac Women of Spirit and Action event at the end of May. One of my students nominated me for the award for tireless service to the community. Imagine that.
I feel positively warm and fuzzy at the notion. Joelle, the law student who nominated me, is a very nice person. It has been a pleasure to have her in my legal writing class. I am deeply touched by the recognition, given my difficulties with the law school following my cancer diagnosis.
I have enjoyed teaching so much because I enjoy my students. This feels better than a haircut, a manicure or a pedicure. I feel like a chilly lump inside of me melted because I did not want to walk away when I was told people like me could not be counted on to finish their jobs. I hung onto my job as hard as I could and I got “hugged” in return. Paul, I know you’re listening. When I next see you I may be the first to go for the hug!