As a child I shied away from touches, I avoided intimacy. It was even a joke in my family, that I gave such timid hugs, had to be forced into giving them while my sister gave these great huge hugs that would force the air out of the receiver's lungs. I didn't understand the importance, I preferred to live isolated and in my world of dreams, thoughts, and books. I was strange when expected to display physical intimacy. The father of a good friend of mine passed away when we were in that awkward adolescent phase when one feels disconnected from their body anyway. At the memorial service, everyone else was giving hugs to each other. My friend and I smiled nervously at each other, aware that we were supposed to hug. I knew that a hug would dissolve the tension, would transfer love and support to another human being in the way that words never could but I was insecure. My heart wanted to reach out to her, it welled up in my chest like it does when you have to cry, but there was a wall there. To touch would be too raw, too intimate, too vulnerable.

The current iteration of myself looks back on that day and can't imagine being shy to hug another person. It took church retreats to get over this...say what you want about organized religion and Bible thumpers, but many of them are very supporting, very loving people. The first few hugs took me by surprise, made me feel strange, but I adapted to this sudden immersion and truly learned for the first time how to hug and be hugged. I remember the moment too. The group took each person individually and everyone told that person what they liked about them. When it was your turn, everyone in the room said a positive thing about you. Kleenexes were passed around, but my eyes remained dry. After this was completed came the obligatory exchange of hugs. One of the guys in the group gave me my hug and whispered something so sweet, so kind in my ear. I burst into tears and he held me while I cried, this person who was a stranger 48 hours beforehand who I wouldn't recognize on the street today.

That is what I'd been afraid of all that time, the power of touch and the ability that it had to unleash a torrent of emotions I'd kept back behind that wall. But it had happened, and it felt damn good. I later outgrew religion, but I found raves and their characteristic unabashed hugging and displays of emotion. I hug my friends in greeting at a party, good night when they drop me home. Every time I see the boy that I love, the first thing we do is crawl into each other's arms, not for a kiss (which will come later), but for a hug. There are still times today when the feel of another person's arms around me will make me cry for no particularly good reason--just knowing that someone cares enough about me to devote time out of their one and only life to focus on and share love with me completely floors me.