THE RAPE OF THE HUG
do you say no to an honest hug
from a good man who likes you and wants
perhaps to love you? Does he
how you have spent your life in institutions
and only entered the adult world at age 53?
You still have so much to learn
about being a person outside of a hospital…
Does he – does anyone? – know how dangerous
even loving human contact is
how all contact is rape
even the gentle hugs you have
been tutored to give relatives and friends.
You only withstand them and hand them over
but you do not like them.
Though you know no harm is intended
if done, when he prolongs the hug, stands closer
and turns his head towards yours
you sense the threat
of a kiss you can’t for fear of hurting his feelings
though you feel no feeling
of wanting it
Roy (not his real name, though there is no chance of his seeing this) and I communicated almost exclusively by means of notes passed under one another’s doors for a long while. Oh, we would pass in the foyer or in the elevator and occasionally exchange greetings or ask how the other was doing, but we never had much in the way of conversation. I was always going somewhere or coming home from seeing Joe or Cy and was much too tired to want to talk. Also it was awkward to have a conversation in such a public place, what with the bored biddies in this place being so nosey and overly interested in what we might say to one another, however harmless.
You have to understand that this building has 250 units for the elderly and disabled, but it is in essence a community, and though some people like me keep to themselves, we nonetheless cannot help but recognize many of the downstairs regulars who sit in the lobby or in the community rooms and watch comers and goers and gossip about nothing all day long. Or gossip and spread rumors and hateful talk. There is a “circle of friends” that I hear is rather in-bred and exclusive with which I have nothing to do, being uninterested. But I know that others feel left out of it, and are in fact excluded. The Circle holds dinners downstairs and each member pays $5 a month for dues but they charge non-members $20 if they want to join them for any one dinner. I cannot imagine why anyone would, but there you have it.
Anyway, to get back to the tale (and I am telling it, mind you, because I am trying to get my mind off much more serious matters, of which I cannot speak at the moment…) Roy had not put any notes under my door for a few months when suddenly one appeared a couple of weeks ago. I had been feeling extremely troubled, and still am, so the note was welcome, as Roy has a philosophy of life that is very salutary and calming. Even if I cannot share it, that is, even if I find myself unable to trust it or believe that for instance this earth and this life is merely a school where we learn what we need to learn before we shed it and go on to what we need to learn next, even if I cannot believe that, I still like to hear him talk about it (in his notes). I responded and told him honestly how I felt, and what was going on that Lee, my doctor was concerned about as well. Roy responded by appearing at my door with a set of CDs — no, he couldn’t stay but he wanted me to listen to them, he thought they might be helpful — from the Dalai Lama discussing how science, specifically quantum physics and religion, especially TIbetan Buddhism complement one another.
No, perhaps memory doesn’t serve. Perhaps that was the time he did come in, did stay and we talked for about an hour before he had to leave. It was a very enjoyable conversation and I told him so. I told him specifically that he was not at all like Jacques, who came frequently to lecture me and pontificate about Thomas Merton and force his own poetry on me and never let me get a word in edgewise and if I did, gave it no thought or response. Our conversation, I said to Roy, had been an actual sharing, a con-versation in the real sense, not a monologue, and I appreciated that.
When he left he asked me to accompany him to the door, I said, sure, and got up, but felt a slight frisson, suspecting why he had asked. Indeed, I was correct, for at the door he turned and opened his arms for a hug. Not knowing how to refuse, and feeling unable to, I let him hug me, and tried to respond, though it was difficult and he sensed that, saying, “It can’t be that bad…” with a laugh. But he held on a long time, much too long for my comfort. Not that I was comfortable in the first place.
Then he said goodbye with a smile and blew me a kiss and left.
Well, that was that. He continued to sent me notes and one asked me to lend him my book of poetry. I left one in a paper bag at his door, telling him he could keep it. He hung the paper bag back on my door with a note that contained only a big smilie and an exclamation point.
I listened to one CD of the five he had lent me. It was difficult to pay attention, but I eventually managed to do so, washing dishes. Then one evening Roy knocked on my door (he has only a state-issued cell phone with very limited minutes on it) and I let him in. Again we had an enjoyable conversation and again when he left…well, the poem tells that tale.
But this time, well, I had to tell him how I felt. I knew that it would do me and him no good if I simply went along with this and pretended. I could not do it again, and just continue to feel raped. Things would eventually progress to a point where I could not tolerate even pretending…So I sent Roy a note explaining that while he had read both my books and thought therefore that he knew me well, I knew much less about him, and that he needed to go much slower. I did not enjoy hugging, not yet, and I was not experienced and did not know the ways of the world. I also said that I was used to rejection and would not fall apart if he never came back. I expected rejection from everyone so it would be nothing new. If he rejected me, well, that would also tell me something about him I should know now, before we got too close. I put the note under his door, and waited to see if a small yellow piece of paper, or even several, came back.
Well, I waited all the next day, and the next and the next. But no note came. Yesterday I returned the CDs in the same handled paper bag, and no note came. So I guess I know what Roy was all about, don’t I? It upsets me, as I liked him and thought he was deeper than someone just trying to get into my — well, you know the expression. I hate to think that that was all he was interested in, but maybe that is what motivates all men, after all. I do not know, truly, I do not. I have not had enough experience to know.
It is not that it had to be a platonic erelationship, I was willing to learn about relationships that were more than that, only that it and I needed time to grow. He ought to have known that, having read DIVIDED MINDS. But apparently like the men who forced sex on me in my younger years, he thought that he was different or better or — something. Well, he isn’t, wasn’t, and I learned my lesson, again.
One thought on “New Poem: The Rape of the Hug”
I think, absolutely, you did the right thing with “Roy”. You have to protect yourself. Sometimes this means saying “no”.
My best friend has paranoid schizophrenia and she does not like giving hugs. She does give them because they are expected of her by friends and family but I know she does not like it. I do not hug her out of respect. But I think, from the phone calls (she lives in a different state) and the cards and presents at Christmas that she knows I love her. The love is non-threatening – that of a friend.
My friend is celibate. She has been this way for over twenty years and it brings her great peace of mind.
You have to pick the life-style that brings you the greatest sense of sanity. If hugs are so traumatic you should advocate for yourself more and try to avoid them all together. Say to friends and family “If you love me, don’t hug me”. They will be confused. They may try to argue. I’m sorry that it is so difficult to go against a social norm. But I do think that you have a right to protect yourself.
By the way, I thought your poem said everything so clearly. I’m a big admirer of your writing and have been following your blog. One of the things I love in writing is simple, forthright expression, and I find this in your writing. And your honesty is wonderful. You may intend, or not intend to be an advocate for the mentally ill, but that is what I feel you accomplish. You are a voice for many who do not have a voice.
I’m so glad your blog exists.