Out of the blue, there was this moment, before I even really knew how much I enjoyed your company, how much we had in common, where it came clear. When you touched me, it was acceptance, not challenge, that drove you. So simple.
It seems simple now, but at the time, I'd never encountered a touch that worked that way. With so many years of the memory of your hands, it's almost hard for me to remember what the other ones felt like, but the shivers under my skin recall; proclaim as much as they form goosebumps, places where the skin wants to jump up and run away.
Even if I don't, my skin remembers what it was like to be heated by the hand of a demand, something to be taken if not given. An imposition. Skin wants to resist the touches that are thrown down like gauntlets. The first time a man touched my thigh, and only because he insisted, it wanted to be transmuted, become armour or scales at least, something to hide the nerves. Other hands followed those, issuing challenges, daring me to stop them, fortified by steely eyes. Those hands make nerves grow inwards, like hairs or a cat absorbing its kittens. Yet, as it is so inclined to, frequency begets normalcy. I thought nothing of my secret desire to not be touched.
Rays of sun so thick and tangible we could have literally pinned our hope to them shone down through a glass roof that arced like the sky. The fact that I stepped towards you had nothing to do with struggle or concession. In fact, I did it without thinking.
I lean towards you now like a flower to the sun, like it's healthy, and I'd never think twice. I am only reminded of how my back used to be laced up tight with paranoia when I play with the strings. Somehow, your love has unwound all of that.
Back then, I never approached anyone male. They approached me, perhaps, if I couldn't stop them, but I would never have stepped forward, not with the devil's own pitchfork at my back. To step forward, I'd learned through as many actions as words, means you want it, the touch, whatever is demanded, it means you asked for it. You know what kind of girl backs away, right? I know because they taught me. The hands always sought more vulnerable places.
It's a good thing I was drunk from the sunlight, from exhaustion, or I might have stopped myself, not leaned against you. And in my body's moment of careless solace-seeking, you didn't seek to possess it. Your shoulders and chest bore my weight like it wasn't there; no arm, no hand sought to hold, grab, compel. It was a moment of peace.
Perhaps that's our metaphor: a moment of peace, a place of haven. I feel like I live there now. You are a better shield against hands than all the ferocity my young self used to be able to muster; that's how I learned that love is a form of freedom. It taught me how to be accepted.
The problem is shame, it always had been. Whether at nine, at the hand of a stepfather, or at thirteen in the hands of a nineteen year old fresh out of jail, the message that you made the touch, that the desire is your fault, worms its way deeper until silence is the only protest. Those hands claim entitlement, grab and pull like they want to remake you, refold you, reshape you into a more compliant model. Preserving the self means having a piece inside that is hard enough to maintain its form.
Whether melted by the sun or shaken loose by your heartbeat reverberating next to my skin, my usual armour just wasn't there. It knew it wasn't needed. I would have been terrified without it, but you just let me be. As the moment passed, you took half a step back and let your lips brush my forehead. With a gentle hand on my elbow, you swung me around and we skipped down the steps together.
Over the years that followed, you had the patience to wait while I redefined normal, learned to like touch. It used to be the sense I was most suspicious of, but these days, I think I could navigate the earth like a mole because skin can learn so much when you let it, but nerve endings work like snail antenna if they meet with force. It's only when treated gently, allowed to unfurl on their own, that they are any good for exploring.