They come up to me, mostly little girls, in the cafes where I work and stand right next to me. Then they smile. And they stand there smiling, not asking for anything, just wanting to be there. It happens at least once a day. The other night justbeast and I went out to dinner--he had never witnessed this phenomenon, though I'd IM'd him many times with the phrase: "Another baby is staring at me." We were talking about the movie we intended to see when I pointed behind him. He turned. A little boy bundled up for snow was standing behind him, staring at me. Then he smiled.
I'm the oldest of five kids, I'm no stranger to little ones. I have no idea what it is they like about me--maybe it's the Disney Princess hair. Maybe it's that I am used to them, and so don't have the Childless Grown-Up Panic-Stiffening that a lot of people do when a wee one strolls up. Most adults find me brusque and standoffish--I've been told I have an aura that says "don't touch me" no matter what my mouth says. But kids don't seem to see that aura at all. To them, my aura says: "I am full of secret and wonderful things that can be unlocked with a smile."
I'd say the kids have it right, honestly.
They seem to me like little bear-cubs. Totally wild and unpredictable, small rogue AIs, in no way in control of their impulses, easily spooked, but terribly sweet at heart. Bad little fairies.
Which brings me to the story I wanted to tell. One of the couples we hung out with a lot at ConFusion had two beautiful daughters. The kind of kids you just know are totally loved: affectionate, outgoing, well-mannered sweethearts who say things far cleverer than their years with fair frequency.
The younger girl, I'd guess about 3 years old, was a particularly fey thing. She was shier than her sister, spoke more quietly, and had a little cut on her cheek, which made her seem all the more ursine. But from the moment I met her, she wanted to talk and to touch the grown-ups around her. She put her head on my shoulder while we were all sitting in the lobby, played with my hair, poked and tickled my belly, bashfully pulled my midriff-baring shirt down since surely I was cold like that. In short, totally adorable and heart-melting. Kids like that make me want to drag justbeast into the nearest broom-closet.
And as we were saying our goodbyes, we all shared the last elevator of the con, and this wee thing looked up at me with enormous blue eyes and held out her little hand.
"I want to touch you again," she said.
"Ok, sweetie," I replied, and held her hand through twelve floors.
We hugged and waved and drove home, but that moment just completely arrested me. I've been thinking about it ever since. I want to touch you again. What an amazingly clear thing to say. What a nakedly human thing. I am terribly impressed with such a small child's ability to state so clearly what she wants--in my family the more common tactic was just to misbehave until someone starting paying attention to you. To be able , fearlessly, unabashedly, to ask for human contact, monkey contact, little monkey to big monkey. I would never have been able to do that as a child. I was so afraid most of the time. I've heard people say I was not an affectionate child, but it wasn't that, I just learned really early on that embraces were a scarce commodity, and one that could turn on you in a moment.
I don't think I am that plain-spoken and fearless an adult, really. I don't have that clarity.
The thing is, we all want to touch and be touched, and we forget how we once had no filters to that, no weird sexual nervousness or social anxiety. I think I probably still misbehave until someone starts touching me--it's the tactic I learned very young, and its a credit to that girl's parents that she's learned other methods. And that's the funny thing--nothing ever really changes. The previous night the usual con butt-slapping and sexy dancing and casual physicality of big monkeys when they have had scotch occurred, and walking out of the hotel in the morning I thought: god, wasn't that the same thing? Bereft of that naked, bare ability to ask for simple contact without background radiation of adult weirdness, weren't we really just holding our arms out to each other and plaintively whispering I want to touch you again?
I think it's the most human thing anyone has ever said to me. I was utterly slain by it.
And I think I should try to be that nakedly human. At twenty-eight, I should learn how to be more like a small bear and show my vulnerable belly instead of roaring and spilling honey everywhere. I think I should grow until I can say something like that, with that terrible, beautiful clarity. I don't think it's impossible. I don't think being a grown-up is an essentially damage-accruing activity. I think I can still be that real and alive and rooted in the world. I think I can be that clear, that bright, that clean, like glass.
So if a woman with very long hair turns to you someday and says she wants to touch you, know that she is trying hard to be very brave and very human, very exact and very naked. And hold her hand.