There have been telltale signs.
I’ve been hugging all of my friends lately. All of them. A hug hello, and then a hug goodbye. I know when I leave they look at each other and say, “well hello Sister Huggy-Bear.” To make matters worse, I’ve become a weirdo at work, too. Nothing too inappropriate because, you know, I have to defend sexual harassment claims for crying out loud. But a pat on the shoulder or back seems to have become my uniform response at the end of an office chatter break. Worse, I’ve managed to execute an unsuspecting double-hand shake here and there. That’s right. I’ve involuntarily become the two-handed hand shaker. I no longer shake hands. I encompass and cradle.
This grosses me out.
And it’s not just my friends and co-workers. Today I absolutely smothered my children with affection like a needy – I don’t know – MOM. I wrapped my arms around them both at once and squeezed them and tickled them. I wrestled with them. I held them on my lap and I rocked and I brushed back their hair. I adjusted their clothing and walked alongside them with my arm around their shoulders. I held their hands and squeezed “I love you” and picked up The Preschooler on the stairs. I snuggled. I nuzzled. I – I – I even kissed them – on the lips.
So it’s obviously happening. If you do the math, it’s about right. On New Year’s Eve Husband’s absence officially made it into the triple digits. And now, at 100 days without him, the effects are starting to show.
I’m officially approaching the condition known as Affection Deficit Disorder.
The irony in this lies in the increasing number of experiences and concepts that “touch” me on a daily basis. The absence of Husband’s physical touch seems to have hyper-sensitized the other impact receptacles. For example, for dinner I ate the tiniest portion of whole wheat angel-hair pasta with ground turkey and marinara sauce. This was not a dish of carb-loaded salty sausage goodness. This is the brown grainy kind of goodness that passes for pasta and cooks up hard or mushy, but nowhere in between. This is the ground meat that starts out pink but cooks up white and sticks to the pan because it has no natural oils. Yet a fork-full entering my mouth was like a warm slow melt on my tongue that doused my thoughts for just a moment before bursting into tangy tomatoeyness. I stopped to sense every flavor change and it felt … satisfying. Sweet Pea even mimicked me at dinner. “Mmmmmmmm.” Can spaghetti really be meaningful?
Perhaps it’s like the body’s natural reaction to a disability. Our bodies compensate. The blind have a heightened sense of hearing. Those with hearing loss become master interpreters of body and facial expression. So I guess it makes sense that a loss of physical touch would lead to an amplification of emotional touch.
Confirmation that this phenomenon had officially arrived was solidified for me this weekend. It happened late at night. We were all piled in “the big bed” and the kids were long since asleep. I was checking emails on my I-device and trying not to wake them. I am addicted to these gadgets. Husband would call it “geeking out” one last time before bed. With a blue LED hue cast across my face in the blackened room, I scanned the list and saw a message from Husband. I nervously clicked on it with shaky but excited precision, ready to gobble up the words.
Lots of half-sentences and exclamation points littered the screen, but I didn’t care. Husband is not a wordsmith, and what he lacks in eloquence he makes up for in honesty. And right there, in the middle of one sentence, I saw it:
“Have been a bit sad during this season …”
Sad. He said “sad.” That shocked me. Husband doesn’t get sad. He gets “challenged” or he anticipates regret. He is built to warrior his way through things. He looks for the solution, the correction, the next step toward positive progress, or the lesson to be identified in order to avoid “the situation” in the future. This is why he is my guide. This is why I’m the one that gets “sad” and he’s the one that fixes it.
So this one little word, these three letters, they flooded my emotional touch receptors as if he had described some great grief in excruciating detail. But it was just a word: “sad.” It wasn’t even a particularly descriptive word for an emotion.
Almost as if it were a nostalgic photo, I felt transported back 100 days prior to that very spot. I was huddled in the dark in the same divot on our bed. It was two nights before his departure, and we laid there in silence. I was thinking about loneliness. My face was wet, and his arm was under me. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t speak. I just cried and covered my face with my hands. I remembered that he had used that word then, too. As if my tears had created something that required a response, he had whispered:
“I’m sad, too.”
The sentiment touched me again now. And there in the dark I reached out to hold a sleeping child’s hand where my husband had been before, and I pressed my I-device to my heart, and I let it go over that one silly little phrase. Predictably my nose quickly plugged and my upper lip swelled and my eyes burned. I eventually opened my eyes and wiped the tears and sat up so I could breathe. I tapped out a response that was less guarded than it should have been. And as I proofread it, I saw my own simple words staring back at me:
“I’m sad, too.”
It turns out that really is the best word to describe these feelings, after all. There are so many other words that just don’t apply. I am not fearful. I am not defeated. I am not extinguished. I really am just sad sometimes.
I was left thinking about that simplicity, and how different it could be with a different history, different friends. Even visually, the word is short. Just like this season. This mobilization remains above all else a temporary condition, and in truth, it hasn’t been all bad. It has seeded new ideas in my mind about what I am truly capable of doing, it has grown my affection for being appreciative of what I have, and it has required me to tap into parts of my imagination and memory that I have been ignoring for a long time. I’ll admit, it hurt to sit in the dark and cry with a cold blue mobile screen held to my chest. But I’m ready. I’m ready for the internal touch receptors to engage during this phase. Because it’s all temporary. It is.
And clearly, I’ll be eating a bunch more of that whole grain pasta.