With My Body I Thee Worship

Touch Theory states: “Because bodies are the physical manifestation of peoples’ existence, people use physical affection as a means of expressing that the mere existence of a person makes them happy.”

The idea of physical affection is foreign to me.

All of the times I can vividly recall intimately touching someone else, I did so to fulfill a need.

My paternal grandfather died when I was seven years old. The first and only time I met him was five months before his death. Before going to Nigeria that summer, I created a book for him, filled with drawings of my life in the US and depictions of what I thought he would look like. I will never forget how he strutted, book in hand, through the entire village, flashing the crayon caricatures to every open eye. This, and him being in our hotel room when my parents and I received the phone call about the three-hour-old baby that would become my sister, were the only two memories I had of him when I found out he had died. That day I gathered carefully the jagged shards of my heart and carried them to my mother’s bed. I felt betrayed. I felt lost. I let her hold me against her bare chest while she prayed for God to accept his soul. And I stayed in that warm, soft paradise until we both fell asleep. I touched for comfort.

I have always been hyper-aware of my grandmother’s mortality. From the moment I found out that people die when they stop breathing and that old people die first, I began to watch her at night to make sure her chest was still rising and falling. If she quieted, I poked, prodded, and kicked her until she woke. If I was too tired to keep vigil, I nuzzled up against her to feel her breath against the back of my neck. I touched for security.

As a child, I was painfully afraid of the dark. My parents’ room was where I slept when my grandmother was out of the country, and, as luck would have it, it was the darkest room of the entire house. It did not take me long to begin fearing with breath seizing intensity the shadows that the little bedside window caused to race wildly across the room. Whenever I saw one, I leapt forcefully into my father’s stomach. I touched for protection.

I knew this boy had radically transformed something inside of me when I could not stand next to him without every limb of my body wanting to wrap itself around him. Whether he had broken or mended that thing that he had changed, I had not yet figured out. What I now understand is that I would touch him in hopes that a piece of me would dislodge itself and stick with him. If I was not worth space in his mind, perhaps I was good enough to live in his skin. I touched to keep him.

I was loading my things into Amanda’s mom’s car after the week that changed my life. Shouting over my shoulder I told them I would only be a minute as I ran across the green back to the shabby dorm building. When I saw MERP, the woman to whom I owe my every major accomplishment since that week, I threw myself onto her — girl with an issue of blood, woman with miraculous words and a healing body-con skirt. (If I could only touch the hem of her garment . . .) I wanted her to feel, through my body, that every compositional slice of my being would forever be beholden to her. I could not think of the words to communicate this, so I embraced her instead. I touched to praise her.

The idea of physical affection is foreign to me.

I have always been obsessed with the concept of touch. I used to sit with my eyes Elmer-glued to the television, watching entrancingly as recently salvaged princesses offered their trembling lips to sweating, quivering princes. I wanted to know what would possess someone to do such a thing when I didn’t even like cuddling with my mom. I could not wrap my head around wanting someone that close to me, wanting to drink in another person.

I have always loved watching couples dance, especially salsa and bachata. I am fascinated when the two partners lean into one another with their eyes locked and their feet tapping out heart beats on the floor. They are joined by an invisible force that everyone in the room can feel. Palpable, ziggy, boiling. I am surprised when he spins her around and she does not walk away when she can no longer see his face. I am humbled when she steps aside to swing her hips to her own rhythm and he does not use the break to check his phone.

Holding hands while doing simple things like reading or walking is a holy, unattainable thing. That two people feel the need to touch even though they already know the other is right beside them . . . That is an aloe vera thought. That knowing the other is there is not enough; that they have to feel them there. I am incapable of fathoming a serenity that profound.

The idea of physical affection is foreign to me.

The first time a boy invited me to share his bed I looked at him like I squint, processing the possibility that perhaps even numerical values vary by language, at signs outside of pizza shops that offer two slices of pizza and a drink for 60 pesos. I touched his bed, gingerly running my fingers over the pleated covers, in the same manner I skeptically feel the stripped EVER PLUSH beauty socks at ULTA. I listened to his words, noting the inflection and the sincerity behind them, similarly to how I used to, naively, listen to telemarketers offer all-expense-paid trips to the Bahamas in exchange for my parents filling out a simple survey.

I swiveled my head back and forth, comparing the ratios of the comforter to mattress size of the two beds in the room. I was asking myself if we could even comfortably lay together in such a small space. I was wondering if I would rise in the morning like a phoenix — rebirthed — if I slid under the covers before me.

I thought of my body. (Will my skin have sprouted down feathers by morning? Will my muscles be held together by threaded seams instead of ligaments?)

I thought of my mind. (What if my every thought from this point onwards involves a twin bed, a dark room, and spooning positions? What if the topic of my next government paper is international integration and my first sentence is “I cuddled with that boy in his bed in the dark and no one knew and I was scared?”).

I thought of my soul. (What if this experience reveals a chamber of love and affection within me that I had never known existed and I become canonized for saving the poor of the world one hundred years from now? What if that fissure, that crack that leads to my well of unending compassion, is created, here, in this bed?)

I could not comprehend his offer. I was quiet for so long that my response interrupted him taking the question back.

The idea of physical affection is foreign to me.

I have recently started to confront the fact that I frequently use other people to get what I want. That until I hug for any reason other than to wrap my arms around your “here-ness” I am not accepting you for you.

I am accepting the truth that I am starved of a relationship in which I am shown unconditional love. That until proposals to fall asleep in each other’s arms do not freeze-dry my mental processes, I do not truly consider myself deserving, without adornment, of another person’s company.

I am rejoicing in the realization that all along I have known one of the deepest secrets of love. That when my best friend said her boyfriend wouldn’t hold her hand in the movies because he didn’t like public affection, I was right to say something was gravely wrong. That when a different boy took my hand in the front seat of my rickety car and the world stopped spinning, I was right to think that something was gravely right.

The idea of physical affection is foreign to me.