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Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

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O Human Child
illumination
catvalente
There was a time when I was sure I didn't want to have kids. That time has passed--it's amazing what not being in a horrible marriage will do to your desire to procreate. We're waiting, but someday there will be kittens, I'm sure. So it's funny that since I came to this decision, I have become a baby-magnet.

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.


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*holds your hand across the ether*

O human girl, I miss you.

I want to touch you again.

How very beautiful and very honest. I quell in terror sometimes simply because *I* want to say those things to someone. Almost all of the time, the thought of being rejected, scorned or thought ill of causes me to simply ignore it. I mean, heavens forbid I become THAT kind of person.

*sigh*

I think it has overnight become a combination of words that can melt my heart completely.

That said, I've always admired clarity in people, and when asked flat-out for contact, have never said no. I just can't. Life is so short.

But it's terrifying for me, too. We're all terrified together, brother. It's called being alive.

I'm sitting at my desk, waving my hands in front of my face trying not to cry.

Thank you.

You're welcome, love.

What a beautiful thing to happen. I'm glad I got to read about it -- thank you.

How gorgeous it is to get those glimpses into the heart of a child and see your own mirrored there. We are all so fragile. It takes a type of innocent strength that we seem to unlearn with age to admit such truths to another.

Thank you for sharing something so wonderfully human and giving me pause today.

This is lovely. I wish I had the courage to say such things to people, without the awkward results I'm convinced it would have.

I can safely say that had one of the girl's parents said the same thing, I would have held their hands just as warmly.

Contact is a revelation. Any kind.

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You seriously have some special kids, there. And you're a pretty special grown-up.

And there are a whole bunch of people today who are being touched by something your girl said very quietly in a crowded elevator. That's pretty amazing stuff.

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If a woman wanted to touch me, I don't think that it would be a problem.

I've been told I have an aura that says "don't touch me" no matter what my mouth says.

For the record, I didn't get this kind of vibe from you at all.

I don't think being a grown-up is an essentially damage-accruing activity.

Not damage, necessarily-- I think what happens to us as we grow up is neutral, and we use it how we use it. But what I do think happens is that we start filtering. We put up walls based on our experiences as children and adolescents, start shutting things out because they made us feel bad or what have you. Defense mechanisms, I guess. And yeah, they can make us into the very epitome of evil-- viz. everyone who lived on Kitty Genovese's street and was home that night. But it doesn't have to be that way, I don't believe. Instead of just reacting, using these walls as ways to keep things out, I think we can use them as speed bumps, to give us time to reflect on whether any particular wall is still valid.

(This coming from the most reactionary person you know. Do as I say, not as I do!)

What a beautiful sentiment... and, a perfectly formed response in return.
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.
I haven't the words.

(oh, and what kid_sportswear said.)

So beautiful. Thank you.

Should you ever desire it, I would love to hold your hand.

Also here via matociquala.

What a wonderful moment... and thank you for sharing it so vividly with the world.