you can sit or stand closer to me. or put your hand on my shoulder, just for a second or two, so i'll know you're still there if i'm not looking up. or you can wait for me to decide.
but don't hug me when i cry.
two years ago, a friend reached out to me. a woman i'd known for many years but had never hung around or even talked with beyond critiques in a college course we shared years earlier. somehow, she sensed that i needed a friend who understood. she was right. we talked infrequently but powerfully. we talked about good listeners and poor listeners and well-meaning jerks. in one of our early conversations, she told me that hugging can be emotionally counterproductive to a person in pain. that made sense to me.
the general response to a hug is emotional tidying: if we could look inside our brains, we'd see ourselves hurriedly fluffing the pillows and shoving the dirty clothes under the bed. except in our minds, instead of domestic trappings, we're pushing away emotions. when the hug comes, the sniffles give way to a long exhale. the tears are sopped up by the back of a hand or the sleeve of a shirt ... i once used a pair of underwear because it was the closest thing i could grab. in a few seconds, we're no longer expressing our pain and we've moved on to a state of emotional purgatory.
tears help usher out emotions that need to be in forward motion. tears are part of the process that only time can complete. a hug, though well meaning and natural, can put those mobile emotions in reverse, and the crier is left without that moment of release.
this afternoon, i was sitting with a friend, watching but not really watching E! i was mostly staring off into one direction or another and occasionally trying to make conversation by pointing out petty flaws in the cast members of a reality show. he was occasionally trying to make me laugh, as he usually does when i look like i need it. at times, i'm able to let a giggle sneak past the barred door; other times, i apologize for being bad company. he understands either way.
today, while watching but not watching E!, i sat next to a pile of unfolded laundry that i should've folded last night but didn't. i did make sure to vacuum at midnight so i didn't feel like a total slob. at some point this afternoon, maybe when we were discussing the staging of reality TV, i suddenly planted my face in that laundry pile from last night. my nose was smashed a little by the weight of my face, and breathing was awkward, and i stayed that way, with images of the past two years running through my head. did an entire minute pass? i'm not sure.
sometime between the time it took to lift my head and then turn it to face the tv again, the tears had escaped. it was the first time i'd cried. not ever, of course; just since the events of saturday.
saturday: as the numbers on the clock began their second ascension, the day began to collapse. "bad day" is a slight understatement, but if i were to go with my current emotions, i'd probably overstate it. in hindsight, i recall the night's events as if watching a movie on fast forward: i walked in. he walked up. another walked in. the three of us switched places and positions four or five times, engaging in heated conversation in pairs, always leaving one of us out. before the little hand on the clock reached its halfway point, everything had changed. what i thought was my future had quickly become my past.
love is an inexplicable connection between two humans, who are flawed—and within this territory of human error, love breaks all the rules. this is the place where good intentions can lead to pain; where pain can lead to bad intentions. when it all goes wrong, what rises above the ashes is this: all love is not good love.
this afternoon, i declined a hug, and i cried. in the middle of autumn, i cried a summer rain shower: sudden and brief. a few hours later, a different emotion stepped in. they're splitting my time today, the sadness and the anger, each taking a shot at resolving this: the one who wanted to be your hero, the one who said a thousand days apart was worth one day in your presence, can turn and try to break you.
you will never understand.
i picked up my son from visiting his grandparents this afternoon. he ran inside our place, frantic. mamma, i needa pee in potty! nowwww! when he finished, he lifted his arms for me to pick him up, which is becoming rare as he grows. we looked into the bathroom mirror together. saturday night was lingering under my eyes. two years had been laid to rest, and my entire mind was filled with WHY.
mamma, are you good?
yes, baby. i'm good.
he squeezed me tighter and laughed. i laughed too.
two days past saturday: one earnest laugh and one perfect hug closer to tomorrow.