once he was in love.
but not anymore. far from it.
it was all the touching.
she liked backrubs, and he was cursed with strong hands. it would have been a perfect match if only he had some patience, if only he liked to give back rubs, if only he found some pleasure in physical contact. it was a task that grew oppressive almost instantly.
and when she asked for oil, it crossed the threshold into torture. he tried to breath through it, push on to the other side, but he could never play it off, no matter the intensity or duration, she was always disappointed. he wouldn’t even get credit for the forty seconds when he was nailing it.
it was just too much touching.
she liked to hold hands in the movies. she’d squeeze during the tense parts, caress during the love scenes.
it made it impossible to concentrate on the film. it got so bad that he would purposely pick movies he didn’t want to see, just so he wouldn’t feel disappointed by missing all the key moments.
she really liked touching. he thought maybe she could change him. but that didn’t happen.
she would walk by sometimes and rub his arm, softly, a sexy gesture that never worked for him. it was just too soft, he’d shudder as gooseflesh stood at attention, his neck hairs rigid. it was the tactile equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. by the time he’d remember to smile, it was always too late, the repulsion already having slipped through. it would only show for a moment. but that moment was long enough.
when she broke up with him, she said she didn’t feel close to him. she felt like he was holding her off, keeping something hidden.
it wasn’t anything so romantic. he just needed a little room, a cushion of personal space, a set of social bumpers to keep him from too much contact.
it had always been like this.
as a kid he only wore tight clothes. he lived in pajamas through the fourth grade. if a sock had a bump, he’d have to stay home from school. a shirt with a tag was an agony close to crucifixion.
there was nothing he could do. it ran in the family.
he could count exactly two hugs that had ever passed between his mother and he. both were awkward.
one was high school graduation, some kind of parental peer pressure, his mother drunk with contact high of parental pride, went in for a squeeze and got lost halfway, not knowing whether to retreat or press forward. the hug simply withered on the vine. she tried to play it off as though she were dusting the back of his brooks brothers blazer.
the other time was when they flew east for his grandfather’s funeral. it was newark airport. somehow between the plane and the baggage claim he had gotten separated. he wandered through the airport, lost, afraid to ask for help, not wanting to call attention to himself. feeling a ticking timebomb inside, a growing sense of madness and confusion, so many faces, none familiar. it was when he opened his mouth to scream the he saw her stretching for a handbag caught up high on the conveyor belt.
it probably only lasted a few minutes, but the relief exploded through him. he charged across the terminal and grabbed her, squeezing hard. she lost her grip on the bag, and let out a grunt. without looking down, she pried him free.
“you’re making a scene.”
he caught his breath a while later, and pretended it hadn’t happened.
that afternoon he kissed his dead grandfather good by, the cool cheek chalky with makeup. the room was overpowered by the smell of roses.
his mother stood beside his grandmother.
they were both crying.
there was no touching.