I

*Touch is one of the first forms of communication between an infant and mother. It is one of the most basic human needs. It is where bonding begins.

*Studies have shown that infant massage in the neonatal unit leads to increased weight gain and immune function of premature infants. Loving touch has been shown to relieve fussiness and stress and to alleviate pain. It has been shown to heighten alertness.

*In the 1940's, studies by Rene Spitz showed that babies in orphanages that did not have enough human contact died prematurely.

*Experiments with monkey infants by H.F. Harlow in the 1950's, showed deprivation led to depression, distress, agitation, and anti-social behavior.

II

You have your bottle in one hand sucking furiously with still wet eyes and puffy face. Attuned to your distress, I note the nostrils dilated, I hear your quieting sobs, I feel your convulsive breaths slowing towards calm. Your other hand is winding my hair about your fingers, slowly stroking the strands, pulling them out and away and then watching them fall back to my chest before beginning again. Rythmic.

The doctor places a fresh dressing over crisp black sutures carefully knotted under your purpling swollen eye. You eye him warily as you hold tight to my locks, taking long drags on the rubber tip. I continue stroking the skin along your legs and arms, soothingly as I quietly hum against the top of your head. Swaying you, rocking you back and forth. Soon you forget about the location, relaxing your head against my shoulder.

You are asleep before I get to the check out window.

III

New Year's Eve is sad and lonely. I am surrounded by strangers in boistrous revelry. I am disconnected. With them, yet not.

I ache for my children. I ache for the time when I was blissfully unaware, the time when I could still pretend that all was right as rain.

Disjointed pieces of conversation vie for attention. I hover around the small circles winding my way with no direction. Bumping into groups as a cueball whacked by an unseen stick. There is laughter erupting from various pockets. I seek it out to soothe this restless dicomfort that rumbles in my belly.

I hunger for the bonds shared, so apparent before me. I crave the random embraces and spontaneous touches spilled effortlessly without a thought.

I cloak my eyes effectively shielding the tumult within. The night I spend curled tight against a bannister on a cold hard floor with my sleeping bag tucked tight against my chin. Sleep eludes me.

I long for a body to lean against.

Within, the maelstrom threatens to burst free. The yearning for once upon a time is so great. I am exhausted battling demons within.

"Hey, we're going for breakfast, do you want to come?"

I sit up numbed, still struggling to cap unspent tears.

This man eyes me a moment before strolling towards me reaching out with purposeful fingers. Slowly, he strokes them through my hair. I tense for a moment, before giving in. My eyes close as I lean my temple against his leg, allowing the tension to slip away, yielding beneath his gentle ministrations. The distress fades away.

I don't go to breakfast with them, but when they return I am unfurled and ready to join the laughter.

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