Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Fairer Sense

It's bad enough that smoking dulls smell, the sense of memory, and taste, the Dionysian sense. If it diminished touch, I'd throw in the towel, succumb utterly to the addiction perhaps, or leave it in my wake without so much as a parting glance.

Touch is everything.

Imagine a loving finger tracing the down on your neck, a priest or a lover washing your feet, gentle sensuous or sensual ablutions quickening the tender skin of the most burdened part of your body, the whisper of silk on your cheek as she reaches over you to retrieve something from the endtable, a blade of grass twirled maddeningly against your cheek, your chin, the merciless eroticism of playful hand holding during a performance of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony, the harsh intrusion of the wooden armrest, the coarse resistence of the auditorium velvet against wool trousers, the hum of the lower registers in your sternum, the soft pressure of her breast against your ribs as she sleeps, her breath soft on your chest.

Touch is everything.

Beside the fact that sex is not terribly difficult to find, it's a certain species of touch that I miss most when I am not romantically involved; and it's intimate contact that I mosts crave and relish in the bloom of a new relationship. Indeed, my tactile greed has cost me a few interesting prospects, as I have too eagerly and frequently violated the space of a woman still learning to take comfort from my proximity. Sex can wait, and sometimes does; touch, however, is always in short supply, always precious, as addicting as heroin and as heady.

A therapist might fix on my preoccupation as evincing some related deprivation in childhood, no doubt. She might even be correct. But this intelligence, like so much of what therapy offers, has more explicative power than it has therapeutic power; the power of compulsion far exceeds the self-awareness that comes with psychic insight. Insight can't stroke my brow, or run its fingers through my hair, trace pathways down the inside of my forearm. Insight cannot unburden me of my troubles in place of a loving embrace.

While my impatience for the press of new skin seems peculiarly mine in intensity, surely it isn't alien to others. One need look no further than our language for evidence to the contrary; vernacular English is suffused with tactile metaphors. One is touched by a plaintive plea; one reaches out to another, perhaps even reaching out and touching someone; one touches base, hits the spot, puts to rest (I imagine a mother tucking a child in, palming his brow briefly to comfort his eyes closed); we push each other away, pull each other closer, we get into bed with, and we embrace what we will; one smooths things over, walks arm in arm with . . . more elude me.

On my third date with the woman, D, who was most dear to me of all that went before and have come since, a woman that by that date I knew I was as serious about as I had ever been about anyone, came up to my apartment after whatever it was we had done. Having already spent a night in bed together, we had crossed the awkwardness barrier some, but not the nervousness barrier -- both of us understood something powerful was underway, and it set us both a tremble, made us clumsy, twitchy, fast to giggle and faster to apologize. But on this, our third physical encounter, the awkwardness of learning each other had somewhat faded, and for me at least the simple enjoyment of minute features came to dominate. I was so highly attuned to every sensation that I might have been a rheostat heating up with the transit through my body of enough electric current to blacken steel.

On my couch, we began to kiss, embrace, press ourselves into each other, surrender to our desire. She pushed me away purposively, and I tried to suppress the giggle of sheer pleasure bubbling up in me like a symptom of my elevated heartrate. Pushing me gently away, she righted me on the couch, and then swung a folded leg over me to sit astride my lap. Our noses touched, our skin tingled with each other's urgent breathing. Her gaze was unfaltering, probing; I felt as though she could see through me and I didn't mind. Her weight on me was the only thing keeping me from floating away. Then she pulled up my shirt and, leaning back, pulled up her own, and pressed her chest to mine so firmly that it was impossible to divine the boundary between us.

In a lifetime of physical encounters with women of many different varieties, inclinations, degrees of physical comfort, that gesture, that moment, was the most intimate I had ever experienced. And so it remains, among many other sensations experienced in thrall of the same woman, D. I tremble to consider what I might sacrifice to speed along to the next opportunity to feel such a profound connection with another, to immerse myself in the heightened physicality of a moment without parallel here or in dreams.

We feel people out, handle things, grasp and hold.

This evening, wrapped in solitude like a smallpox blanket, I went to the salon. The woman who washed my hair this evening, who also does nails, an exceedingly young, attractive, single mother who I know in passing from the Shadyside bar scene and through mutual friends (aside from my patronage of the salon itself, which dates back a couple of years more or less since it opened), beckoned me back to the sinks, gently lowered my head into the rounded, unyielding berth, and washed my hair once and again, the water warming on my scalp as she proceeded, her fingers perfectly lovely in my imagination as I closed my eyes and acceded to the moment, the improbable attention.

Her affection is in her job description at an upscale salon; her technique acquired, trained, and offered with no more intrinsic generosity than a retail clerk's suggestion of a shirt to go with slacks or a factory worker's welding of one part to another. I meditated these thoughs away, however, and accepted the contact as an invaluable blessing.

After a second rinse, she worked a new product into my hair, the hose returned to its cradle, and she began to massage my scalp in earnest in a way that was almost dirty with rote suggestion. Tension drained out of my neck and shoulders as though a sluice valve in my chest had been flung open. The tingle of her fingers in my scalp near my temples contrasted with the slight pain of her thumbs driving into the top of my head as strawberries contrast with champagne; in my reverie a lone identifiable thought obtruded: that maybe I could pay her to do this for as long as my skin would bear it. I opened my mouth to speak, but had no words.

Ideas strike us, and a beautiful woman might be striking; we take hits.

Strange that while our writing, our speech, is suffused with tactile metaphors our language nevertheless is most feeble when it seeks to describe touch itself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That reminds me - you owe me $20 from February. Remember the bet!

12:27 PM  
Blogger Moon said...

how can i remember the bet; i don't even know who this is!!!

i'm the only one who gets to be an- / pseudonymous on my website!

12:42 PM  
Anonymous May said...

You two boys, do you think that your comments fit with the content of this post?!

1:46 PM  

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