Stuff to Remember: A Brief History of Hand-holding

Stampa da Filippo Agricola Dante e Beatrice | 1820
  • People: my first boyfriend, but before that I think there was my first non-boyfriend. Going to a co-ed school grants these kinds of benefits, and you’d think that later it will no longer surprise you. As if getting your foot (or in this case, hand) in the door is something you can actually master over time (and in the case of some, it actually is), but it’s different every time. So there was my first boyfriend with whom I held hands under the table in grade school. Yes, grade school. You can go puke now.
  • And now for the double-dose of feelings: when did it become easier to talk about needing to get laid than needing to just hold someone’s fucking hand? Do I need to use “fucking” as a modifier at this point? I don’t know. The last person I went out with in the semi-serious, good Filipina girl way also held my hand under the table. I remember looking at him and he was sort of staring into the distance, as if he didn’t want any emotion at all to register on his face, because that would mean giving something away. And somehow, to give anything away at all is unthinkable in this day and age. When did this happen?
  • After that were the not-so-serious ones, the ones with immoveable deadlines which were usually set for the end of the night or the next morning. But what came with them was this earnestness that literally makes your face crumple.

  • People: Usually we’re walking somewhere, and this is why I feel that the love affair is never about the person but the place and the time of day, or something really insipid like the way the sky looked that night, or the air, or the unreal shroud of isolation from the rest of humanity (which isn’t really isolation, just about 4 shots of Jameson chased by…beer [which isn’t really isolation, or the way anyone looked that night, just plain inebriation]). Anyway, people: Paul is walking to my left and he stops and says, something about tonight being beautiful, and the sky is just lovely, “will you hold my hand?” And I said no, because it would have been weird, you see, we’d been friends too long, and this is a little late in the game for that, isn’t it? But if we take this moment, just nip out those few sentences, maybe this block of sidewalk, and transplant the whole thing to seven years earlier when I did hold his hand and somehow we didn’t end up together, I may have said yes.
  • But that’s not where we were then, now fast forward to about two weeks later, and now we are somewhere near Bryant Park, and Kenny stops and puts on his jacket. Then he puts his hands in his pockets, making space for my arm to go right through his, then he looks at me and asks if I mind “If we…” while gesturing to his right arm. And this is one of those moments where you magically sober up and somehow remember things. I barely remember anything else from that night, but before that we went to the museum and told each other stories about things we were looking at (“That’s your family.” “That’s your mom.” “These are your people.” “Etc.”). But I also remember saying yes to seeing the rest of the city arm-in-arm, and that made all the difference.
  • Before that there was Justin who picked up a tiny garland of pink flowers that had fallen off from something that was part of something else (this was right in front of the New Museum), and then gave them to me to stick in the buttonhole of the coat I was wearing. It was Berto’s coat, and the next morning it was covered with lint from Justin’s hoodie. I remember sitting next to each other at a bar with a red door, and when he took my hand we both just shut up, we both completely stopped talking and were roused from that contact high with very little to say to each other.
  • So there are times when you will give in, and it will freak your proverbial shit so hard because there are things revealed in the palm of your hand that you’re not quite ready to put out there. There was Gregory, who asked to see my palm, and I stuck my hand in his face, and he shook his head saying that’s not how its done. Then he took my hand, laid it flat on the table, palm-up, and beside it he placed a piece of paper on which was a diagram. And I laughed, thinking people who practice palmistry would actually know this shit by heart, but apparently every palm was different, and some of my lines were cut in strange places. “I’m not going to die am I?” I asked, and he said it’s not a cause for concern, “This is the farthest into the future anyone’s ever been.”
  • And then there was the boy I met through a mutual friend, who only put a label on it when he knew he could call that label a drunk text. We were leaving a comic book store, one that I passed earlier today, and I took his hand, and he stopped and smiled at me. Before that he’d pulled me aside to lecture me for having jumped and pushed him away when he tried to put an arm around my shoulder. “You’re the kind of person who’d trust strangers but you won’t let me touch you. People saw what you did.” He also cared about what people saw.
    Come to think of it, that may have been the first time I made the first move. On hand-holding at least. It may have been an apology.
    Come to think of it, talking about that one boy makes me very uncomfortable.
  • Before that was Brandon whose shirt was too long and whose cuffs were too long. Brandon was a poet. I said I’d never met anyone who actually called themselves a poet, and that now I felt this need to be more articulate or impress him in some way, and “But you already have,” was his answer.
    I hadn’t written anything as of yet (and was still in awe of anyone writing for survival) and we hadn’t had anything to drink and the bar was just about to close. So we walked around, ended up at the park nearby, and talked about (of all things) Man Ray and his brother and Dante and Beatrice and stupid tattoos and notebooks and when we finally ended up back at the bar, we tried to rejoin our friends, but they were in the middle of something else. We tried to get drinks, but the last call had long been last called. So he rolled up that long cuff, took a cigarette, put it in his mouth then looked at me, then offered me his hand. And that, I remember thinking, is how it’s done.
  • But before that, Mikey, and before me, Mikey had never really had a girlfriend, and the first girl he held hands with left indelible marks on his psyche. And I don’t remember being very interested in this (or in him, for that matter) when he told me about it. And I don’t remember him saying anything about being nervous at the prospect of being alone with me and having to take public transportation through parts of the city that were still completely foreign. I don’t remember putting my hand on his knee when I leaned out the window/door (because on a jeep, there’s next to no difference between the two), but he did. And a short essay he’d written about it fell out of a book I’d borrowed years later, and I thought, wow, if only I could remember things that clearly.
    The good thing is you still have a choice when it comes to committing yourself to these kinds of moments, not to inscribe them with meanings that aren’t actually there, just for the sake of something to smile about during those times when you feel like part of you has died with your willingness to commit or see that not every man is an asshole in sheep’s clothing or, I don’t even know, a man. Sometimes I think I know, but there are all these different ways to see things clearly, but the least you can do is just remember what you can.

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