COVID-19 Literature

How I compensate for the loss of physical touch

"We draw closer into ourselves at times like these to compensate for the affection and intimacy we can’t find."

By Muna Alkhateeb

I compensate for the lack of physical contact these days by growing tiny pecks of touch from my fingers on my skin. I find my fingernails scribbling softer lines across my cheeks; and on some of the many nights, I would be surprised to discover myself unconsciously embracing the length of my waistline within the cages of my own arms.

On other days, I would feel my hands cupping at my neck, scratching at my throat, playfully caressing my collar bones, fingers slowly slipping into my hair–as though trying to find a lost comfort; as though I was trying to calm myself before a natural disaster flings me towards the acuminate walls of this desolate room.

Every wordless night, I would make sure there’s a pillow fastened to my waist, for there is no warmth there except my own to lull me into rest. I wear sweatpants, sweatshirts, hoodies, and earmuffs even with the flailing air conditioning, not because I am sickly and cold, but because it is the closest thing to touch that I could ever grow into.

These crocheted blankets are now what my birthmother’s uterus once was, holding me closer to life than life ever has, tightening around my ribcage and constricting my breath, pacifying me into a gentle waning of the many moons I am yet to visit.

And even with all the immaculate warmth I lend my system, I still find myself woken at twilight, wondering when my patience will stream into sultry frustration–hoping to once more become replenished with a brief brush of another’s skin.

I draw closer into myself, rubbing my feet together, huddling my legs onto my chest like my feline friend does, slowly attempting to understand these newer meanings of solitude, and trying to discover contemporary shades of tangerine within this seclusion. I squeeze my own shoulder the way a father awkwardly does; the same way my palm hopelessly scoops at the desert dunes; the way a schoolboy naively teases their kindergarten crush. I remain at a loss, yet I still try to love myself the way God intended us to love each other–not with vanity, but with grace.

We draw closer into ourselves at times like these, not only because we are afraid of being alone, but because God has created our skin to be touched–to need compassion, warmth, tenderness. We draw closer into ourselves at times like these to compensate for the affection and intimacy we can’t find in our separations; to try to love ourselves the way God intended us to love each other– innocently, delicately, and intently.

Muna Alkhateeb is an Emirati writer and poet.

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