Dearest Rachel –
After telling you about Daniel and his efforts to carry on your legacy of embracing others for various worthy reasons, I had other thoughts and memories on the subject, but decided that they merit a separate letter, so as not to distract from the good he was and is doing in following in your footsteps.
Personally, I’m not much for physical contact as a rule – I’m not sure if it’s a generic male thing or not. I recall some comedian refer to the fact that most guys slap each other on the back when they hug, as if to mitigate the fact of what they’re doing: “Yeah, I’m huggin’ ya, but I’m also hittin’ ya, so it’s all good!” It’s a way for cis, hetero males to affirm that, yes please, we are both cis and hetero, okay? It’s okay to treat a buddy like this, all right?
I don’t know whether it’s something we were taught back then (if it was, it wasn’t a classroom lesson, that’s for sure) or if it’s innate, but it’s always been a slightly uncomfortable position to be in with another guy. And when neither of us has shaved beforehand, it’s even more so, to be honest.
But you might recall when we were in college, at those Wednesday night B.A.S.I.C. meetings, how it was rather promoted among us all. There was one girl in particular named Elizabeth – not your eventual roommate, although I believe she would often accompany you there; this girl went by the unusual nickname of ‘Eli’ – who claimed that one needed a certain number of hugs each day to maintain emotional health. Less than that number (I want to say she insisted on ten a day, but I think that number was really a much more manageable four that one could get by on – kind of like the hours of sleep one needed each night, it was subject to debate), and a person would begin to die inside. So the group made it a practice before the end of the meeting to go around and hug each other, to make up for the presumed lack throughout the day.
Ironically, after setting that practice in motion within the group, Eli disappeared shortly thereafter. Well, not disappeared, exactly… she still lived, studied and worked on campus. It was that third part that caused her to remove herself from the group. She’d gotten a work/study position with the campus foodservice company; specifically, their catering department, which would serve the various dignitaries, events and prospective students that were frequent occasions on campus, but to which we rank-and-file students were rarely, if ever, a party to. For a while, she managed to maintain some work/life balance, and even would bring the occasional delicacy to the group meetings as a special treat, but once she was promoted to a managerial position in the department (and while she was still a freshman, no less! We were all proud and happy for her at the time), she had less and less time for extracurriculars like ours, and she was drawn out of our orbit. She didn’t even show up in the cafeteria at the student union anymore, as she was getting better fed from her job. Don’t know how any of that worked out for her emotional health.
To be sure, there are some times when a hug is just overdone. You remember Joe and those bone-crushers he was prone to, but it was hard to persuade him to tone it down a notch. He would even go so far as to pick people up; and while I don’t think it was specifically an attempt to call attention to how strong he was (although there’s absolutely no denying he was, and most likely still is), that probably was a part of it, to his child-like mind.
I did try once in a while to give him a dose of his own medicine, and have him see how he liked being treated that way, but when it turned out he did – or at least, he didn’t mind it – I gave up on that lesson fairly quickly. That, and since he was solid muscle, he was quite heavy for his size, so it was a lot of effort for no real payoff.
Meanwhile, Erin still gives a fairly athletic hug herself, although to her credit, she’s learned to dial it back considerably. That’s mostly thanks to Ellen, who will occasionally gasp ‘air!’ or ‘breathe!’ if she finds her grip too enthusiastic. Personally, I don’t mind it as much, but it does depend on where she holds on; my shoulders are fine, but the ribs are a bit more fragile. That may have been part of my problem with Joe, come to think of it.
Of course, these days, Daniel and I aren’t living up to Eli’s Rule ourselves. Apart from bidding each other goodnight, I don’t know how much contact Daniel gets with anyone anymore. You were always available to him back in the day, but not anymore. And as for myself, there are the folks, and occasionally Lars, but you’ve already heard me say how I’m not all that comfortable with that in the first place. So we’re probably not in a good place ourselves anymore – if we ever were.
There are good days and bad, of course. Several of the girls might be able to come over this evening, in fact. While it’s not the same as it used to be, the proximity is still appreciated. It barely gets us to that lower boundary, but it’s better for us than a typical day, in any event.
Anyway, I should probably do what I need to do in order to make the place welcoming for them. I will talk to you later, as that’s what I do these days.
Until then, keep an eye out for us, honey, and wish us luck; we’re going to need it.