I move tomorrow. Dad’s house closes on Monday, and I’m moving out to a friend’s house until further notice. To have so many places where I’m welcome, it’s funny that none of these places has ever felt really like home. But this house has been a place of healing for seven years now. It was the first place my dad owned for himself. It was where I came after my first year at Tech. It was where I came to start re-assimilating after the hospital. It’s where I’ve lived for the past two months, beginning the most difficult and most important therapy of my life. This has been an important house.
It’s interesting the connections we make in life—to places, to things, to people. I just watched an episode of My So-Called Life. Claire Danes’ parting words were that “There’s so many different ways to be connected to people. There are people you feel this unspoken connection to even though there’s not even a word for it. There’s the people who you’ve known for forever who know you in this way that other people can’t because they’ve seen you change. They’ve let you change.” It’s amazing how true that is. People change. Relationships change. They ebb and flow, wax and wane, but they rarely disappear. That’s been an important lesson of late. People change, relationships change, but those connections stay constant.
When I was in the hospital, there was a solid two weeks where people couldn’t really touch me. I remember these fevers I would get. They came on fast, usually within five minutes, and they were brutal. I would shiver uncontrollably, my teeth chattering. I would beg and plead for heat. My night nurse, we’ll call him Nick, used to turn on the heat lamps for me, even when he wasn’t supposed to. He would turn them on just until the worst of the fevers would pass. I was so grateful. The warmth would settle over my body, and for those few moments I would weep with the pleasure of feeling even the slightest of comforts. When my mind seared with the freezing cold that sank down to my bones, I found comfort in something as simple as slight heat.
I got very good at predicting the fevers. I would call a nurse and tell her to go ahead and give me acetaminophen before the fever started. It took them nearly a week before they started listening to my intuition. In five minutes, my temperature would spike to 102 or even 104 degrees, and I would have to wait for the acetaminophen to kick in. In those 30 minutes, I would be inconsolable. The cold was just too much. And for a long while, I was getting these fevers when my family couldn’t touch me. The only comfort I could get was found in those heat lamps.
Human touch, connection, is something I think most of us take for granted. I was still having fevers when I started coming off the morphine, and I remember a particularly bad one that came before a cleaning. My father was there, and he held my hand. I could hear in his voice the utter delight he had in just being able to hold my hand for the first time in two weeks. I can’t describe the joy I felt in that slight touch as well. He said he wished he could crawl into the hospital bed and hold me, fight off the cold for me. But most of me was still in bandages. The fevers always passed, but the need to have warmth and human contact persisted.
For the next few months, and probably even longer, I was a very handsy person. In the hospital, I wanted to hold hands with basically everyone who came to visit, and I never wanted to let go. Before then, I was typically far more physically distant, even with close friends. In high school, we had a girl move in from Pittsburgh, but she had grown up in South Africa. She and I walked to the library once, and she held my hand for the trip. It was one of the strangest feelings in the world having her hand in mine. I’d only known her a few weeks, and the intimacy made my skin crawl, but I didn’t want to insult her by letting go. Americans are routinely described as being very staunch and cold. We don’t kiss one another in greeting, and we typically keep all our physical contact remote. It’s probably why we have such an obsession with human sexuality.
After those two weeks without physical connection, though, I craved it. I hugged everyone, held everyone’s hand. I couldn’t seem to get enough. As time went by, though, I returned to being more physically distant from others. While going on a walk during the ice storm in January, I had a friend take my hand to help steady me. Like with the girl in high school, I felt repulsed by the idea of having someone’s hand in my own. Besides those months immediately out of the hospital, I have generally jumped back and forth between desperately wanting to be connected to those around me and then suddenly feeling a giant disconnect. And for most of my life, I’ve thought that was normal.
It’s been a rather big revelation to realize that most people don’t feel disconnected from others when they don’t have constant contact. Just those two weeks in the hospital without human contact made me go crazy. Similarly, time away from others under normal circumstances has sent me into fits of anxiety, depression, and anger. I’m learning, just like when I got better in the hospital, that those connections aren’t lost even when they don’t feel intense. The year before I went into the hospital was a tumultuous time between my family and me, but they never stopped loving me. They never stopped being there for me. And when I came home, the love and connection were still there. Through everything, my ups and down and my changes, they continued to love me.
There are people from my childhood and others from my past who have come back into my life in recent years. It’s amazing to know that every person we connect with, we influence. Years later that connection still exists, even when the relationship has changed. It has been amazing to learn that love doesn’t fade, even when it changes. Pain fades, fever fades, anger fades, but those connections remain. We’d be lost without them. I’d be lost without them.