More Malone Snippets – Chance Meeting with a Friend

Child picking nose. Oh - and a Smart Crossblade. - Flickr - exfordy

At the gala she saw Kaylee with her son, Echo, tagging along beside her.  She could tell Kaylee was excited to finally introduce her boy – of whom crayon drawings and amusing stories had abounded up to this point.  Kaylee reached for the socially appropriate hug while Malone shrank clumsily into a simple shoulder tag.  Kaylee smiled, entertained at Malone’s usual social awkwardness.

Looking down at Echo, Malone realized Kaylee was completely unaware of his tiny little finger, deeply rooted in his nostril, and rummaging around.  Malone broke into a huge grin at the boy – sun painted curls adorned his tan, freckled face – pure innocence at its best.  “Hey Echo!  Save some for me, huh?  How about it?” she smiled.  He was instantly charmed as evidenced by his beaming return smile, finger still planted in his face.

Finally recognizing the situation and feeling the impulse to be embarrassed – Kylee dropped his free hand and gently removed his digging finger, wiping it on her jeans.  But the contrast of Malone’s own social anxiety in comparison with her genuine appreciation for her son’s youth caught her at the heart level and she giggled … almost like a school girl.  It was completely unlike most encounters when her son’s childish antics made other adults uncomfortable and led to her hasty apology which always felt like a betrayal to her love for Echo.

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More on the Being Touched Thing

What do you call a statement that is all at once true and not true?  For example, “I don’t like to be touched.”  This is not true when I’m at home, with my sweetheart, and in my comfort zone.  This is true when I’m anywhere else.  But there are moments when I’m tired, or stressed, or in some kind of alternate dimension caused by these or other things … when I don’t mind so much.

Here’s a question some might keep in their noggins when I explain this, but they never come right out and ask, “Were you abused when you were younger?”  I see them thinking it.  Or maybe I’m just projecting since I wonder, myself, why I am like this.  But I’m so terribly glad they don’t ever ask.  I mean, what does a socially inept creature like myself do in a situation like that?  “I … um … uh … well I don’t really know why I don’t like to be touched.”  That’s about the time I’d get a hot flash and they would think I’m blushing.  Damn stupid hormones, I tell ya’.

So since I’m writing, and writing is therapeutic, I’ll reason this out a bit.  I really think it’s a boundary thing.  Haven’t you ever had someone hug you that you weren’t too happy about learning their intricate nooks and crannies that really shouldn’t be pressed up on you like that?  Or how about the smells?  I concede that most people I encounter on a daily basis, lets say 99 percent of them, are perfectly appropriate for the nasal experience of closeness.  But that bad apple really stinks when you get right down to it.

The “human connection” resonates with me in all this, if you must know.  If I’m appalled at another person’s smell or “feel,” it’s usually because I fear those things in myself.  I may be the only person who does a smell check before heading out in the morning, even after a shower with multiple flavors of shower gel.  At this very moment I’m literally angry that my winter coat smells like a restaurant I visited over a week ago and I can’t get the smell out.  I don’t happen to keep a selection of winter coats in my closet.  So the bottom line is I smell when I wear that thing.  Maybe others don’t notice.  But I do and it’s enough to drive me batty.

Back to the touching thing.  What if the person is a very trim and fit individual?  Visually I can tell, they aren’t going to press anything against me I don’t want to feel if they zero in for a hug.  What if the tailored look of their clothes and the hair product they seem to be sporting indicates they are most likely of a delightful olfactory encounter?  What keeps me from the hug?  Well, don’t you see?  It’s not so much them I worry about.  Granted, I don’t worry about the misplaced boob, or the wrong angle and awkward placement of the arm.  See Hugging Coach for an explanation on this particular point.  But YES, dear reader, the “Ah ha” moment has occurred in this bit of writing.  On the off chance that it’s mid-day and I’ve done some sweating, or perhaps that food I ate ten minutes ago still lingers on my breath and I don’t hold it, or, oh dear heavens, what if …

It’s about me.  I don’t want to be offended by offending.  So please, if I’m witty and seem fully awake … just don’t touch.

 

The Politics of Esteem

Havre Train Station - Amtrak

On a 20 hour train ride from Spokane to Minot I overheard a conversation that resulted in my sadness and poor outlook on the human race – myself a member.  Somewhere around Havre, MT two women got on board with a wealth of other new passengers.  Those of us who had treasured our two-seat comfort were disappointed, but it was to be expected sooner or later.

These two women were fascinating to watch because, although they shared a common language (accent) and geography, they were the epitome of night and day.  Julie was thin, fit, and of average stature.  Janice was shorter and rotund, and her shirt revealed her backside whenever she bent over to get anything out of her bag.  Julie was stylish in her stone washed jeans, layered fashion t-shirts, and textured Justin boots.  Apparently Janice and her husband used to live across from Julie and her husband years ago.  And today they had met at the Havre train depot, both of them headed back to Minnesota.

In listening to their conversation, I learned that Julie is a cancer survivor.  Janice sent her a card after she learned about her former neighbor’s plight months ago.  She asked if Julie got it.  She did.  She had just decided not to respond.  Who knows?  Maybe surviving a near death experience like cancer makes you simplify and you worry less about social expectations like returning a correspondence.

During their initial exchange, Janice made several attempts to reconnect.  She even settled for getting their husbands (who apparently used to be good friends) back in touch.  Julie’s husband was up in Canada on his Harley enjoying a ride so that he wouldn’t miss Julie as much while she was gone.  I got the feeling that Janice’s husband still works.

Growing up, my parents were never really the social butterflies you see on those sitcoms where neighbors talk to neighbors over the fence and have the occasional barbecues.  And even today, when I move to a new place, its very difficult for me to be neighborly.  But Julie and Janice, from the clues in their conversation, had been the kind of neighbors that take baked goods to each other and collect each other’s mail when they’re out of town.  I was having trouble liking Julie as this went on.

Julie said words that were to be expected when Janice spoke.  She replied at the appropriate times and even came and leaned on the empty seat in front of us near the end of the conversation to face her “friend” and engage fully.  But Julie spoke a different kind of language with her body language, the words she chose, and her tone.  In Julie-language she quite obviously said, “I’m so far past you … so much better than you … this won’t go anywhere after we get off the train.”  Her replies near the end said, “I’ve been there, done that,” or “Oh, I can do you one better.”

Julie has beaten cancer and she is happy to talk about it to anyone that wants to hear.  She likes the way they look at her after she tells them.  As soon as a fellow passenger (a rather artsy looking Seattleite with long, well kempt hair and Birkenstocks) heard a name he recognized, he joined in the conversation.  Visually comparing the two, Julie quickly dropped Janice like a hot potato.  Janice may not have noticed, but I did and for some deep seeded reason I felt pissed.

Doug and Julie realized they had several relatives in common and began talking about what a small world it was and how uncanny it was to discover each other.  Julie got the attention she’d been seeking, in the package she preferred.  I know the label is used more commonly on men, but I have to say that Julie was a tool.  I watched as Janice slowly settled herself in for a long train ride next to a total stranger (me) who didn’t like to talk much.  Was I projecting some underlying sadness of my own in this social defeat of Janice’s?  Perhaps.

But with each conversation, each one so unlike me to instigate or perpetuate, I was speaking to Janice in Julie-language.  “We’re real, dammit.  We matter.  We GET that everything in life doesn’t work out perfect and fit in neat little designer Justin’s or Birkenstocks.  Our joys are just as important as anyone else’s.  Our pains are just as relevant.  We may not have been to the chemical warfront and returned to tell our stories over scars and glasses of fine wine.  But cancer comes in many forms.  Self-serving social cancer can hurt people too.  We will pray for Julie’s condition.”

My Hugging Coach

When I tell you that I went to a “hugging coach,” it’s important you know two things. First, it was by accident that I became a student of the hug. Second, it is the only subject I ever failed.   For reasons I will not explain at this writing, I am a very socially awkward individual. In crowded settings I squawk like a chicken and screech like an eagle while people are, all around me, whispering. I’m speaking metaphorically here, of course. I don’t actually make those noises; I’m actually rather quiet. But that’s how it feels to be in social settings without a clear mission.

When I was younger, I was spared some terrible embarrassment when, seeing I was new and shy, an 11th grade English teacher pointed me toward the Drama Club. Learning how to come out of my shell and pretend I had other traits and skills was essential to my development into, and survival as, an adult. My favorite trait to imitate is confidence. An element I lack, that I try to overcompensate for when necessary, is affection of the sentimental type. I don’t mean I find it difficult to show or express love to someone I care deeply about. I don’t have much trouble giving hell to people I dislike. The complication exists when people that I’m not so adamant about attempt to express something, sort of, in the middle. I mean, well let me paint a picture.

Picture it – 1998. A swarm of teenagers in uniform transformed from stationary pillars of silence, in neat little ranks and files – to a raucous gaggle of excited children, racing for their parents’ arms. I had just dismissed the cadets from the final formation before liberty. My boss and mentor at the time smiled at each of the staff as he thanked them, and wished them a pleasant time off duty. With each hand shake, he pulled them in for a hug, and sent each one hot-stepping it home for some much needed “R & R.” I felt my face blanch and casually disappeared below decks to log off the computers and gather my things. He headed me off as I tried walking past him on the gangway.

“Good job Team Leader S,” he grinned and reached an arm out toward my shoulder. He was going for that hug. I grimaced and leaned in slightly. I felt the coach-like pat on my back as our shoulders bumped. I was thankful that I had thought to carry enough out so that both my hands were encumbered, leaving me no arm to return the “Go Team!” hug. “We’ll make a hugger out of you yet, Ms. S.” His laughter wasn’t mocking, or demeaning. He was a good mentor and I appreciated his outlook and experience. But he knew, along with everyone else on the team, that I was not that particular brand of person described as, “a hugger.”

This is one story, one of many that preceded and followed it, that outlines my social adversities as they pertain to hugging (among other situations). It wasn’t until, close to 8 years later, I started dissecting my mental insides and deduced – something was rotten in the state of me. That’s when I was referred to a hugging coach. That wasn’t what was on her business card, sure, but that’s the essence of what she was.

With her help, I delved into the family tree, sought roots for my various jungles, and found trails I could hike to escape, survive, or make peace with my fears run amok. I did some journaling, reconnected with my spiritual beliefs, and talked more to her than to any other person prior to that time. Life was okay, and then life was good. The most memorable aspect that still resounds in my head from those sessions is the “hug practice.”

I had explained that I was uncomfortable, for many reasons, with hugging everyday friends. Which angle do you use when going in for the hug? What do you do with your arms and hands? What about people who are different heights? What if you hug one person who is standing next to someone you don’t want to hug, and they indicate a hug is in order? It’s all so ridiculously horrid to have to decipher and process!

My hugging coach did her best. She provided simple logic to these and other questions. We practiced scenarios; she even taught me a particular hug that seemed to solve all my problems. The “Sideways Hug” allows you to keep the front of your body free from bodily contact, while still offering an arm to the person who feels they absolutely must be hugged by you. If done correctly (I should say, “skillfully”), the two of you will resemble a greeting card to onlookers. It will be as if you are posing for a picture.  If don’t clumsily, the accosting hugger will try to fold that card, thereby negating your attempts at diplomacy, and throw their second arm around your neck. This not only defeats the purpose, but results in a situation exponentially more uncomfortable than if you had just stiffened and allowed the original hug attack to occur.

Kidding aside, I know that a person who feels the need to touch another person in public, to enter their personal space, does not always do so callously. For some, a hug is a great way to punctuate a final, parting sentence, and is no more an invasion than a “high five.” For others, perhaps they subconsciously sense a connection with you, and want to physically acknowledge it in a way that makes you aware of it too. So … just to clarify, hugs are not always attacks. Regardless of how thoughtless and assuming huggers may seem, I don’t take their advances to heart anymore.

That said, I never mastered the art of the hug. I was able to identify, to analyze, to compensate or overcome. I turned much of what I learned from my “hugging coach,” into ink or bytes. Scripture says blood is the life of the animal; I think ink is the life of the imagination. And while I may not be likely to welcome a hug physically, I am certainly interested in receiving “hugs” in the form of feedback in the comment section. Let’s hear it. How many artists out there identify with a distaste for crowds, an awkwardness in social settings, or are prone to verbal faux pas?  Any other non-huggers out there?