Yesterday I was texting a friend who is having a hard time right now and I sent her a virtual *hug*, quickly followed by an apology it was inferior to the real thing, much as cybersex is somewhat lacking in comparison to the flesh and blood variety.

“Oh? A cyberhug communicates care and concern. So it’s fine. Sex…well that’s just about gratification”.

I disagreed. What about presence? What about acceptance? And I was startled by the implicit notion we don’t have care and concern for those we choose to sleep with. Maybe I was being over-optimistic.

It all immediately brought to mind a poem by Alden Nowlan. The title would now be considered non-PC but this was written a long while ago.

He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded

I sit down on the floor of a school for the retarded, 
a writer of magazine articles accompanying a band 
that was met at the door by a child in a man’s body 
who asked them, “Are you the surprise they promised us?”

It’s Ryan’s Fancy, Dermot on guitar, 
Fergus on banjo, Denis on penny-whistle. 
In the eyes of this audience, they’re everybody 
who has ever appeared on TV. I’ve been telling lies 
to a boy who cried because his favorite detective 
hadn’t come with us; I said he had sent his love 
and, no, I didn’t think he’d mind if I signed his name 

to a scrap of paper: when the boy took it, he said, 
“Nobody will ever get this away from me,” 
in the voice, more hopeless than defiant, 
of one accustomed to finding that his hiding places 
have been discovered, used to having objects snatched 
out of his hands. Weeks from now I’ll send him 
another autograph, this one genuine 
in the sense of having been signed by somebody 
on the same payroll as the star. 
Then I’ll feel less ashamed. Now everyone is singing, 
“Old MacDonald had a farm,” and I don’t know what to do 
about the young woman (I call her a woman 
because she’s twenty-five at least, but think of her 
as a little girl, she plays the part so well, 
having known no other), about the young woman who 
sits down beside me and, as if it were the most natural 
thing in the world, rests her head on my shoulder.

It’s nine o’clock in the morning, not an hour for music. 
And, at the best of times, I’m uncomfortable 
in situations where I’m ignorant 
of the accepted etiquette: it’s one thing 
to jump a fence, quite another thing to blunder 
into one in the dark. I look around me 
for a teacher to whom to smile out my distress. 
They’re all busy elsewhere, “Hold me,” she whispers. “Hold me.” 
I put my arm around her. “Hold me tighter.” 
I do, and she snuggles closer. I half-expect 
someone in authority to grab her 
of me: I can imagine this being remembered 
for ever as the time the sex-crazed writer 
publicly fondled the poor retarded girl. 
“Hold me,” she says again. What does it matter 
what anybody thinks? I put my arm around her, 
rest my chin in her hair, thinking of children, 
real children, and of how they say it, “Hold me,” 
and of a patient in a geriatric ward 
I once heard crying out to his mother, dead 
for half a century, “I’m frightened! Hold me!” 
and of a boy-soldier screaming it on the beach 
at Dieppe, of Nelson in Hardy’s arms, 
of Frieda gripping Lawrence’s ankle 
until he sailed off in his Ship of Death. 
It’s what we all want, in the end, 
to be held, merely to be held, 
to be kissed (not necessarily with the lips, 
for every touching is a kind of kiss.) 

Yet, it’s what we all want, in the end, 
not to be worshipped, not to be admired, 
not to be famous, not to be feared, 
not even to be loved, but simply to be held. 

She hugs me now, this retarded woman, and I hug her. 
We are brother and sister, father and daughter, 
mother and son, husband and wife. 
We are lovers. We are two human beings 
huddled together for a little while by the fire 
in the Ice Age, two thousand years ago. 


One thought on “Cyberhug

  1. Pingback: I saw this and thought of you… | edgeofthebellcurve

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