Touch Shy


You are a tall-enough-to-reach-the-gas-pedal six-year-old standing in a small kitchen – the room wrapped in a window-full of dandelion sunset – and you’re being told, again, not to hurt the other kids. You’re stronger than them, and you might hurt them by accident, and then they won’t want to be friends; you’ve never actually hurt someone, they’re just worried.


The first time you really hit someone you are eight and it is the last time you really hit someone and that someone you first last hit was your older brother who always wanted to wrestle. There is so much blood coming from the same lips that goaded you just moments before and now they’re mouthing a poppy-stained “gonna tell mom.”


A year later you learn why you have always tried to walk in your mother’s eggshell J. C. Penney heels. You tell no one. You stop touching other guys.


You stop touching.


The girl who lives one floor up in the freshman dorm learns you don’t touch people by a poorly hid flinch. She tries to break you. She’s trying to help. She doesn’t understand that she’s small and can be hurt if you’re not careful. You never hurt her; you’re always careful.


You stop being careful just as junior you learns not to touch people while drunk, not when they flinch like that, not that you hurt him but you remind him of someone who did, not that you’ve railed at him but you smell like someone when you drink too many margaritas.


He sits next to you the next day. You’re careful. You’re sober. His leg is touching yours. You obsess over trust.


You won’t hurt then, I promise. You won’t

focus on each touch forever,
fixate on each bump or nudge,
hug while holding your breath

Every gesture of comfort and comradery will weigh less each time.

Joel Rea is a BFA in Creative Writing holder from Maine. He mostly writes fiction, but has lately been drawn in more lyrical directions.

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