By Ryan Matejka
Based on the writing prompt: Every time you touch somebody you get a flash of your entire future with them.
I really don't like being touched.
I'm not the only one in that regard, of course. There's this thing called haphephobia that some people have that makes them so protective of their personal space that they are terrified at the thought of anyone, even their closest friends or family, touching them. I don't have that, though. What I've got doesn't actually have a name.
If touching people gave you a lifetime of visions of the future at the speed of light, you wouldn't like being touched either.
The visions vary depending on the person, of course. For example, if I touch my mom I'll see every Christmas and birthday I'll spend with her from now on. I'll see each time she forgets what she was doing, and then forgets my name, and then I'll see when I help move her into an assisted living home, and when I visit every weekend and notice her fading away a little bit more each time. Then I'll see her for the last time, when her body is skin and bone, and the nurses tell me she hasn't been eating, and her eyes wander the room without looking at anything in particular, and I try to tell her that I love her but she doesn't even seem to understand the words. I would see this every single time I touch her, only a little bit less each time as we get closer and closer to the end.
If I accidentally brush elbows with a stranger, I'll see every time I run into them or see them in a crowd. Sure, it's less emotionally taxing, but try to imagine seeing a flash of a hundred unrelated encounters with someone you know nothing about in the blink of an eye, the visions themselves so random that as soon as you snap out of it your brain aches from trying to process it all and you forget where you are or what you're doing and have no way of knowing for sure if this is right now or if it's just another vision.
I really don't like being touched.
I've been dating my girlfriend for ten months and we've never touched.
We met through an online haphephobia support group. She was talking about movies in a forum and I told her she had really good taste. After a while people got upset that we had essentially taken over the thread with a back-and-forth dialog comparing the meanings we took out of films, favorite films, and ones we hadn't seen yet, so we moved our conversation to private chat. It wasn't long before we were chatting about other interests and hobbies, and only a week later I asked if we could move the conversation over to Skype. It would be easier to talk face-to-face than to type everything out, I reasoned, and she agreed.
It wasn't long before we were talking to each other over Skype every single day, and it wasn't much longer before I told her she was the coolest, smartest, funniest girl I'd ever met and asked if she'd be my girlfriend.
For ten months we were comfortable keeping our relationship strictly online. For ten months it made it easier to imagine that we were a normal couple, romantically kept apart by nothing but the mileage between us.
Then she told me she wanted to come see me.
She told me she might even, maybe, possibly, depending on how she felt in the moment, want to sit down on a park bench with me and lean against my shoulder. She told me she had been picturing that a lot lately. She told me she wanted to know what it felt like.
How could I tell her that touching is more painful to me than it could ever be to her? How could I possibly explain that, no matter what our future is together, touching her would be like watching my mom die over and over again?
When she showed so much bravery to overcome her own fears, when she drove across four states alone in a beaten down sedan to see me, how could I possibly tell her I didn't have the courage to do the same?
"I really don't like being touched," I warn her.
"Me neither," she says with a smile from the other side of the park bench.
"But I think if I had to touch anyone," I say. "I'd want it to be you."
I put my palm down on the bench halfway between us and spread out my fingers.
She places her hand next to it, holds her breath, and slowly inches it toward mine.
Our fingers touch.
For the first time, I see my entire life flash before my eyes.