The Concept of Touch

Today I learned that I’m a blogger because I grew up writing letters in a time where there weren’t fifty other ways we could contact each other. Get this, children. I wrote letters in longhand because calling to a city in the same state COST MONEY (and dinosaur eggs are DELICIOUS WITH KETCHUP).

I realized today that I liked who I was in those letters- warm, patient, kind, funny, and most importantly, not attached to a physical body. If you hadn’t seen me in a while, you could probably forget what I looked like. To you, I could be 8 or 38 or 78, just a voice across time. Because in those days, children, people called “postal workers” came to your house and delivered your e-mail, called letters when they were printed on trees. If you had an e-mail to send, you gave it to YOUR “postal worker.”

In letters, I could be a knight. I could ride a white horse and place a cloak down on the rough parts of your life so that you could keep your footing on uneven ground.

In letters, I could be a painter. I could use words to reassure you of life’s beauty when you felt like your cloud’s “silver lining” turned the whole sky green.

In letters, I could give you the most I could give you, because words were my only means of providing comfort to someone who really seemed like they could use it.

I used letters because it was too dangerous to touch you, to be seen touching you, to know I wanted to touch you and I couldn’t because perception is reality no matter what reality entails.

I used words because people were watching for me to lose it. People were waiting for me to sneeze wrong as proof that being gay is contagious. Writing allowed me to fly under the radar, to feel like the pilot of my own ship, to get messages to you by courier as if your body was a sacred island of mercy during the war that raged around mine.

Everything within me funneled towards those letters because it was what I could do. I couldn’t be big and strong. I couldn’t be wise (well, I could pretend). I couldn’t stop the people in your life that I knew were hurting you or had hurt you. I didn’t have an outlet to talk to anyone about it because I wasn’t allowed to talk to you so there was no reason for me to need to discuss you with anyone else. You have been the best kept secret of my life.

At what cost, though?

My favorite book in the entire world bar none (do not pass go, do not collect $200 before you buy it and read it. Short and wonderful) is The Giver, by Lois Lowry. It’s about a boy who is raised in the world of Same, and in the world of Same, almost everyone has the same memories. The reason I say “almost” is that in order to keep the peace, the people had elected one person to be the keeper of the memories, so there was only one person in the entire world of Same that knew ideas like war, famine, pestilence, etc. The person elected to carry the memories was titled “The Giver.” When The Giver started to get old enough that they needed to start thinking about a replacement, the boy is elected as The Receiver.

The Giver and the Receiver are not allowed to talk to anyone but each other, because they are the only ones above the rules in the world of Same. They are allowed to know anything and everything. Transferring memories is as easy as skin to skin contact.

There’s a famous scene in the book where Jonah (The Receiver) starts his training by lying face down, shirtless on The Giver’s bed. The Giver touches Jonah’s skin and sends him great memories like snow and sunshine. Then, because he knows that all the memories aren’t going to be good, he asks for a negative memory. The Giver shows him thirst and sunburn.

It is my favorite book in the entire history of books because what I know for sure is that when I am with you, I feel like I am The Receiver. When you touch my skin, memories transfer. How could they not? So many times I have done the emotional equivalent of taking my shirt off and lying down on your bed, knowing that what you had to give me that day wasn’t snow and sunshine.

There is no sexual content in the book whatsoever, and I mean none at all now. I want to talk about nakedness as it applies to the relationship you have with your massage therapist, how they can feel in your muscles the kind of day you had.

When I dove into letters, my training ended abruptly as there was “no need” to be skin to skin… or at least, that’s what I told myself when letters became my only option.

5 thoughts on “The Concept of Touch

  1. It still amazes me that you loved that book. Really – in the world of books, that book may be my most hated. OK – maybe it ties with Of Mice and Men. And maybe the Giving Tree. And Lord of the Flies. And Beloved.

    What was I talking about?

    Oh – it feels like talking about lemons (which I love) with a friend who can’t stand them. For a while, we think we must taste different things and that’s why we react differently. Then we sorta realize that it is the intense essence of the sourness that delights me and makes her gag.

    So, with this book, we both really experienced it – but with different reaction.


  2. With the exception of The Giver, I’m with you. I hate schmaltz. If there is anything I hate in writing (and life in general, really), it’s aggrandizement. I like being descriptive, but I hate trying to direct the emotion of the reader in order to get a specific desired response. I can tell when I’m being manipulated, kind of like verbal movie music.


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