Have you considered the fact that many of the things that can maim, kill, and ail you are spread by human contact? From cold war to cholera to the common cold, humans are probably the biggest threat to your health. A rudimentary understanding of mortality rates should suggest to you that you are better off alone. It is such a banal insight that it is featured on government-sponsored bus ads advising people not to get to close to each other for the sake of their well-being.
Keeping uncontaminated is easy for me. I work from home. I’m an introvert and mostly a misanthrope, so the calculation in which I weigh the hypothetical pleasure of a hug against the potential discomfort of influenza is an easy one.
That is why I find myself at home on Friday nights, courting my computer. The mice I touch don’t spread diseases. If I wanted to hear someone whispering I could find some lonely soul and put my ear to the sterile speaker. If being wise means intuitively practicing the common sense of the age, then I am one of the magi of generation Y. We are not a people of pilgrimages. Our gold, frankincense, and myrrh travel the world to get to us, while we remain fixed like stars. Each safe in our orbit. Never touching.
The front door rattles. My brother is home with the groceries. We are too employed to live with our parents and too poor to live alone, so we live with each other in a two-bedroom apartment, carefully avoiding going into each other’s bedrooms except in times of dire necessity. He runs errands for me and I offer him free psychoanalysis. It’s a tenable symbiotic relationship between socially stunted siblings. He’s completed his mission, so now it’s time for me to play my part and be a therapist. I put vodka and ice into clean glasses and hand him one. He sits in his chair, staring silently at the ice clinking in his glass as though its hiding the words he’s looking for. I sip my vodka slowly. I love its deadly crispness. No small, insidious organism can survive that alcohol bath.
“I think Lily slept with Shaun,” my brother finally blurts out. “When we all met last week after work for drinks.”
I’m a good psychoanalyst. I don’t say anything. I stare up at the ceiling and knot my face just slightly so he knows I’m concentrating.
“That doesn’t bother me, really. I mean it’s not like I care whether she sleeps with guys. I don’t, what’s that phrase? Slut-shame. I don’t slut-shame. Good for her, if she likes Shaun. But I have this nagging worry about people who sleep around, especially when they’re drunk. It just seems like a good way to catch diseases, you know? People who are less…fastidious than I am about their health worry me. I like Lily, I really do. But what if we dated? What if she, I don’t know, tried to feed me a strawberry? I’d be wondering whether she washed her hands.”
“Hmmm.” I say, as ambiguously as possible. It’s so much easier for me than it is for my brother. It’s simple to avoid touching people when you never wanted to touch them in the first place. But my brother is more neurotic than I am. He wavers between desire and dread on a constant basis. His ambivalence is useful, though. It makes him better suited for going out and getting groceries.
An hour later, I feel like I am floating on a lake, suspended in water and time. The reading lamp is warm and mellow as an evening sun. I haven’t gone swimming in years, you can guess why, but the memory of it is strangely heartening. My brother is in my bobbing sightline. For ten minutes now he has had the look on his face of someone who is trying to work out a poetic way to explain their emotions.
“I want to hold Lily. I wish I could hold her forever so I wouldn’t have to let her go and deal with the potential consequences of closeness.”
I nod with the deep sympathy of a fellow drunkard.
“God I’m pathetic.” My brother is now nearly horizontal in his chair. “Twenty-seven years old, drinking at home with my sister on a Friday night! No offence. I love you. I do. I just wish you weren’t the only person I hang out with who knows how and when to keep their goddamned distance.” He scowls, briefly and almost imperceptibly.
It is an unfortunate time for me to be rushing face-first toward sobriety. I keep my eyes on my hands, waiting for the collision, hoping I won’t have too much of a headache tomorrow.
Jade Wallace is a laggardly, legal-clinic dwelling pacifist, organizing member of Draft Reading Series, member of the collaborative writing partnership MA|DE, one half of the band The Leafy Greens, and the author of Rituals of Parsing (Anstruther Press, 2018).