Gustavo PÉrez Firmat


In times of trouble, we find consolation in small things. Not God or glory or the GNP, but the silky feel of your daughter’s hair, the careful touch of a lover’s hand. We may think big, but we always feel small. From the fingertips to the tip of the tongue, we are healed by contact.

Maybe that’s the reason we have so many words for forms of touching: hug, tug, slap, graze, bump, brush, scratch, scrape, stroke, spank, pinch, pet, pat, knead, fondle, nestle, nuzzle, nudge, cuddle. Oh yes, and caress! Those final sibilants slip by your tongue like a soft breeze.

But it’s a good thing that we don’t remember touches the way we remember sights or sounds or smells. Imagine if every time someone kissed you the pressure of his lips stuck in your mind. Or if every morning you had to contend with the rispid memory of decades of bristles. Touch is the kindest, the most forgiving of all our senses: the first to develop, the last to leave, and the only one to relieve us of the sorrow of recollection. Something may feel familiar, but strictly speaking, sensations are always new. That’s why we tend to transpose feeling into feelings, sense into sentiment. Most of the time when we say we are moved, we haven’t budged an inch. It’s the same in Spanish: lo siento, we say, not having felt a thing.

In the months that followed the separation from our spouses, Catherine and I concentrated on feeling rather than feelings, on touching with our hands rather than with our hearts. Our hearts were like our families: Our hearts didn’t understand us. They were trapped by memory, they belonged to people we no longer knew. Our lesson plan for life, Cat’s and mine, was to gather all of our pain and bewilderment and regret and let them settle on our fingertips, where we could smooth them away like lint.

Meeting at her apartment or mine, she’d say to me, “Let’s spend the rest of the day in the world of touch.” And then we disappeared into that sensuous here and now, content to be sentient, happy to rely on the raw feel of our bodies. Cancelling the past, abolishing the future, abiding in a haven of sheer sensation. Grasping, cleaving, clutching, touching.