They stalk their prey with wide eyes and bared teeth. Like sonar, pinging off a target, their voices rise to an octave that could break glass and shatter stone. They come closer. Circling. Cackling. Corralling their victim with glee and guile.
The prey frantically searches for an escape. Their heart races. Beads of sweat roll down the back of their neck. Mouth opens to call for help but horror silences their desperate scream. They slowly exhale as a quivering resignation takes over. It’ll be over soon. Please, let it be over.
Flailing arms pull them into a suffocating embrace. Claws clap against their back. There’s a wince. They try to pull away, but the creature holds on tight. Flesh against flesh. Two bodies entwine. Oh, darkness! Where are you, my old friend?
Yes, my friend, you’re an interesting breed. I’ve observed you from afar and far too close. You’re intriguing and terrifying. Like a nature documentary, I’ve watched you with interest. I try to understand your wondrous ways but fall short.
I have one, simple, question: What the hell dude?
Why do you feel the need to press your body against mine? Touching, pulling, squeezing. No, perv, I haven’t been doing it wrong. Just watch a hug. Bits touch bits. Arms strangle the life out of… That’s getting away from me.
The compulsive desire for a physical connection is baffling. No, I’m not talking sex. This isn’t about the survival of our species. It’s not about titillating our fancies. It’s a simple, uncomplicated, hug.
When someone hugs me, it takes every ounce of self-control to stay present. I try not to flinch. I put a smile on my face and take this socially accepted greeting with gritted teeth. The strain pushes my voice up to an unnatural octave. My body is stiff. My arms are awkward. Internally, I cringe and count the Mississippis.
When it comes to touch, my chronic illness has taught me one thing: It hurts. When I was younger, and someone put their hands on my body, I knew something bad was about to happen. The smile on their faces, pleasant voices, and gentle words were a disguise. They were trying to be kind, but the kindness was a lie. They needed me to hold still so the procedure could go smoothly.
The hug that followed, whether it came from my parents or someone else, was needed but it didn’t bring comfort. One kind of touch became the same as any other. I was just a kid. I didn’t understand that they were trying to save my life.
They were doing the right thing but the right thing meant hurting me. Touch equaled pain. Hugs were a by-product of pain. Touch was bad. Hugs were bad. The math was simple to a scared little kid.
I’m venturing a guess, tell me your experience in the comments if you like, but most of us have a reason why we don’t like to be hugged. Something has happened to us. We were forced to do the math. Touch equals pain and fear.
The mere thought of hugging someone causes a physiological reaction that travels along raw scars. I feel a flash, a burning, just behind my eyes. My heart skips a beat. My breath catches in my throat. Fear. Self-ridicule.
I tell myself it’s just a hug. I know, intellectually, that touch doesn’t always equal pain. I remind myself that this is a normal, kind, gesture. It comes from a good place. It’s going to be okay. They aren’t trying to hurt me. They’re trying to show love.
Still, in those seconds before the hugger pounces, that same flash of fear rears up. I would prefer a handshake. I would love a moment to breathe. A warning shot would be nice. I have a friend who always asks me if it’s okay. He gives me the power to call the shots, and I love him for it.
To all you huggers, while I’ll never fully understand you, I envy your ability to connect. You have this incredible freedom to express yourself with words and actions. Your desire to reach out to someone and hold them is weird, magical, and beautiful.
Just, maybe, ask first.
If we say no, please understand it’s not you. We probably think you’re really cool, awesome, and kinda badass. You’re someone we’d like to get to know, but we need time to get comfortable and feel safe. Until then, please accept my awkward smile and handshake. Sorry if my hands are a little sweaty.
To all my socially awkward friends, you’re not weird. Different is good. You’re not an alien stranded, all alone, on this strange planet. There are others and just like you, we’re trying our best to blend in. We even succeed ten percent of the time.
Okay, the numbers aren’t great, but we’ve all gotta start somewhere.