I walk down the hallway to the class I'm going to teach today. A colleague, a woman in the administration, stops me. She asks me how I am. Reflexively, she puts her hand on my forearm. The touch, nonsexual (in so far that a woman's touch ever can be) is so welcome. The feel of intimacy. Of her warm hand on my arm. However briefly.
I once knew a woman, many years ago, (how can I be saying "many years ago"?) who said to me, "It's not good to go a single say without being touched."
How about weeks? Months? Even years? This goes for men as well as for women, of course. But I don't talk to the men I know about this type of thing. I have talked to women about it, though. Usually, women my age (seventy-three) or round about. Many of them admit the need, but have given up on being touched. They've given up partly because they are tired of dealing with failed relationships and lousy men. "Too many jerks out there," one woman told me. "I'd rather be alone." Or something like that.
Yes, I see that. But something essential dies when we give up on the idea of being touched. Of sitting next to someone on the couch, bodies glancing. Of walking into the kitchen and placing a hand on his or her shoulder. Of putting your arm around him or her in the movies. Of getting into bed and feeling the warm, loved body next to you.
To live a solitary life may be better than living with someone you can't stand. Grant you that. But on the other hand, living alone, as a way of life, is not good. Or natural. Or healthy. Say what you will. Of course, do what you want to do. Free country. Individual choice. But, you know, bullshit.
Without touch, I can feel myself withering.
On my way back down the same hallway at school, I greet a woman from another floor I haven't seen since the college break. We embrace. "Happy New Year," I say to her, my arms around her, feeling her hair against my cheek. Her. I can feel that both of us hold on for a few seconds longer than collegial protocol. She's alone. So am I. Though it remains unspoken, we both know we don't want to release. But we do. Because we have to.