I don't like hugs anymore

Caitlin Upshall

April I see my family for the first time since I got sick and the world shut down. We stand twenty feet away from each other. I want them to hug me. We don't want Grandma to get sick. We don't want to take any chances. They do not touch me and I understand. It’s my birthday and I understand, but it’s a painful understanding. June I don’t see people. I don’t see buildings. I see freeway exits that used to mean Friday nights and an office building that used to mean staff meetings. I buy a park pass and pretend that I like solo hiking more than I actually like nature. I buy art supplies and paint people with their hands touching.

August Grandma keeps forgetting that we’re in a pandemic. She wants to talk about my life and asks all about my friends and any boyfriends or girlfriends or plans for travel and I don’t know how to pretend that I’m okay. I don’t want her to worry or get sick from worry or get sick. On a Monday in September I decide that I hate this city. On Tuesday, I decide that I love it. Love, I have learned, is a survival tactic. I have learned to love my apartment so that the walls do not dilate each time I hold my breath and I hold my breath even when I wear a mask like it’s a wish. I’ve stopped believing that it works, but I still do it. I love everything that makes me sad until that sad feels warm on my skin.

December I spend Christmastime at my mother’s home after quarantining for two weeks. To be frank, it’s not much different from any other week. My “intentional” quarantine is one less trip to the grocery store and staying on empty roads for my walks. After dinner, my mother tries to hug me and I have a panic attack. In that first April, I tell a friend, who also lives alone, that it’s been 67 days since someone touched me. I’m counting. We laugh, then we cry.

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Caitlin Upshall holds a B.A. in English from Western Washington University. Her work has been published by the tiny journal, OyeDrum, The Sweet Tree Review, Entropy Magazine, and others. In her spare time, she enjoys most things dinosaur-related and trivia nights. You can find her on Instagram at @CaitlinUpshall.