ROSS GAY

91. Touched

There is a designation, it might be old-timey, it might be regional, it might have its origins in any number of religious stories, prophety stories, in which the laying on of hands offers not only cure but vision, difference, which difference, among those afraid of it, can make the designation, touched, as much slur as compliment, meaning something like “not right in the head,” or “off one’s rocker,” a usage that this sentence is teaching me is in fact no slur at all but rather a self-designation as nervous about the difference in oneself.  Probably this is the case with all slurs.  (Duh.)

Today I saw a man riding a jenky bike down the sidewalk on Cass Street in Detroit.  His bike had a normal sized rear tire, coupled with a small, even petite, front tire (perhaps rigged from a lawnmower?), a banana seat of the Huffy Circa 1982 variety, sparkling streamers, sparkly handlegrips, some bells, and several other accoutrements, my favorite being the black propeller whirling about three feet above the cyclist’s head atop a pole affixed to the little handle, at the rear of the banana seat.  If it was my bike I might have opted for a pink or purple propeller, but all the same, any propeller on an adult bike constitutes keeping it 100.  This man, who I would guess was in his 50’s or 60’s, and wore a beanie and wraparound sunglasses, and sat on his vehicle upright as a monarch, and who smiled broadly and nodded his head to me, acknowledging me, was what one might call touched.  As was the young man I saw zoom by my office a couple days ago on those shoes with the wheels built in (which I covet), and a little fur ball dangling from a length of elastic that was meant, I extrapolated, to represent the idea of a bunny’s tail.  He was a rollerskating bunny.  As was the kid in line a couple weeks back who, when Billy Jean came on the radio, started dancing unabashedly, imitating MJ in the video, to the extent that he could, which was ambitious and sweet.  

All of these examples make clear that touched often also means exuberant, or enthusiastic, both of which qualities can provoke in us, when we are feeling small and hurtable, something like embarrassment, which again maybe points to the terror at our own lurking touchedness.  When I watched the child doing his wonky, unself-conscious moonwalk, I had a feeling that I might have then identified as embarrassment, aware of this kid’s obliviousness, his immersion—his delight.

But I am coming to identify that feeling of embarrassment as something akin to tenderness, because in witnessing someone’s being touched, we are also witnessing someone’s being moved, the absence of which in ourselves is a sorrow, and a sacrifice.  And witnessing the absence of movement in ourselves by witnessing its abundance in another, moonwalking toward the half and half, or ringing his bell on Cass Street, can hurt.  Until it becomes, if we are lucky, a door.

 

(June 24)

Shayla Lawson