I spent February in Connecticut with my brother, and his wife, and playing with their two adorable toddlers, Di-di and Buddy. But mostly, I went to write. Connecticut in the dead of a long winter is a peaceful wonderland of nothing happening. It’s snowy and tranquil. Nothing to do but write.
I returned to Austin on a plane fighting an uncharacteristically lax jet stream, twenty minutes early. As I stood by the luggage carousel waiting for my oversized suitcase to drop down the shoot, I saw my Henry’s broad shoulders appear in front of the screen advertising arriving flights. He didn't see me.
It gave me time to gather my thoughts. I reminded myself that I should hug Henry. It seemed like the right thing to do. I’d been gone for a month, after all. I have to remind myself to do this. Henry is a hugger. I’m not. It isn’t in my nature. I’m twitchy and awkward, and I always feel like I’m doing it wrong.
Henry turned and I held my arms out, the international airport symbol for feel free to hug me now. And he hugged me, which is better. He’s good at hugging.
“You’re back,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you’d return.”
“Of course I came back. We have children and a mortgage,” I replied. “Also, I missed you terribly.”
I probably should have lead with “I missed you terribly”. Even though I write romance novels, romantic speech does not come easily to me.
“Well you never know,” he said.
“Yes, you do,” I replied. “You have plenty of empirical evidence to support the likelihood of my return.”
“You’re like the Dread Pirate Roberts of relationships," he said. "Good night Henry. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely leave you in the morning.”
Me: the Dread Pirate Roberts of relationships. I don’t suppose the Dread Pirate Roberts was much of a hugger either.
Austin has an all-woman a cappella group entirely devoted to singing the works of Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard de Bingen, in case you were wondering, was twelfth century abbess who wrote philosophical and religious tracts and a great deal of music. She was a renaissance woman several hundred years before the actual Renaissance, and several hundred years more before woman were allowed to imagine doing a bunch of crazy things like writing music and treatises. Hildegard is my hero.
Of course I wanted to sing in an all woman choir devoted the works of Hildegard de Bingen! Who wouldn’t want to do that?
I came to my first rehearsal absolutely out of my mind with excitement. But before we got to singing, we broke into small groups of five or six to “share our triumphs and sorrows of the day, to commune and hug it out.”
Up until the moment we broke into small groups, I’d had a pretty good day. I was stoked to sing Hildegard De Bingens’s music. But whatever good had gone before was totally subsumed in blistering rush of anxiety I feltat the impending hug-fest. When it was my turn to share, five very nice woman asked me what was bothering me, since I was just shy of hyperventilating.
I could hardly say “I don’t want to touch any of you. Please don’t hug me.”
I made something up, some terrible personal trauma, and I got through the hugging.
I never went back.
What about singing medieval music says share your innermost feelings and hug random strangers?
This was a while ago. The phrase “neuro-diverse" hadn’t hit the public consciousness. And I feel a little bad that I didn’t have that particular bit of language in my arsenal. Those very nice woman, who shared my love of Hildegarde De Bingen, would have understood, if I’d said:
“I’m ND, and I don’t like to hug, and sharing my feelings is difficult too. Do what feels right to you, and I’ll join you for the singing.”
I've spent a good deal of my life with my hands at my side, hoping to god that people wouldn't hug me. But being honest and upfront about my ND hug awkwardness has feed me from my hug fear. I'm much more okay with being hugged. I no longer expect hugging to feel like a perfectly soulful expression of togetherness. I know my hugs are awkward and I don't care. Hug away, if that’s what you like.