Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Easy Affection


I remember the way we were free with our bodies—as teenage girls, with each other. I don't mean this in a sexual way, though perhaps in some cases there was a subtle undercurrent of flirtation, maybe even of longing (but who does not long for signs of affection?). Here I am remembering an innocent, unconscious pleasure. Among us girls, there was no sense of "personal space" between friends, and I think we were not even aware of our touches, much of the time. If we sat next to each other, we leaned shoulder to shoulder; if we sprawled on the ground with limbs outstretched, one set of legs draped over the other; an arm would curve around someone's back, rest on a shoulder for no reason at all. It must have seemed to anyone looking at us, that we wore each other's bodies like accessories. And how interesting, that this happened at a time in life when girls are so painfully self-conscious about their bodies in general . . . but how much sense this makes! The nagging insecurities of how we looked, how did we hold our bodies, or how should we touch another person, all belonged to the mysterious world of coupling. And if we were afraid we were untouchable (by boys, by a lover), then we had more than our share of touching within the safety of our own circle. Perhaps this was unique to the experience of boarding school (mine was coed), where young girls lived together intimately in suites of four, but I don't think so. There is something about teenage girls—I see them now, from my distance of years, on the street or in cafés—always touching each other in a taken-for-granted way that is all but impossible later in life. Even with these same friends, in an adult world, there is not so much room for touching. We hug, kiss cheeks, put an arm around a shoulder in a moment of consolation, but there is always a social intention now, a recognized reason for the contact. There are not many things I miss about the teenage years. I am thankful we only live them once. But I do miss the closeness of bodies, the easy physicality of affection that seems so alien to me now. I do mourn this.

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