Wednesday, October 8, 2008

all up in my space

I've had more than a few problems with personal space while I've been abroad. I know I'm in a vastly different culture, where people kiss upon first introductions, where you push through people on the Metro, regardless of whether they're actually in your way or not, and where the private and public spheres are very much blurred. For the most part, I try to go with the flow. But as of late, I've been incredibly cautious - frightened, really - of anyone getting in my personal space. Physically or emotionally.

I purposefully didn't tell anyone about Kirsten's death. Well, I told my professors, so they could understand why I wasn't in class or in case I had to leave to take a call, but I really only told my roommate and my one other friend in this program. Until I went on this damn field trip. My one friend, who came on the trip as well, reminded me that on Friday night, I had a little too much wine to drink and told several classmates about what had happened. I called for a toast "a mi prima," and then answered questions about why we were toasting to the memory of my cousin. I regretted doing so as soon as I got back to school.

I love and very much need my friends. I'm a highly social creature, bordering on codependent. I want nothing more these past few days than to see my old friends, feel their embrace, curl up in bed and watch a movie with a certain person or other. But none of them are here, of course. And since I haven't really connected with anyone here in such a significant way, I haven't wanted anyone to touch me. At all. That was my primary motivation for not telling people. I don't want pity hugs. I don't want people who spend most of their time making an effort to ignore me to suddenly pretend they're concerned with my well-being. I don't need that kind of attention. I don't want that insincerity in my life, now or ever. So I've simply been going without. I literally hadn't touched anyone for a week and a half. Until today.

Here's the backstory. I'm the editor in chief of our program's newspaper/magazine. I organize articles, edit them, and, of course, keep on top of writers (students) to make sure they're on deadline. One of those deadlines was last night for the first round of copy. Writers were to have sent their completed stories to my personal email by midnight. I got about half the stories, and the majority of the others featured elaborate explanations about why this story or that story would be late. (Usually, this would drive me crazy, but unsurpisingly with my recent re-prioritization, it doesn't matter much.) Among these emails from writers was one from a fellow program student who attends a university back in Colorado. He and I have talked twice perhaps, since I'm from Colorado and he goes to school there (while I go to school in his home state, ironically), and he's on the paper, and we have a class together. We're facebook friends, but have never had a conversation outside the school building or academic subject matter.

There was an email from him. Here's how it started:


How are you? I was so terribly sorry to hear about your loss. I can't imagine what you're going through right now, and that such an awful thing has happened to you and your family. I've been wanting to tell you in person, and I will, but please, if there's anything I can do to make this easier on you, don't hesitate to ask. Really, anything at all...

And it made me smile, partially because it seemed sincere, and partially because it was unsolicited. I didn't tell him what happened, he wasn't on the trip... he just heard what had happened and was writing to check in.

Then, this morning, he pulled me aside in the hallway. Touched my arm, (I don't know if I was visibly taken aback by the physical contact), asked if I got his email. I said I did, and thanked him for it. He asked me how I was holding up. Told me he was impressed that I was at school, and about how strong I was being. Then he told me he'd read some of the things posted online about Kirsten, and mentioned specifics about the work she was doing. Said I should be proud to call such an incredible person my relative. Asked if I was really doing OK. I confessed that I'm a mess, and he asked, again, if there was anything at all he could do to help. I politely declined. We chatted for another moment or two, me avoiding his blue eyes which weren't moving from their focus on mine. Shuffling a little awkwardly as he placed a hand on my arm, and stayed there, less than an arm's length from my body. It was the closest I've been to anyone in a long time. As I looked down at the ground one more time, he asked me if I was really sure there was nothing he could do. I met his eyes, and stumbled over my words.

"Maybe this is weird, cause I know you don't me very well or anything, but, I mean, can I... can I have a hug?"

He smiled warmly, without a hint of irony or mockery. He hadn't finished saying "of course" before his arms were wrapped around me. I buried my face in his shoulder and neck as he tightened his grip. I took a deep breath in, for the most part of him.

As I pulled away, I felt a smile at the corners of my lips. "Thank you," I managed.

"Anytime," he said. "Really, I have an unlimited supply of hugs. If you need more, or someone to talk to..."

"You'll be the first to know," I finished his sentence.

He stayed standing close to me, still very much in my personal space. But for the first time in two weeks, I didn't feel nervous, being so close. I didn't mind him being there. Nor did I mind when he touched my shoulder as we walked down the stairs together after another class.

I'd very much like to think he was/is sincere. The hug felt real. It was warm, and comforting, and like what I'd expect from a real friend. And the fact that he took the time to not only write me, or find me in the building, or talk to me, but also to (maybe via Facebook stalking? I'd posted a link) read what's been written about Kirsten, to absorb it, to be able to talk to me about it... I hardly know what to make of it. I'm not used to people, especially here, being so compassionate.

And maybe that means I'm jaded. I wouldn't be surprised. But it also, thus far, has kept me from getting hurt. Or so I've felt. But now, well, I hate to prove my teachers right, but maybe I should let people here surprise me. Cautiously.

And who knows, maybe I'll take him up on his offer to talk. And for more hugs. It can't be a bad thing, right?


Amalthea said...

It's very rare in my experience for someone to go out of their way ONCE for you without sincerity.. much less multiple times. It may be hard for you to want to open up to him, but ... I am so proud of you for asking for the hug you so desperately needed.

I would trust his sincerity (even if he may also be motivated by your hotness, I know I would be) and if it's a way to help make a friend out there and get some support - go for it.

Maybe you should let people there surprise you - cautiously. <3 and virtual snuggles.

Amalthea said...

I'm so glad to hear I do say the right things to you, it's difficult with just blogs to go on to know if I am just burdening you with words you don't need to read right now, with meaningless cliches or platitudes. And what you're going through is so individual... I'm so humbled by the fact that I was able to say even one thing that meant something to you from where I am.

Oooh, he's cayoot! Yay! Just keep the hug in your head, hehe, and save the negative fantasies for neverland (and why yes, how did you know?, I do completely understand.)

You're adorable! I would love to see a gangsta walrus rap.. or even wrap. Anything it did would probably be entertaining, :).

Wilhelmina said...

I hope you're doing better now...

Yes, yes, and yes re: personal space / not wanting insincere concern from people / not forming significant friendships on trips. I'm so distrustful of people that I always think they have ulterior motives, but maybe this guy doesn't, he sounds very sweet =)