Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The white wall of my refrigerator

There is a leak from the refrigerator that appears from time to time and floods the bottom layer underneath the crisper until water spills out onto the floor. If I am not careful to catch it in time and the water pools for days it can cause the wooden parquetry under the fridge to split and buckle.


It has already happened several times and I fear that the boards will soon lift, distort and go out of place. Every morning I check for leaks.

It is only a new fridge, or relatively so. Is it a design fault? I have found this problem with other fridges before. Or is it the fault of my – I stress ‘my’ but I am not the only one who uses the fridge, the result of ‘our’ tendencies to overload?

A refrigerator repairman once told me that I should take care not to let anything touch the back wall of the fridge. This can cause the problem and certainly as long as I have remembered to pull things forward and make sure that not so much as a tomato touches the back wall the leaking is not so bad.

But it is easy to push things backwards. In fact that is the general tendency: load up the front and all the things already inside make their way to the back where eventually they come in contact with the white wall.

The sensitive white wall that cannot bear contact of any sort. The wall that prefers to remain untouched, like an autistic child who fears connection.

Now is as good a time as any to bring it up. Now is as good a time as any to talk about touch. When I rub the sorbolene cream into my mother’s legs, each time I visit her at her retirement village, I can sense the pleasure she gets from those soothing hands rubbing up and down her tired legs.

I focus on the dry bits, any small eruption of brittle skin. I focus on her heels which she tells me give her pain from time to time. These nights she can only sleep on her back. She does not turn as much as she once might because of her arthritis, because of her shortness of breath, and so her heels rub up against the sheets and over time they have become cracked and worn. I rub in extra layers of sorbolene cream and smooth it in to work against the dryness, to get the circulation flowing again.

It is a good time for conversation. It is a good time for connection but because I am the toucher and my mother the passive recipient I can feel safe and in control.

I am not so sure how I might feel were I on the receiving end. For you see, touch to me is dangerous. It exposes raw ends. It stirs up unfathomable feelings, longings, revulsions, fears. It is better therefore to stay like the refrigerator wall, to keep my distance.

I feel it whenever it comes time to say farewell to my children. Do I kiss them on the cheek as is the custom for so many loving parents? Do I give them a hug?

No, I hang back awkwardly, as if fearful of contact. If they are leaving for overseas or going away on a long trip I can overcome this hesitation and will hug them in farewell. I will also hug them on their return, but in the day to day comings and goings of our lives, I fear such intimacy.

Some people are too free with their hello/goodbye kisses, but not me. I think about them. I measure the moment.

And here my childhood mantra applies: ‘If he touches, you scream’. My sister's words ring in my head and I set my body rigid. I become the fridge wall. I brace myself for contact, as if a knife is about to slice open my skin.

The days of leaning over my father to say goodnight, to receive the scraping of his rough thumb and finger on my forehead float across my memory.

My father scraped a sign of the cross on the forehead of each of his children at bedtime. The sensation stays with me. My forehead bears the mark. The long frown mark down the centre, worn away through the years like my mother’s heels, a mark of his presence and a reminder to me to avoid touch.

My father’s yellow nicotene stained fingers, the nails clipped short and clean, the smell of his brandy charged breath, the scrape of his accented words across my ears.

‘Goodnight,’ he says in Dutch. ‘Goodnight,’ we say in English.

The thought then as we all stand awake at this moment in one another’s company: we are safe but later in the darkness when each is scattered into her own bed, when my father starts to wander the hallway and check out the rooms in search of companionship, then I freeze over and turn into the white wall of my refrigerator.

Do not touch me.

If you touch me I will burst open and leak. I will spill all over the floor. I will cause your foundations to buckle and eventually I will break down.

99 comments:

Margie said...

Elizabeth, how very nice to have you visit me today and leave the comment, it was very much appreciated.
Thank you for the follow.

I'm just heading out to dinner and have no time to leave a comment on this post, so be back later, probably tomorrow.

Till then, take care ...

Andrew said...

It is a cultural thing. Australia did not have that huggie/kissy way that it now does. Kisses were a peck on the cheek usually from a relative not seen often or the dutiful goodnight kiss of child. I now participate in the present culture, but not very comfortably and I don't encourage it. I must sound like such an old grump.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry this memory has affected your freedom to 'touch' others Elisabeth, especially your family. It is cruel and unusual punishment.
I am a tactile person and rely on physical contact with everything. If something ever contaminated that I would be devastated.
I devised a phrase for my young boys when they learned to walk to school so they would not ignore warnings but think about what they were doing.
"Every time you have to cross a road, remember that I love you." They would have to repeat this as they left each day and it has now become a farewell mantra with each of them as they have grown and physical contact between mother and son has changed. However, the sentiment remains and now takes on a new meaning for them as adults.
Maybe you could create your own personal 'touch' that takes away the awkwardness.
As for the fridge - aren't new appliances like small children made to stay with a disliked relative?
Karen C

Rubye Jack said...

My family still is not one for hugs and kisses. When we were kids there really was none of this huggy stuff, that is until all the transcendental stuff started coming into vogue in the 70's. Then all of a sudden it seemed everyone was hugging everyone. Personally, I like having some distance.

Alittlesprite said...

When my sister married we met his side of the family.. they were greeting Huggers.. I found it extremely odd. Hugging someone I didn't know.. I feel a hug is something reserved for someone you know more intimately, like immediate family or very close friends.

Isabel Doyle said...

So many interesting threads here Elisabeth.

When we met, our handshake was tentative, hesitating, but firm. I felt very much it was an experiemental handshake - not so much a test but a promise and alert for tendrils of offence. When we said goodbye, I thought /?felt that our hug was spontaneous and warm and generous. Somehow an affirmation of the experience.

Here in Exile, there are many Europeans in our circle. It is the done thing to kiss on the cheek two (the French and Italians) or three times (the Dutch and other northern Europeans). There is also an agressive handshake which I find painful and feels like an attempt at domination. When I try to avoid it by either offering only the tips of my fingers or making some excuse not to offer my hand at all, I get frowned at and cast disgusted looks. Usually I try to arm myself with a glass or food so that I can get away with nodding but that doesn't always work.

Recently in Australia when I was giving dutiful kisses I would turn to give the second and third out of habit, to find the cheek turned away, which was rather disconcerting.

This is all the easy stuff though, isn't it? The intimacy of family life, the hugs and kisses, the 'I love yous' are much more loaded and fraught.

Your experience as a child, turning the white wall of the refrigerator against unwelcome touch would haunt me too. Physical abuse is tangible, almost quantifiable and (in the right circumstances) the perpetrator can be charged and convicted. Emotional abuse is so much more subjective, deniable and ephemeral. I would not say one or the other was more damaging only different.

As for the fridge - have you checked to see if it is level?

Best wishes Isabel

Windsmoke. said...

Fridges and other household appliances tend to be temperamental now and then just to annoy and stress you out just like my washing machine of late, which squeaks and squawks during the spin cycle. I've had the machine checked and was told it will stop doing it in the future, how far in the future is anyones guess :-).

Taradharma said...

I am profoundly sad that your childhood experiences with touch were so horrible...I have been married (twice) to people who were similarly affected, and it did terrible harm to their ability to be physically affectionate. It is heartbreaking.

I like how you use this as a metaphor for the refrigerator, though. Very clever. Unlike people, that frig must have a warranty on it, yes?

Elizabeth said...

This left me breathless. The way you tell your story is brilliant -- you truly have a gift for building tension and making it all the more powerful. There's something slippery and sly -- astounding, really -- about your choice of words and the calm voice beneath them.

I ache for you, what you remember.

Elisabeth said...

It's lovely to see you here, Margie and I look forward to meeting again. Thanks.

Kath Lockett said...

Oh Elisabeth, this is such a clever and touching and beautiful and heart-wrenching piece of writing and self-realisation.

‘If he touches, you scream’ - what a talent you have, despite everything you endured growing up. What kindness you show your mother and your imagination and ability to see a parallel in something as ordinary as a fridge is breathtaking.

I think that your kids and your loved ones know that, despite not being a kissy person, you love 'em.

Perhaps it's not the best time to warn you that, should we ever (sorry, 'when') meet in person, I *will* be hugging you.

Elisabeth said...

I have noticed the physical expressiveness gone into overdrive with the young women of my daughter's generation, though often the hugs from a distance look like 'air hugs'.

And I'd hardly call you a grump, Andrew, for this observation, just discerning.

Thanks.

Jim Murdoch said...

Starting in 1985 I began to write a series of poems that came to be known as ‘The Drowning Man Poems.’ It began with this one:

      WHITE LIGHT

      Did you ever think you might have
      done it because you wanted to?
      She said after.
      No need to apologise.

      Drowning inside I close my
      eyes allowing such feelings
      to cover me as will.

      Unaware of their names I
      open my mouth to the waters.

       (For H.)

      19 June 1985

I had known H. all my life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know her. She was a part of our congregation but she and her husband were closer friends of our family than most not that anyone ever got to be proper friends with our family but that’s another story. Once I grew up—I would have been twenty-six when I wrote this poem—I had branched out and developed my own friendships and H. and her husband, although a good fifteen or more years older than me, were two of them. I was going through a bad patch in June of 1985. They’d discovered me wandering down the harbour and has driven me home to talk not that I felt I could fully open up but I went through the motions to make them feel better. At the end of the evening H. saw me out and, quite unlike me (I was brought up in a household where no one hugged anyone) I grabbed a hold of her and clung on for dear life. Once I’d had my fill I tried to let go but, much to my surprise, she continued to hang onto me for a little longer. There were two things she said to me that day that I’ve never forgotten. The first was to explain why she refused to let me go: “Did you not think I might have needed a hug too?” No, I didn’t. She has a husband to hug. Why would she need to hug anyone else? The second was in response to my attempts to try and explain why I’d hugged her: “Did you never think you might have done it simply because you wanted to?” Both of these questions completely took me aback. The latter one was the one that really got me though and it’s what I explore in part in Milligan and Murphy: there are no reasons for unreasonable things. I had never imagined that wanting to do something was as far as I needed to go in analysing my actions. I assumed that there had to be an underlying reason why I wanted something, an ulterior motive staining the purity of the moment. Of course there always is an explanation, an answer, but it isn’t always a reason, i.e. it doesn’t necessarily spring from the intellect. I didn’t think before I hugged H.. I felt. And I went with that feeling. This is where the Drowning Man appeared, a man drowning in emotions but who never drowns. That was me back then.

This is the last poem in the sequence. By this time I was hugging anyone and everyone. I had discovered this monster, this emotional vampire, inside me who was forever needy and never satisfied. It wasn’t a sexual thing—it really wasn’t—but it might as well have been because of the guilt that went with it:

      THE DROWNED MAN

      He is undead.
      He comes from within
      and his name is Hunger.

      I bring him women
      to help feed him
      because their feelings are the strongest.

      They give him guilt
      and fear
      and pain —
      now there's a feeling
      to sink your teeth into.

      25 June 1989


Mary said...

Delurking for the first time in months to say that my own (dutch) father also used to sign the cross on our foreheads every night.

For us it provided the greatest of comfort and is a memory I treasure.

Never would I have thought that another girl might find it ...less comforting (indeed I have never known of another father who did such a thing).

Elisabeth said...

R.H. said...
My daughter is an adult now, and as sociable as ever. I kiss her on the forehead and really mean it. When she was about three years old we stayed in a caravan park at Venus Bay, right on the beach. She invited herself into a nearby caravan where there was a young couple with two kids, and an older woman who may have been an aunt or grannie. One day she (my daughter) went down to the beach with them and they should have checked with me because she told them I'd said it was okay but actually I didn't know a thing about it. Anyway they were leaving the next day, this crowd, and when they got back from the beach they all said goodbye to her. Then the older woman came forward, knelt and wrapped her arms around her. It lasted a while.
I've seen people hug someone but never with that sort of feeling, an immense sadness and so much love.

Elisabeth said...

Sorry Robert. I tried to shift your comment and in the process it looks as though I said it, and you know full well I did not.

In any case I'm moved by your comment. The older woman who hugged your daughter on the beach, her genuine love. It happens so rarely in life that we can connect with even those we know and love. To see such affection passing between people who have only just met, is beautiful, especially between an old woman and a child, your child. It's heartening to read.

Thanks, Robert.

jabblog said...

You make a fascinating analogy between the fridge wall and yourself.
'Dutiful' shows of affection are often difficult but spontaneous hugs and kisses are surprising and rewarding when both parties feel similarly. Of course, sometimes that's the part we get wrong! Our ability to read each other's signals is not always very acute.

R.H. said...

She knew she wouldn't see her again. It overwhelmed her.

Zuzana said...

Dear Elizabeth, what a very prolific post with so many twist and turns and so versatile subjects.
Of course, the last part was disturbing - it always is to me when you talk about your farther as it is so unthinkable and unimaginable to me, when I think of my own loving father.
Likewise, I love touching and to be touched, the physical proximity and manifestation of affection by kissing and hugging is a big must for me, and how lucky I am to have no experiences in my past, which would cloud and distort this simple and yet vital pleasure...
As for your fridge, never heard that nothing must touch the back wall, our little fridge at home is stuffed with stuff.;)
Great writing dear friend, one that certainly moved me.;)
xoxo

River said...

I'm wary of touch too, have been all my life, although for me there was never any abuse. I just preferred distnace. In later years, when I was a teenager, my mum would always get right in close to my face to be sure I was listening to her. I hated that invasion of space too. So I haven't been very huggy or kissy with my own kids and I wished I could have been. In recent years I've tried to be, but it just feels wrong now, and I can see that the kids are wondering why I'm hugging them. I love them and they know this, so I'll just leave things the way they've always been and be happy that at least the grandchildren have been hugged a lot more as they were growing up.

Oddly enough, when I met my second husband I was happy, even comfortable, to be hugged and held, and I still hug him hello and goodbye whenever I run into him now.

River said...

Oh, I forgot about the fridge, have you checked the hose that is supposed to feed into the drip tray? Many more modern fridges may not have these, but some models still do. Perhaps the hose is dripping on the floor instead? Or possibly the fridge is uneven like another commenter said. The feet may need to be adjusted slightly. I've NEVER been told by anyone not to let things touch the back wall of the fridge, but I have read that the back wall of the freezer section should have enough space for proper air circulation.

Ms. Moon said...

This is so powerful. I know, I know exactly what you mean. Different circumstances, perhaps but very same story. Even and including how to say good-bye to Mother.
And I cannot rub cream into her feet.

susan t. landry said...

this is beautifully written, elisabeth, the kind of writing that to me is an intuitive expression of how memory works. you start off with one thing, and then you end up somewhere else, but it's not at al random, there's an elegant thread that gracefully stitches up the leaps that the conscious mind doesnt acknowledge.
devastatingly powerful: the white wall, and the father roaming equally vivid, real, important.
thank you.

David-Glen Smith said...

Elizabeth:
You always build interesting connections between what seem random objects-- I envy that talent.

Often your posts leave me wanting to discuss more-- not from a lack of information, but rather to express a commonality or a similar interest.

Loved the line: "The wall that prefers to remain untouched, like an autistic child who fears connection."

Rose said...

Terrific post! You know how to have your readers eating out of your hand!
Brilliant :D

Kirk said...

The repair guy said you should never let things touch the back of the refrifgerator? If that's true, then broken fridges should far outnumber working ones.

Love that photo you provided. For some reason you never struck me as the refridgerator magnet type. I have to say it's a pleasant surprise.

I'm not a huggy person and my immediate family aren't huggy people. My brother married into a huggy family, whom I see a lot at holidays and what-have-you. I'm gradually adjusting their customs.

I saw a woman who used to work in the same place I did. I got along all right with her, though we were hardly best friends, or friends at all. Anyway, she sees me, and moves in for the hug. I immediately recoiled from her. Instinctively. There's was no forethought involved. I mean, I didn't make a calm, rational decision to recoil. I just DID. I don't think I even realized I recoiled until she stopped her forward motion, and gave me a look. The look said, "Oh, you're one of THOSE, a hug recoiler!" I've often wondered if I didn't hurt her feelings. If I ever see her again, I think I'll apologize for recoiling. Hopefully, she'll forgive me. Only thing is, suppose her act of forgiveness involves hugging, and I once again recoil? I better take some muscle relaxents first.

Rob-bear said...

I hear your story, with all it's sadness. I understand it as part of your life story, with it's sadness, too.

The experience of touch is so important. As you understand with your mother. There are many other stories of the importance of touch. I feel sad that you are not very comfortable with physical contact.

I am slowly turning into a "huggy bear" on my human side. But I am careful to ask; I have one friend who really does not like to be touched.

That aside, blessings and Bear hugs (if that's OK for these non-physical hugs).

Margie said...

Elizabeth, back again!
I must tell you that you are a wonderful writer!

I loved reading about how you rub the cream on your mom's feet, such tenderness!

I felt such a deep sadness as I read, 'if he touches, you scream'
My heart ached for you!

May joy encompass your day, Elizabeth!

I love to hug and send you a warm hug today!

Christine said...

I have always taken the idea of not allowing something to touch the back wall of the fridge to mean that one should leave space between the wall against which the fridge is put.(Not on the inside) Without that space the air does not circulate and the cooling system does not stay as cool as it should. But I may be wrong. River also has the thought that the fridge is not even or some hose is not hooked up properly. Perhaps a fridge mechanic might be able to advise?
Apart from that I am not from a huggy family... is it a generational thing?... love is expressed in myriad ways and the 'kissy stuff' can feel a little fake. I am all for genuineness, really.

Pandora Behr said...

Lovely pose, Elisabeth. The bit about the sorbolene on your mother's legs got to me. In one of my other incarnations I'm a masseuse. I know how amazing the wonder of such simple touch can me (and older women appear to get more from massage than any other subset of people)

By the way, when we met, we put our arms around each other.. who says you're not touchy.

Great post.

pand

Elisabeth said...

Sometimes we talk about these anomalies, Karen, this occasional stiffens at times of greetings and goodbyes, but I think that what we lack in physicality we might try to make up for with words, not words of affection necessarily but words of directness, which perhaps and hopefully have the same beneficial effects as your encouragement of your sons. Clearly it bears different but equally beautiful fruit now.

Thanks, Karen.

Elisabeth said...

It seems very subjective, Rubye Jack, this need for physical closeness or a need for some sort of distance -like most other things in life, I suppose. And I expect a great deal has changed, culturally at least in America and Australia, and other English speaking countries since the 'make love not war' mantras of the seventies.

Thanks, Rubye Jack.

Elisabeth said...

So again AlittleSprite, you demonstrate some of the idiosyncrasies that crop up vis a vis physical demonstrativeness: that it differs from person to person.

I wonder did you ever get used to your in laws' 'hugginess'?

When these things happen they can tend to break down our ways. Perhaps your in laws become a little more formal in response to your lot, and your lot becomes a little more demonstrative. But it's subtle and might be scarcely visible, especially to those inside.

Thanks, ALittleSprite.

Elisabeth said...

I shall check out whether the fridge is level, Isabel. As for those European hugs and kisses, especially the kisses, I know them well.

For the Dutch it's three pecks in order, on one cheek then the other and then back again. My Dutch relatives tend to be fairly determined in this regard.

My mother's family is much more demonstrative and as you can see problems with my father's side, cloud the issue.

In any case, how we express our affection towards our children is invariably loaded, as you suggest, Isabel.

It must be harder in exile when so many different cultures come together.

Thanks, Isabel.

Elisabeth said...

What's that expressio, Windsmoke? - the ghost in the machine. It seems there's one in most, your washing machine, my fridge. I hope yours quietens down soon, and not too far into the future.

Thanks, Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

That's true, Taradharma, people don't come with warranties, you get what you get and you can't hand it back for repair free of charge within the warranty period. As for your two first husbands, their difficulties I imagine have helped you to become the compassionate person you are.

Thanks, Taradharma.

The Elephant's Child said...

I also put up walls against touch. I am careful and I hug awkwardly on the occasions it is obviously expected.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for your flattering words, Elizabeth. I value your writerly opinion very much and I'm grateful for the ache. Empathy can go a long way.

Elisabeth said...

It strikes me there's a discord between the internal world from which I most often write, Kath and my actual public persona. That said, I think I could and do manage hugs very well, and at times I even offer them, but internally there is another aspect of experience which I've tried to explore through this writing.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

Those women, Jim,
' They give him guilt
and fear
and pain —'

And much else I imagine, like comfort and joy.

In my family, Jim, there were two powerful opposing currents, the one of Catholic inhibition fed by my mother, her prudishness, her guilt, her sense of the way things should or should not be, including in relation to sexuality; and on the other side, there was a great furnace of unbridled sexuality oozing from my father.

He would embarrass us kids by making lewd suggestions to certain of my aunts, particularly the youngest, better looking, Australian born one, and comment about their breasts, that sort of thing. And the Catholic controlled members of my mother's family would blush and say nothing.

I'm sure such experiences have fueled some of the things I write about.

Your poems here and the story behind them are beautiful and so poignant. Touching, indeed.

When we are little, it's easy to touch, as long as we don't get the message too soon that it's 'wrong' because it's somehow sexualised by the adults and our own infantile sense of sexuality which is so much more primitive cannot make sense of adult passion.

As we grow and recognise the significance of touching and of being touched it becomes so much less simple.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

It's good to hear Mary that there is a dutch girl and her father who found the evening ritual of a cross on the forehead beautiful and nourishing. I suspect that's the way it was first intended.

Thanks, Mary. I'm glad to see you out of lurking position and on the page.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad the analogy worked for you, Janice. Fridges are such wonderful metaphors on so many levels, and yes, I agree people often struggle to suss out each other's intentions and the meaning of our actions, hence misunderstandings abound.

Thanks, Janice.

Elisabeth said...

To have a good and loving relationship with your father, Zuzana is precious, indeed. I can only imagine it. I see my daughters have a far better relationship with their dad compared to his with his father and me with mine. But I would not consider that their relationship with either parent is exemplary. Too much water under the bridge for both of us, family of origin wise, but hopefully it's good enough. In any case, it will give them something to write about in years to come.

Thanks, Zuzana.

Elisabeth said...

I've heard about needing to keep enough space between the external back of the fridge and the wall to allow for circulation, River, and I've just now pulled the fridge forward to make sure that's not the problem.

This fridge doesn't seem to have one of those hoses that gets clogged, at least not that I can see. I've yet to establish whether it's unbalanced, as Isabel I think suggested but so far nothing seems to help except keeping things well away from the back internal wall, which is hard given our tendency to over crowd.

As for the physical affection stuff, River, it's tricky. You say you never suffered abuse, perhaps not as I describe, but a mother who comes right up to your face and violates your space in the way you describe I'd call abusive, at least in a manner of speaking. There are so many reasons why some of us might feel more comfortable keeping our distance and this sounds to me like a good one. I'd be wary, too.

Thanks, River.

Elisabeth said...

I can understand your hesitation about rubbing moisturizer into your mother's feet, Ms Moon, given your experience. And I know you know what I'm talking about. Thanks for the acknowledgement.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you understand, Susan that I do not plan these things. I write into them and somehow the ideas thread together in this way. It is the way you describe, to write about a present event often leads me into past ones and the links come from my unconscious, outside my control. More often than not they surprise me, too. And I can't see them until after the event, once they're written.

Thanks, Susan.

Mary LA said...

So many of us who went through this -- I find the Dutch father making the sign of the cross on your forehead so chilling and repugnant. My father would (rarely) kiss me on the forehead in public and I would make myself stand still and not breathe until it was over, trying not to smell him or tremble or let him know I was even alive.

The wall of the fridge shrinking from contact, such an image.

Elisabeth said...

It would be terrific to be able to discuss these issues in a forum that allows for deeper discussion, David-Glen, but we are limited to these comments here.

I suppose it's a reflection of the instant gratification of blog writing that makes for immediate and therefore less considered postings and response. It's part of the strength of blogging, I think -this spontaneity - and it's one of its greatest drawbacks - the tendency towards a greater superficiality in discussion. But at least we have this much of a chance to ponder the imponderables and for that I'm grateful.

Thanks to you for your kind words here, David-Glen.

Elisabeth said...

It's lovely to hear that you have such confidence in my writing, Rose. I'm flattered. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Kirk, I wonder why you're pleasantly surprised to think I'm into fridge magnets? What do they mean for you? And why wouldn't I use them? Who is this person who recoils from using fridge magnets? Is she any relation to the man you describe who recoils from hugs in the workplace?

I can imagine the scene you describe well, Kirk, the look on that woman's face and your tension-filled body.

Maybe you could apologise but, equally, as you say, she might not be satisfied with words alone. There are those who prefer to communicate with physical gestures or even facial expressions. After all we are complex beings and words are not always enough.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

Euphemistic bear hugs from a bear such as your good and cuddly self are most welcome, Rob-Bear.

I think touch - good, well motivated touch - is fundamental to life and therefore I can appreciate your sadness at the plight of the person I write about here, the 'I' of this story who finds it difficult to touch, and be touched.

Thanks, Rob-bear for your kind words.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for coming back to read on, Margie. And thank you, too, for your kind words. I suppose my post incorporates tenderness, sadness and acts of cruelty all rolled up in one.

It's the lot of us fragile humans I reckon and about the best we can do for it is to recognise and expend as much love and good will as we can muster to overcome the destructiveness.

cheshire wife said...

Improvements in personal hygiene have probably played a part in our current touchy feely society.

persiflage said...

In the past many families were not physically demonstrative. Goodnight kisses were exchanged but hugs were much less frequent. This has changed over the years, but often some embarrassment and discomfort persists. Perhaps more reticence and discretion should be practiced.
So much interpretation can be put into such social and familial physical expressions. I feel I need to think more about who and when to kiss or hug, and about which circumstances can make me feel uncomfortable, uncertain or inappropriate.
Your family's experiences with incest and exploitations make me realise that many of my own bad experiences, damaging as they were, bear no comparison in awfulness and long term trauma. You appear to me to have a remarkable degree of resilience and endurance.

R.H. said...

Prudence about hygiene from some commenters - when we're talking about spontaneous hugging - gave me a laugh.

I was fond of my father when I was small. I knew no better. He was no good, that's the truth. And I'm comforted by it. Still, there's the early memory, if I want to dwell on it, of an old coat he wore which had once belonged to someone's suit and which whenever I hugged him had the smell of tobacco and booze.

This was my daddy and his clothes smelled terrible. If I'd ever considered it.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the fridge advice, Christine. I've checked all those elements and if the leakage persists I may yet to call in a fridge expert.

As for you coming from a so-called 'non-huggy' family, it seems you are not alone. I haven't done the statistics here, but it seems there's not a fifty fifty split between those who are comfortable with generous hugging and those who are.

It seems from my gut level reading there are more of the latter than the former, but I don't suppose you could say those who comment on this blog are a representative sample of the population at large.

Thanks, Christine.

Elisabeth said...

So you were/are a masseuse, among other things Pandora. Well, you would know the value of touch. And yes, I can remenber our New Years Eve embrace. It came spontaneously at midnight on New Years Eve backdropped by fireworks, but at any other time of year, other than birthdays and funerals, I might not have felt so free.

Elisabeth said...

I'm beginning to take note of those who are more reserved, Elephant's Child, at least out of those who represent themselves on this blog, you are in the majority, if it's any comfort.

Perhaps we who are less physically demonstrative use our words , poetry and art to communicate the intimacy of a moment, but I wouldn't say that's true of everyone.

Thanks, Elephant's Child.

Elisabeth said...

Your description of that wish to keep a distance from your father's kiss is compelling, Mary La.

There are some who might consider these father daughter struggles as a reflection of the oedipal conflict, a la Freud. But I've always considered there's more to it, more in the realm of unspoken boundary violations that young people can sometimes sense. Hence this need to keep a distance, especially from parents of the opposite sex. But I suspect it can also apply to overly intrusive parents of the same sex.

Thanks, Mary

Elisabeth said...

You may well be right, Cheshire Wife. A clean body is much more appealing to get close to than one that gives off unpleasant odours.

Thanks for that thought.

Elisabeth said...

I have my moments, too, Persiflage, but I have also worked on understanding these things and I consider it helps to reflect on our experiences.

Maybe that's one of the reasons why blogging is so popular. We get to share our experiences and reflect on them with generally empathic others.

It helps reduce some of the alienation many of us feel from time to time. To me it's not a substitute for actual human contact and connection but it helps soothe the pain of the human condition.

Thanks, Persiflage and I hope you're feeling better.

R.H. said...

Girls are the Electra Complex. Oedipus wanted to marry his mother.

You've made a serious mistake. I think you were attracted to your father.

Elisabeth said...

It's amusing the way things go at tangents, as you suggest, Robert. And this image of your father's clothes, the smell of tobacco and booze on them, reminds me of a similar smell from my Opa, my grandfather who used to smelled of Amphora tobacco, which he smoked in a pipe.

I enjoy the memory of that smell. I hunger for it, but I could not bear my grandfather's hugs any more than I could my father's.

Thanks, Robert.

R.H. said...

Rolling a smoke and I light it up, then with a hand on my heart for the government and the other crossing it for the pope I swear I never expected you to accept my previous comment and if you delete it I won't be unhappy.

You're a peculiar bird, quite a character.

Elisabeth said...

I thought your comment was tongue in cheek, Robert and obvious. I'll let it stand. As far as being attracted to my father, I suspect most children, boys and girls are, just as they're attracted to their mothers.

When I was young I remember clearly describing the man I wanted to marry: he would be European, preferably Dutch, tall with fair hair, someone who looked just like my father. This when I was very young, seven or eight.

The roots of attraction are there although I came to hate the man in later years. Now my feelings are much more balanced, albeit mixed, but my father is dead, he can't get to me any more, though his representatives might and there are some folks I'm more wary of than others. Arrogant, overbearing types. For some reason in my mind you're not one of them.

Most of the time, ninety nine percent of the time, and even more so these days, as I begin to believe I can make more sense of your comments, I enjoy your irreverence. It's refreshing. There can be so much mawkishness on line, and it's good to know more about the darker sides of life to which you often allude, though not always.

Perhaps I am not so sensitive or precious as you imagine. Perhaps I can take a joke at my expense, as long as I can recognise it as a joke. It's when other people are under attack on my blog that I am more careful.

I don't object to the odd go at me, but I have to take care of the potential sensitivities of others here. I do not want to hurt others gratuitously. Lord knows we are all such fragile individuals we folks who bare our souls in blogs, and blog comments, however well disguised or fictionalised, and that includes you, Robert.

Thanks.

SE'LAH... said...

sending you lots of love... thanks for always stopping by and showing your support. you are very much appreciated. hope you are enjoying each moment. one love

Marja said...

Having read about your father before I can understand your reaction and it makes me quite sad.
I am a big hugger and I think that touch is basically important. I've hugged many people after the earthquake and the reaction was quite....touching :) People thanked me, hugged me again and we felt a little bond.

R.H. said...

This comment from you came like a letter in the mail: straight, personal, no literary shaping. I took it very seriously.

Here's a thought, years ago I was half watching TV and it would have been the ABC because it was an Ibsen play, "Ghosts". All I got from it was the theme: the ongoing influence of parents: even when they're dead they're still "with you", can still get to you. A bloke I know killed his mother because he hated her, then turned from being an angry assertive type into a doormat everyone walks on. I think he's worse off.

If I can have a go at you I'll say you're too predictable with this metaphor business; trying to connect the kitchen with higher thought. There is a universal and it's trite.

Anyone can be irreverent, kids do it all the time for attention. Kids from good homes get a good education then double up laughing at someone swearing on stage. The gentrified inner suburbs are full of these "uncouth". I grew up there when it was all a slum and the joke is while I've been reaching for refinement the refined have been stooping to mine. How quaint.

Well I've written all this, showing up my life as a bogan. It's straight-out, which people despise more than anything. The way to get on is be ambivalent.

Young at Heart said...

what a very powerful piece and profiundly moving....big hugs....

Rachel Fenton said...

Beautiful writing, Lis, really beautiful.

Snowbrush said...

Elisabeth, if most blogposts started out describing a leaky refrigerator, I would assume that I was about to read a post about a leaky refrigerator. With you, I knew you were building to something, and that made me feel safe from the fear of boredom and safe from the fear of wanting to see something "really real" about another person (as the Velveteen Rabbit would say), and not being allowed to do so. My hat's off to you, kid. I don't know if you understand that my writing is as personal to me as yours is to you, but, by god, I give it all I've got, and I come here because I know you do the same. Even so, it takes talent to pull it off, and I love it that you have such talent.

erin said...

but how touch can heal, too, elisabeth. i was just talking about this with james the other day, the necessity of it. i grew up without it, an arm's length distance all the time unless times of tension drew us awkwardly together. i have to think about it often, as well, before i engage in it but for other reasons, but i know through practice it can become more natural. i try to work through my own physical barriers toward the person i want to be and i try to teach my children that touch is natural. ah, but for the violence of your youth! i rail against it, can not understand it, and in the end want only to hold you, show you, teach you, these bodies are our homes. they are full of risk. they are full of hope. (damn your father. can i say that every time?)

xo
erin

R.H. said...

My wall oven is a cheery looking thing, it has a curved handle shaped like a smile. All appliances should be like that, they should smile at us. My vacuum cleaner for instance never looked happy, grumpy looking handle and it broke down in less that two years.

When people (or appliances) smile at us we naturally smile back. It's human to do so. A girl at my local bank has the biggest smile I've ever seen. It's always there. One afternoon I spied her standing on her own, waiting for a bus, and there it was, that gigantic smile! I really wonder if it's permanent: does she look like that even in her sleep?

Here's a song old ladies sang in my youth:

Smile a while you left me sad and blue,
When the clouds roll by I'll come to you...

One day a fellow lodger brought home a large fish and gave it to our landlady. She unwrapped it on the table and peered at it. "It's smile a while," she said, and damn me but the bloody thing had a smile on its face.

Frances said...

For R.H.
I have the impression that you expect people in gentrified suburbs to have middle class values.
Not so: upper class and lower class values and ethics are similar: their expression differs, that's all.

R.H. said...

Yes I do. What class has invaded the inner suburbs? Tell me.

I expect the middle class to bitch over money, read books, evict the lower orders, go to the theatre, talk rubbish and act superior.

There are maggots in all classes.
I prefer the upper.

the cuby poet said...

To hug or to kiss? This dilemma occurs daily so to avoid confusion my own rule is to kiss those you have a comfortable friendship with but save those hugs for a group of people who are extra special and upgraded to a hug followed by a kiss or two. I have to lead the greeting so that there is no confusion. I am a very tactile person which sometimes makes hanging back feel so awkward and I just want to hug anyone who is going through a bad time. I could never be like the wall of your refrigerator of that I am so sure.

rosaria said...

We are so complicated, packing so much history, so many connections and relationships to unravel, develop, or keep at bay.

I tip my hat to you, Elizabeth, trying to unravel how we become who we are, how we manage to survive all the strange things that have happened to us.

I've come to writing memoirs for the same reason, a need to set things straight for myself mostly.

It turns out that when we paint a picture of one life, that picture gets others to do the same, to attempt the untangling.

This post does that!

Elisabeth said...

Robert and Frances, these arguments can go on endlessly and I'm not sure how much good comes out of them.

I put up your posts in the interest of freedom of speech but I don't want to get into slanging matches, at least not if I can help it. Besides it's so easy to misunderstand each other, and to offend and hurt feelings unnecessarily.

So I suggest we give this argument about class and gentility etc a rest. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for your heartfelt good wishes, Se'Lah.

Elisabeth said...

I understand the benefits of hugging Marja, and I'm glad that they have been so helpful for you. I enjoy them too, at times. Here I was struggling with a story about my reservations in this regard. It is not a universal experience, I'm sure.

Thanks, Marja.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for your kind words Young at Heart. I'm glad the piece resonated for you.

Elisabeth said...

I once worked with a physiotherapist, erin and I remember he and I talking about the benefits of the 'laying on of hands'. This expression has stayed with me.

I recognise that touch is one of the most healing of activities and is vital to life. Babies after all need first and foremast along with being fed, kept clean and warm, to be held and touched.

Thanks, erin.

Elisabeth said...

Well, Cuby Poet, it does not surprise me that you are not like the wall of the refrigerator and a good thing too.

Perhaps we need more tactile folk to help those of us who are shy and inhibited to be more relaxed in the face of human contact.

Thanks, Cuby Poet.

Elisabeth said...

Memoir writing is a fascinating process, Rosaria, if indeed that's what my writing is. I like to think of it as more the autobiographical and I'm not sure what the difference in terms is about.

Memoir I suppose focuses on the stuff of memory whereas the autobiographical has more to do with writing one's own story for which we also rely on memory.

Two words, similar meanings and yet I much prefer the longer one, which is unusual for me. Usually I prefer short simple words.

Thanks for your kind and thoughtful words here, Rosaria.

Annotated Margins said...

This one is now on my list of favorite posts at Sixth in Line.

Elisabeth said...

This post is glad to be on your list of favourites, Mike, and it's so good to see you here. Thanks.

Kass said...

When I asked my mother why our family didn't hug and kiss like my friend's families, she explained that her generation was instructed not to kiss their babies for fear of spreading germs.

It's taken me years to overcome the lack of touch experienced in my youth.

I too rubbed lotion into my mother's cracking, hugless skin. It was healing for both of us, especially, as you've mentioned, because I was in control.

...a very stirring piece. It makes me want to post a picture of my fridge with all it's magnets too. Perhaps I'll borrow this prompt from you.

Elisabeth said...

Please borrow the prompt from me, Kass, especially as we share so much in common with these unhuggable, hugless, dry skinned mothers. But unlike me it seems you have succeeded more in moving beyond the difficulties of dealing with physical demonstrativeness.

Thanks, Kass.

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

Oh my gosh - that gave me chills! So beautifully written - how you started with the refrigerator and then brought it around. This was a terrifying tale, beautifully, eloquently told. My goodness, what a writer you are!! Thank you for visiting my blog. Thrilled to have found you in return.

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

P.S. That may have been one of the best written essays I've read in quite a long time.

Lou said...

I love what is unsaid here, what is between the lines. You made me afraid for the young girl, compassionate for the grown woman.

I sometimes think our work in adulthood is making peace with our childhood. The difference between sanity and neurosis is how well we can reconcile that.

Elisabeth said...

Melissa, it's terrific to see you here and thanks for your kind words. I'm glad my writing resonated with you, and share your pleasure at our meeting. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Your words Lou: 'I sometimes think our work in adulthood is making peace with our childhood' make perfect sense to me. We are born, we begin to grow up and then, as you say, we spend the rest of our lives trying to make sense of it all. Thanks, Lou. It's good to see you here.

David Batista said...

Wow! I'm so glad you visited my blog, Elisabeth. I'm back from my trip, and have now had the chance to return the favor. I'm completely over the moon by what I've read here. Not just this post--but especially this post!--your entire blog is a wonder. You write so poignantly and expressively . . . I marvel at how effortless some of your transitions are. This post in particular moved me. I thought it was just about a faulty fridge, but turned out to so much more.

Kudos! And thank you again. Sixth In Line is being added to my Follow list just as soon as I hit the button to submit this comment. :) See you around!

Elisabeth said...

Thank you, David. This is high praise coming from one who writes so well himself. What more can I say, other that I'm pleased you enjoy my blog. And I look forward to further visits.

Molly said...

Followed Persiflage here and wish I'd come over ages ago! I've been in a blog rut and your writing is just what I needed to encourage me to try to climb out of it! Wonderful writing.....

Elisabeth said...

A blog rut, Molly, sounds grim. I've just been over to your blog and wonder that you feel this way, given the joyousness of your writing there. I too was raised by some Irish nuns but in Australia and the nuns haunt me too, even the ones who are not yet dead, though these days they travel in disguise. They wear civilian dress and I find it even more freaky than the black and white of my childhood.

It's lovely to see you here, Molly. Thanks.

Syd said...

I cannot imagine that kind of touch. So terribly wrong. Getting over the things that happen in childhood takes forgiveness of self too.

Elisabeth said...

It's not always easy to forgive yourself, Syd as I'm sure you'd know but I agree with you it goes a long way in helping us to overcome childhood trauma.

Thanks, Syd.