Being touched is something most people take for granted. It just happens. A hug from a friend, a hand being held, a pat on the shoulder for reassurance. These small moments of physical affection aren't milestones for most people. They are events that are just done. They are like drinking a glass of water, doing up buttons, putting one foot in front of the other.
For me, these small moments of affection are shelved away in my memory like wines in a cellar. And for the big moments of physical affection, I want to hold a press conference. I want to tell the world that I've been touched.
Lots of affection
I received lots of physical affection from my parents as a child. I would sit in between them on the couch since before I could remember. Dad would curl my hair around his fingers. He'd give me animal rides on his knee.
My Dad is not a big hugger, though. Nor are my grandparents. I think it's an English trait. Our hugs are clumsy and brief. It is like two humans in bear suits, just patting each others' backs gently. I was never allowed to sit on my grandfather's lap because I'd make it dirty. This is my main memory of time spent with him as a child.
When I was a child, Mum would sit with me every night combing the scale out of my scalp. I could not imagine letting anyone else doing this. It's such a private experience. My scalp and emotions often equally raw. The feel of the comb on my scalp was both pleasurable and painful. I used to cherish this time I spent with my Mum. We'd make up our versions of fairytales. I'd also tell her what happened in my day. It was often of how kids at school were afraid to touch me.
Bullied at school
Getting bullied at school was fortunately not often physical. Kids were too afraid of catching my skin condition. But despite the isolation, teasing and name calling, I still wanted to join in on their playtime. Play often involved physical contact. But they didn't want me to get my cream or skin on them.
I wanted to have my hair plaited by the other girls. I wanted to have my thumb touched in heads down thumbs up. I wanted to have my hand held by a friend. When it did happen, I was so excited. It meant that I was normal like everyone else.
When I heard the lyrics to the Darren Hayes song Unlovable, it felt like I had written them.
Is my skin untouchable? Hayes sings.
Do I remind you of a part of you that you don't like?
At intimate concerts in 2004 and 2007, Hayes hugged me from the stage. In 2007 he also kissed me. I can still feel his bristles against my cheek. A celebrity's touch is pretty special. Especially when for so long no one ordinary wanted to touch me.
Hugs and kisses
Hugs and kisses as greetings seem commonplace now, even between strangers. Sometimes in a group situation, other people are hugged and kissed when saying hello or goodbye. I am left standing there awkwardly waiting. I wonder if they don't want their cheek to be smeared in my Vaseline. Or perhaps they worry about having their clothes peppered with my skin. People close to me don't mind.
I wonder if the reluctance by people to touch me is not fear. Perhaps it is just genuine worry their touch will hurt my skin. It generally won't. A hug is warm. It can often make me feel better. Even a sales' assistant's hand brushing against mine when they give me change can give me shivers.
I wonder whether my skin is so sensitive is why the feeling of being touched is physically and emotionally heightened. I don't think my nerve endings are more sensitive than other people. But it's like my skin is more receptive to touch because isn't an every day occurrence.
The best feeling
A casual touch can feel miraculous to me. A pat on the arm meaning
it's good to see you can make me smile all day. More intimate touching is literally etched into my memory forever. After so many years of peoples' repulsion at touching me, the times when I've been intimately touched are amazing. It doesn't have to be sexual. It could just be hand holding, a brush of an arm to indicate interest, or a kiss on the face. They're all electrifying. The best feeling in the world.
When I have had boyfriends I never felt like I woke up with my skin dry like I do when I sleep alone. It is as though touch nurtures me. Last year a strange thing occurred. As I slept in a man's arms, I dreamed of him holding me. I wondered whether this was my body's way of responding to a form of deprivation. It was like I was drinking up the sensory overload of being touched.