Skin Hunger

He had the most perfect falsetto she had ever heard… a distinctive combination of power and pure melody that sat comfortably in the upper register.  His delivery of “Stay with me” was moving, plaintive, dignified, raw, human.  She listened to it on and off over a period of about 3 weeks, loving it more with every rotation. But yesterday she just couldn’t get enough of it.  And this morning she woke up singing it. It’s like that sometimes.  She would get up with that song on her mind, and find herself singing it in the shower as she readied herself for the day ahead; her “soundtrack for today” is how she referred to these feelings set to music.
This Sunday morning her daughter had school business to attend to, so chauffeur duties dominated her list of things to do on what should have been a lazy Sunday in bed. She cranked up Sam’s plea as she backed out of the garage.
Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love ’cause I’m just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?

Oh, won’t you stay with me?
‘Cause you’re all I need
This ain’t love, it’s clear to see
But darling, stay with me

Why am I so emotional?
No, it’s not a good look, gain some self-control
And deep down I know this never works
But you can lay with me so it doesn’t hurt

“Well you’re loving that song” her daughter commented dryly.
There’s something about it that keeps tugging at me. It’s such a human, painful, honest confession… He’s obviously hurting and willing to compromise by having a superficial sexual encounter just to keep the pain at bay even for a minute. That’s a rough place to be in. I hope never to find myself there”
“Well you’re married, so that doesn’t apply to you, Mom.”
Married people get lonely too, Hon.”
She looked sideways at her mother.
Remember when our marriage started breaking down? It was a very lonely place… There was so much tension between Daddy and I. There was a huge ocean of resentment, hurt, anger, pain. Even the simplest of exchanges was difficult, tedious and loaded with double meanings and things left unsaid.”
She kept talking as the memories flowed, unbidden, as if they needed to be given a voice to set them free.
Skin hunger.  That’s what Sam was talking about in that song. Have you ever heard of skin hunger? That’s the basic human need to touch and be touched.  Premature babies have a significantly higher survival rate when they are allowed to rest on their parents’ bare skin. Sam wanted to feel physical contact with another human being. He needed it.”
She inhaled deeply… she couldn’t stop now.  She pressed on.
During that incredibly rough period, I had to go to the doctor.  He was on the phone when he motioned me in and told me to have a seat.  I was in no rush.  I smiled at him and sat down.  He mouthed an apology and indicated that he was wrapping up.  It was apparent that the person on the other end was in no hurry to let Doc go. He mouthed another apology as I sat there just enjoying a moment of having to do absolutely nothing.  I waved him off with a smile: take your time, Sir.  He seemed to be offering reassurance and after a few more minutes, he simply reached out and rubbed my ankle in yet another attempt to make amends for not attending to me sooner. That simple gesture startled me out of my skin. In that moment I realized that it had been so, so long since I had felt the simple touch of another human being in a kind context. I wasn’t hugging you or your brother apparently… probably too engrossed in my own confusing and painful fog. My mother wasn’t nearby. And whatever energy I had was one hundred percent allocated to my duties to you guys and my job, trying to control the things that I could actually control.  As he rubbed my ankle, the tears came. I literally had to pinch my palm to stop the flow and gain some control. I shifted in my seat, coughed, wiped my eyes all in an effort to hide my reaction and re-center. He eventually ended his call, and we went on to deal with the real reason I had come to see him that day.”
“Awwww, and you’re crying now, Mom.  Why?”
Sweetie, I don’t even know. You know that things are much better with Daddy and I now. But that was such a low, low period in my life.  The memory of how horrible a time it was is obviously still there, and I’m having some strong residual feelings. I don’t fully understand why I’m moved to tears. Perhaps I needed to simply exorcise them by giving them voice and wings.”

My mother would likely be appalled at this discussion!  How can you share these things with an 18 year old?” She countered her own self: “My daughter’s smart enough to understand. This is life and she needs to know that if and when she has a similar experience, that there’s nothing wrong with her. And that her own mother, who always seems so capable and omnipotent, went through and came out on the other side. She need never feel less than because of her own humanity.”

She wiped her eyes and selected the song again.  She cranked the volume with an apology to her daughter and sang along with Sam. With empathy. Loudly.