When we were kids, Tom and I had the same arguments all siblings have about physical boundaries – especially in the car. We would sit in the back seat and push each other’s buttons by putting the tips of our fingers just to the very edge of the imaginary line that separated his space from mine.
There were a couple of games we played in the back seat. My favorite was kind of one-sided. When he was pissed off about something I would, with the tips of my fingers, just barely “pet” his arm saying, “Don’t be mad.” I was trying to tickle him and get a rise out of him, and it always worked. He would slap away my hand, “Leave me alone!” I don’t know why I thought it was so funny, but I did.
The other game we played was called “Lobster.” It involved us forming lobster claws with our hands and pinching each other as hard as possible to get the other one to squeal first. Again – why? When we were older, we continued to play both games in a “remember when we used to do this?” kind of way. It always made us crack up.
Although he couldn’t say it, Tom’s eyes are screaming, “Mom! She’s touching me!”
When we were with Tom his last days in the hospital, each of us – Tom’s partner, my parents, and me – claimed our space around his bed. I was generally at the foot of his bed so instead of holding his hand, I placed my hand on his calf. I needed the connection. At one point I caught him looking at my hand while I gently rubbed his ankle. “Is this bothering you?” I asked. He was hesitant to reply, “Well, kind of.” I immediately jerked my hand away with apologies, but he said it was OK. It was obvious he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. But if circumstances were different, if he was seven and I was nine, he would have screamed, “Mom! She’s touching me!”
Later in the afternoon, I was crying at the foot of his bed while mom and dad each held one of his hands. He looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey dad, do you mind switching spots with Karen for a bit?” So my dad and I switched seats and I held Tom’s hand. There was no pinching, no tickling – just connection, and I wanted it to never end.