On the Sanctity of Touch
It is December 2020, and Boris Johnson is breaking it to the United Kingdom, where I live, that he is locking the country down yet again. It hasn’t even been three weeks since he lifted the last lockdown. I feel like I’m trapped in Groundhog Day, and the British prime minister has come to represent the vague existential threat that once forced Bill Murray to endlessly repeat the same day, over and over and over, until he got his shit together. This precipitates yet another phone call to my father in the United States, my only surviving parent, to tell him my family still can’t make plans to visit him for the foreseeable future. “It’s for your own good,” I assure him, given that he received a double lung transplant two years earlier and, consequently, has a nearly 100% chance of dying if he contracts Covid-19 from me, my wife, or two children. He agrees with me, or at least he claims to, but I know he is lying. He wants to hold his “grandbabies,” as he calls them, Anthony Fauci and his scientific reason be damned.
It is 2014, and I am holding my new son for the first time in a downtown Los Angeles hospital. He is so large that the doctor gasped when she first set eyes upon him. I marvel at the heft of him in my arms as I hold him against my bare chest and assure him, “I’m your daddy, I’m your daddy, I’m your daddy.” My wife is on the operating table behind me, still too drugged up to hold him. I feel as if I’ve stolen something from her because I wasn’t supposed to be the first one of us to touch our son.
It is 2008, and my mother is playing with my hair as I sit on the floor beside the recliner where she spends more and more of her time since she divorced my father. We do not touch anymore except to hug hello and goodbye, though I cannot explain why, and this once ubiquitous gesture in my life — now excruciatingly alien — makes me feel both confused and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I do not tell her to stop, and for the duration of the film we are watching I am a child again.
It is 2016, and I am having lunch with a friend. He tells me that his teenaged sons still lie on the sofa with him, his arms around them as they watch films together. I can’t even begin to imagine doing something like this…