Once a week I take a Latin Hip Hop dance class. I've been doing this for years now. The teacher is a dread-locked ab-ripped prime specimen of dancer-athlete funk-man. Most of the girls in the always-packed class have a sort of crush on him and he radiates sexy wild confidence and charisma. I forget my cares there, and dance like no tomorrow, even though I am older by far than anyone else. Over the years, I've become friendly with my teacher; he's confided his heartbreaks and challenges; occasionally now he has aches and pains and injuries.
Tonight there were a few new girls. He interacted with one of them, as he often does-- guiding her through a routine-- and as he put his hand on her arm, she trembled and blushed to deep red. I had this flashback of being 15, an aspiring ballerina, in this African technique class with a well-known dancer named Rod Rodgers. We all had this giggly girl fascination with him; he was statuesque and beautiful, and he moved like a young god. He'd touch us to correct our posture or stance, and I would feel electrified. Walking home I would touch myself wherever he touched me and feel changed forever. He was always gentle and never inappropriate… he was strong and extremely tender, as though he was well aware of our fragile age and our beating hearts. I knew when I was older and found my soulmate, he would touch me exactly that way.
Over the years I have exchanged so many stories with hundreds and thousands of women. Some have been so violated and abused; some feared and hated men; others craved their attention mercilessly. I realized, in this class tonight, that my sense of men-- my personal barometer of the physical experience-- had so much to do with my dance teacher, and his lyrical personal tenderness with just the right mix of respect and love and no agenda but his professional focus. No shame, no awkward hesitation. He was strong and direct and perfect. Graceful. Nurturing.
When I met my first love, I wasn't completely sure until he touched me. Then I knew. I've had so many lovers since-- a couple of husbands, and many live-in partners. Not all of them were just right, but one or two were. I find it hard to fathom, in this era of online dating and Facebook romance, how anyone can sense this from a digital introduction. I don't even know how people can buy something as personal as a guitar online. I have to hold them. I can go through hundreds; then one is just right-- the Goldilocks thing… but harder. It's so intimate… your guitar… the neck, the body… you will be holding this thing and playing your heart out through this….how can anyone buy a guitar by spec and color and shape, like a mail-order bride? You will grow old with this, and become more and more entwined. It will become your voice, your muse, your friend. When your lover leaves, you will pick it up and it will cry for you.
When you have children, something in you knows how they need to be touched-- at least for some of us. They elicit some ultimate tenderness---especially when they are feverish or sad, or sleeping. You stroke their hair and some wonderful calm and quiet joy fills your heart. They grow up and you miss this. Sometimes you don't even realize that you miss this. I can't remember my tough father ever touching me… I am sure my Mom must have, but she was always busy. I had dogs. They were always happy to sleep on my bed and endlessly affectionate.
Last week I observed my son and his girlfriend. He touches her in this way that lets me know he has understood something. I hope this is what she needs; they seem to be so happy together, and this doesn't always last. Sometimes you get to this point where the mere touch of someone is enough to drive you mad-- the same person whose body you couldn't get enough of just a few brief months before. Such is life and passion.
I am older now; I can only remember the way I used to toss and turn at night thinking about my first great love-- how the separations were unbearable and the minutes felt like days… and how the nights together would pass-- sometimes we'd stay awake, to stretch them out. How I would dream about him. He died so young; I have a pack of letters which were painful for him to write-- the kind of letters you only write in your 20's when you are brave and burning up. I have these to remind me that it was real-- and to remind me about the touch.
Last night at a noisy rock club, a woman I'd just met was ill. She lay down on a bench next to me with her head in my lap, and I stroked her hair the way I used to stroke my son's when he was sick. I felt this wave of compassion--- of peace. Maybe this is what nurses have-- the ones with a calling; or caretakers. Maybe this is what love and passion become as we get older, because lately I have not thought about 'the touch'. Anyway, the woman got better.
I don't like people to play my guitars anymore… well, maybe a few people--- but only the ones I really love-- the ones that have 'the touch'. It's like having a new baby-- they are so innocent and clean and tiny--- and everyone wants to pick them up, and you let them, but it is unbearable, and you want everyone to hold them just right--with gentleness and a sense of what is exactly right for them. Some of us have this-- a kind of healing thing, a kind of 'connection' that made your husband not want to leave, that makes your kids know they are 'home' when they cry on your shoulder. And some of us may never understand this; some of us are warped by cruelty and have fallen in love with pain. Some people whack their guitars and smash things and feel better. I guess I used to do that occasionally too. But I know better, and I will always be grateful to Rod Rodgers, and I hope that new girl in my dance class and my own kids will pass on 'the touch'.