If only I were Stretch Armstrong

Posted by on April 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm.

Last week, I was attending a poetry reading event and one of the pieces by another local poet resonated with my emotions and is still haunting me. He used an image that is all-too-familiar to how I feel, especially in the six months since I’ve moved to Florida.

When he introduced the poem, he said he wrote it about a time he was visiting New York and he was missing his wife. The part of the poem that stuck with me was when he talked about the pain of watching a couple holding hands.

A lot of the poems I’ve written since I’ve moved to Florida have been about pain in a relationship. For the characters I write about, the pain can be death, being abaondoned, or falling out of love — but that’s not my pain. For me, the pain is the distance. I spent all of college separated from Jean, but it was easier since I would see her every few weeks. Now, it’s every few months and it drives the both of us crazy. This job market sucks.

The hardest part for me is watching other people holding hands. Seeing other people grasped together and knowing that it will be 36 days before I’ll hold someone’s hand like that again is painful. It makes me feel lonely. I spend plenty of time with other people between work and my social life, but it is no replacement for the time I wish I was spending with Jean. Or the time that I’d spend holding her hand.

I remember being at a football game after about a week of “dating.” Which, for freshmen in high school like we were, meant writing notes during class and talking on AIM every night. During the Varsity game (I’d been on the field for the JV game), we were sitting in the student seating section. I still had no idea what I was doing around girls and was happy that Jean and I were sitting close enough that our elbows were touching. One of my teammates, a sophomore named Ryan, walked right up to us on the bleachers after a while and told us that we were sitting wrong. If we were a couple, that we should be holding hands. He grabbed both of our wrists and put them together. We obediently linked fingers. He smiled, nodded, said “That’s better,” and then returned to his seat on the bleacher below us.

I was extremely grateful. Still am, really, because God only knows how long it would have taken me otherwise. But after Ryan’s help, we didn’t take our hands apart for the rest of the game and I still hold Jean’s hand whenever I can. It’s a simple act, but it’ an extremely intimate one. It’s a touch that tells someone we are with them and we don’t want to leave their side. It’s a commitment to lead and be led together, a sign of trust. And it shows the trust to people around us.

In the 8 1/2 years I’ve been with Jean, our relationship has grown and she has become the love of my life. But this distance from Gainesville to St. Louis is awful. We still talk every day and I look forward to hearing how she is and what she’s doing, but the hardest part of living halfway across the country is knowing that I don’t get to hold her hand today. And it’s like Ryan said: If you are a couple, you should be holding hands.

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