I had two significant hugs with my birth father. Both were outside baggage claim at the airport. There was the one where we first met and there was the one a day later when we said goodbye.
The first one he called The Hug. It had been easy to spot him standing in the line of people waiting for their rides because he was tall and because I’d seen his face in some photos and in a video. So I knew him, sort of. I got out of the car and we said hello in motion, moving towards each other. He’s a good hugger, a body hugger, and I’d had enough after about three seconds and started to pull away, but he wasn’t finished. “There are people waiting,” I said. “Forget about them,” he said. “This is the hug. I have 52 years to make up for.” I don’t hug anyone I’m not naked with for more than about one breath, but I knew this was a lifetime moment, this was a dream come true, and so I should try being present so that I would not feel later that I could have done better, felt more, been more…what? Likeable? Loveable? Acceptable? (One adopted person told me the song her brain sings is Are you happy? Do I make you happy?)
I love hugs. I was a serial dater for a while mostly for the hugs. This isn’t always the best trade, the promise of relationship for the rush of oxytocin I got from extended hugs. Oxytocin, the chemical that tells me Everything is okay; you are merging with another human; you are not alone; you are loved.
I think I wrote about this in You Don’t Look Adopted (it’s hard to remember what I put in and what I cut), but one particularly rough day of coming out of the fog of thinking adoption had not affected me, one day when I wanted more than anything to lose myself in a hug, I googled hugging machines, and I found a video of an apparatus made in Japan that you could strap yourself into and receive mechanical hugs. It cost thousands of dollars and didn’t have arms and, I assumed, didn’t smell like warmth, so I just wrapped my arms around my shoulders and hugged myself as I walked downtown for frozen yogurt.
I stopped dating for hugs because that had gotten exhausting and disappointing, and so I am learning to feel good in other ways. Much to my surprise, the most rewarding way has been in the friendships I have cultivated with women. If you had told me a couple of years ago when I was thinking men, men, men that true happiness lay in laughing on the phone with a woman, I would have looked at you and told you that high school was over and I lived in a different world.
But I’m back in high school. Last night I went out for a slice of pizza and a beer with my friend, and we started laughing as soon as we saw each other. That’s a whole other kind of hug, and it’s awesome.
Do I still want to be hugged though? Yes. I still do feel like a piece of Velcro, the side that is all tiny hooks, the side that was made to connect with a bunch of tiny loops. I mean, my skin feels the ache of living as half, and it wants to connect. But then something happens when I do connect. The hooks disappear and I become Teflon and slide into self. Who, me? Need someone? Naaaaah.
Talk about confusing. I spend my whole life trying to connect, and then when the opportunity presents itself, I basically disappear.
So then there was the last hug I had with my birth father. We’d spent the previous day together and it had been wonderful and strange and fatiguing. When I drove him back to the airport, I had lived the shock of looking over at his knee and seeing that it was the same as my knee. His eyes were my eyes. I’d said that about my first boyfriend in high school: his eyes were my eyes, but now, years and years later, I’d found the real thing and didn’t know what to do with that river of connection. I wanted to take a shower. I wanted to start over and be a clean baby, one whose story didn’t muck up the works.
I could feel all the cells of my body and brain rearranging themselves. I was no longer a person who had never touched her creator. It was bigger than losing my virginity or getting into college or getting married. There is no word for the feeling of meeting, as an adult, a parent for the first time, and so I did not have language to support my experience. I just had feeling, and my feelings collided into mud. Days later, my feelings would settle and what remained was euphoria. I had met him. He was so much like me. I had lived a miracle. I had hugged my birth father.
I am avoiding telling you about the last hug because I did something I don’t feel great about: I pulled away. My birth father gave me a dream hug. As we said goodbye held my ribs and he looked me in the eye and already I was feeling RUN RUN RUN RUN which was a pain in the butt to feel because I’d dreamed about meeting him, dreamed about having a connection like this, and there he was, pulling me towards him and there I was, fighting my self to make it seem like I wasn’t pulling away. We hugged, but all I remember was fighting myself to stay. I don’t remember what it felt like. I don’t remember what he smelled like, probably because I was too tense to breath.
What the hell?
I was having the hug of my lifetime and I was missing it because my Velcro self had turned to a ball of fear.
I am going to learn how to hug someone when I am fully dressed for more than three seconds if it kills me. And, I’ll tell you, it might. I may well just have a full-blown coronary event after second five, but at least I’ll have died trying. And at least I won’t fall and hit my head because someone will be holding me.
Wish me luck. I’m going in. If you run the other direction when you see me, I’ll know you read this. But I’m pretty fast, so I’m optimistic.