Waiting to be Hugged
When I was a little girl, I remember being hugged. It happened fairly often until I was three. Between all the yelling and the occasional slap on the bum for exploring closets, cupboards and drawers full of fascinating things, Mother hugged me sometimes, often hugged me in front of visitors, and Grandma hugged me all the time. Even the visitors hugged me and gave me candy. I can't believe that I used to prefer candy to hugs.
When my baby brother arrived, Mother stopped hugging me and from that moment on I felt as if I were forgotten. Mother had a difficult delivery. I can appreciate that now, but back then they lied to me and I believed them. Father said that Mother was tired. I understood that, just as any three years old would. Whenever I was tired, I would be sent to bed and I slept. And when I awoke, I was no longer tired. But Mother stayed in bed for days at a time, yet, she claimed to be tired all the time. We no longer had visitors and only Grandma remained to give me hugs. I happily waited for her.
Grandma died when I turned five. I went to the funeral and Mother took me by the hand and walked me to the open coffin. She held my little brother in her other hand. I tugged at her hand and asked her if I should hug Grandma, but her face turned tired and I knew that she would be in pain if I hugged Grandma. So I didn't hug her.
I waited to be hugged. I went to school eagerly, because I knew that some of the children and parents who used to visit us would be at school, and they were. But they didn't hug me. No one hugged anybody at school. In fact, even Mother told me never to let anyone touch me anywhere. I was crestfallen. When I told Mother I did not want to go to school any more, she said, "You started it, you will have to finish it." This news came as a vast disappointment to me. "When would it end?" I asked. "In June," Mother answered. So I waited for June. But the following September Mother sent me back to school, and again I asked her when it would end? "Next June," she said. "I mean school," I answered. "When you're nineteen," she said. I stayed in my room most of the time, waiting to be nineteen, waiting to be hugged.
When I was nine, my teacher asked Mother to take me to see a child psychologist, because I did not have any friends. My work at school was all right, but I didn't show any interest in anything, and I had no friends. We still had no visitors at home, and I told the child psychologist that Mother used to hug me, when visitors came they used to hug me, but that visitors no longer came and Mother was tired. He did not understand. He asked me many, many questions and often reached over to touch my knees. Eventually I found that he would be happy with certain answers and after a year he said to my Mother that I need not go to him any more. Mother said that I still had no friends, but he insisted that I don't come back. I told Mother that having friends had nothing to do with it. I didn't let him touch my knees, so what was the point of seeing the therapist any more? Mother mumbled something about "therapists" being 'the rapists' and told me over and over again that I must not let anyone touch me anywhere! I spent two years wondering how anyone was going to hug me if I wouldn't let them touch me? Every time I was finished with my work, both homework and housework, I would sit in my room and play records. In my head Mother's mumbled words played over and over again, so that I seldom remembered going to dinner, brushing my teeth, changing and going to bed. "You must not let anyone touch you anywhere." I hated those words but nothing could erase them from my mind.
One day Mother said that Father left. "Where did he go?" I asked. "He moved into another house," Mother answered. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to my room. I haven't seen Father for months at a time anyway, and if I never see him again, I thought, it would make no difference. I never ever remember him hugging me.
When I was eleven, I mentioned to Mother that the school held a dance every month. Her eyes came alive for the first time in years and she said I must go. I went and sat on the bleachers and watched the dances. After a few months it occurred to me that during the slow dances, some of the older students hugged each other. Something welled up inside me and I wanted to slow dance. Month after month I sat there, my eyes bulging at those kids hugging each other, until one evening I couldn't stand it and went behind the bleachers and cried. I sat under the metal framework and curled up, hugged my knees and cried. I must have fallen asleep because when I woke up the gym was quiet and I could tell by the noises that the boys from the Audio-Visual Club were putting the equipment away. I felt embarrassed coming out, so I decided to wait till they wheeled everything away. But they didn't. The boys sat on the bleachers, right above me, and began talking.
They talked about me. They said I was stuck up and preferred friends on the other side of the city, from the rich district. One of them called it a waste not to be able to dance with me. "Yeah," said another, "she just sits up there, all alone, and laughs at everybody. I hate her!" I didn't come back to a dance that year.
The waiting, however, was more and more excruciating each year. Now that I knew that dancing was hugging, I no longer had Mother's words driving me up the wall about not being touched. I wanted to be touched, to be hugged, and dancing was it. I had to go back. In grade seven I already had some breasts showing, and even though I was deathly embarrassed that my Mother would not let me wear a bra, I went to the second dance in the fall. This time I sat on the lower bleachers near a bunch of girls. At one point, when all the girls were out on the floor fast dancing, a boy came over to me. I recognized him as one of the A/V Club boys I overheard talking about me the year before. He said that the next dance will be slow, would I dance with him? Mother had taught me five different steps and how to follow, so I said yes. I wasn't sure if I could follow someone hugging me as close as the other students danced, since Mother always stiffly held my hands at arm's length. But he didn't hug me. I followed him with my heartbeat nearly drowning out the drums. He wasn't stiff, or at arm's length, but still, he didn't touch me. The several times we brushed each other he apologized. That evening, all the A/V boys came over and asked me to slow-dance. They all danced the same pattern. A lot of eyes were on me, I felt them on the back of my head and saw them when I faced the bleachers, and I thought I would die because they probably saw that my shoes didn't match my socks, some were probably staring at my nipples showing through the sweatshirt from time to time and were most likely talking about my hair. I almost said no when one of the class bullies asked me to slow dance. But he was different, and I remembered him always dancing in a close hug. I said yes. He gathered me right into his arms, put his hands on my rump and I automatically reached around him, a reflex I kept alive from the age of three, and held on to him for dear life. But I forgot to dance. I just stood there and hugged him with great strength, my face burrowed into his sweatshirt and funny noises came out of my throat. I couldn't help it. Inside me, I turned into a four year old. The pain of waiting all these years for the next hug of comfort just paralyzed me. I forgot who hugged me, where I was, and alternated between eagerly holding on and desperately crying.
Even now, some twenty years later, a hole opens up in the pit of my stomach and I sink into it, wanting to die of embarrassment. This boy, whom neither peers, parents nor teachers could intimidate, started to fight to get away from me and, finally, viciously broke my hold on him, shoved me away and walked over to his friends pointing at me. I can still hear him say to them, "Did you see that? She really wants it! Did you see that?"
I ran all the way home, wishing a car would knock me down, but there was little movement in the streets. I couldn't go in and face Mother because I didn't understand what was going on. Somehow I had to die, and it had to be before Mother found me. But nothing came to mind. I don't know how long I stood there by the stairs to the front door. I heard bicycle wheels turn the street corner and slow down in front of my driveway. "Hey, there she is!" someone said, and one rider turned and I recognized the bully. "Go, get her!" I heard as the others rode away.
I was paralyzed with fear, but knew somewhere deep inside me that this boy is going to beat me up for embarrassing him in front of the entire school. I secretly hoped he might even kill me. He got off his bicycle, left it lying in the grass, came over and put a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw his face set in a tough stance. "You wanna do it here, or somewhere else?" he asked. "Here," I said, and pulled my head onto my chest expecting the first blow. For a moment nothing happened, and when I looked up again, I saw his face clouding over. He pushed me off balance and I fell on the grass. He kneeled down, reached under my sweatshirt and found my breast. He told me to take my jeans off, and when I loosened the button and opened the zipper, he pulled it off. It was then that I understood that he was going to have sex with me, and I let him. I am not even sure if he ever penetrated me. I just kept focusing on his hands, where he touched me and how it felt. At some point he put his jeans back on and left. "See you later," he said.
"That wasn't a hug," I remember thinking to myself. I didn't sleep a wink that night. But, during the next two years, there was a line of boys making their way to my driveway, and I obligingly took them into the garage where an old sofa waited for an upholstering job. "The longer it stays here," my Mother said one day, "the more evil it smells." But she was too tired to do anything about it.
It took a long time before a boy came along and hugged me. I mean one who really hugged me. With him around I went from being four to forty, emotionally, within a year. Nobody in my family will ever have to wait for a hug. My children may prefer candy, like I used to, but they won't lack a hug. Not while I'm still around.