Touch Starved

It’s only human to feel this way…


My mom introduces me to a friend from work, after she comes out of the bathroom. I smile and shake her hand. It’s damp and limp. I smile with teeth and we talk about the weather, the bathroom door swinging behind her. Dinner continues, all of us shaking hands, laughing and clapping each other on the back — grasping arms to not lose each other — a hand on someone’s back as I slip past them.

“Sorry,” I say when I bump into someone and touch their arm; shortly after licking the buffalo sauce off my fingers at a table of six.

I’m not going to the bathroom to wash my hands. I didn’t pull out one of my travel hand sanitizers after wiping sauce from the corner of my mouth; I breathe my apology into their face and they smile and move out of the way, insisting no harm done.

We’re at a friend’s house; watching a movie, all four of us. We lay under the same blanket and eat from the same bowl of popcorn and M&Ms. I accidentally take a drink of grape soda from Kayla’s cup. The lipstick on the rim gives it away, and I hand it to her with a giggling apology. We all laugh and she finishes her drink and I finish mine.

Kaitlin’s at volleyball practice — sweaty and bare-armed. She bumps into a panting teammate bent at the waist on their five minute break.

“Need some water?”

She passes her water bottle, breathing heavy through an open mouth, and their sweaty hands brush as the teammate takes it and “waterfalls” the liquid of the bottle into their mouth; breathing hard onto the lid. Kaitlin takes it back and slurps another gulp before they wipe their mouths, rub their eyes, brush their sweaty hair from their foreheads and head back onto the court to pass the same ball between twelve pairs of hands.

A classmate asks to borrow my phone to call their ride.

I try to decline as politely as I can and when they take it anyways I rush to the bathroom and wipe it down with wet paper towels. My sister asks to try her friend’s iced coffee. She fights back a grimace and my sister takes the lid off while her straw rattles against her cheek. I see her friend throw out the drink with a quarter of it left before we walk home, masks on.

We take the chance and have our family over for a birthday, outside and just far enough from each other to be awkward. We play cards and sunbathe and sanitize after we all pet the dogs. Plastic cups dot each surface — labelled in black ink — each screaming our names so we don’t cross-contaminate. We eat chips from different bowls and when my little cousin yells “go-fish” and spews half-chewed crumbs across the table, we intentionally lose the game and hurry inside to nonchalantly wash our hands and get a new bowl of chips.

My basset hounds and my friend’s new babies are petri dishes, and I try … I try not to think about how many people have touched the door handle as I hold it open for someone with their mask on their chin.

I see people hosting grad parties and think of the shrink-wrapped bodies lining the hallways of hospitals outside the morgue, I think of the ash in the sky when the ground can’t swallow anymore bodies.

I want … I want … I want to have brunch with my friends and hold their hands and drive in a car with them and see their smiles again and see the food in their teeth and the cracks in their chapped lips and hug them and hug them and hug them —

But touch starvation is keeping us alive, so we’ll starve and starve and starve until we can share pencils again and laugh so hard we hold onto each other for support and whisper secrets so close we can feel each other’s breath and we can kiss and hug and shake hands and reconnect and reconnect and reconnect.

We have to.