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The Pandemic Taught Me the Importance of Touch

September 17, 2021
by Annie Chen

Welcome to “Student View,” a new column featuring the thoughts, opinions, and musings of undergraduate writers at Cal. This summer, for our second “Student View” essay contest, California asked current Cal students to answer the question: What gives you optimism for the future? Below is one of two runners-up. This issue’s winning essay was “Missing the Movies” by Maya Thompson, and the other runner-up was “Solace from the Sunrise” by Rina Rossi. For entry rules and other winners, visit the contest landing page.

IN THE BEGINNING, I strolled every day through the Berkeley neighborhoods, amongst the blooming gardens, gardens thinking about the life behind each door I passed. Which family member was being grieved for behind this red door? Who gingerly rested this Winnie the Pooh by the windowsill? What kind of person basked in the warm sunlight in this gnome-filled yard? On a corner, I stumbled on an abandoned painting of a sculptor sleeping with his hand to the wall, desperate for the refreshing contact of the other, even in sleep.

I missed being around the shuffling of warm bodies. In that summer of 2020, I found myself lying in bed with arms outstretched, yearning for something I could barely remember. But I kept strolling and imagining and looking to the horizon for a time of touch. To hold and be held.

And, through a series of scientific innovation and resilience, patience, and loss, the joy of touch did creep back. One day, heart pumping, my roommate drove me to the Oakland Coliseum. Three weeks after that I was injected with another, slightly more painful shot. I felt my heart swell with my arm, in a speechless, gratifying anticipation. Two weeks later, I was living in post-life.

At night, I tune my heartbeat to theirs so that even in sleep we walk hand in hand with synchronized

This was it, I was told: I made it past the fear, anxiety, anger, loss, and isolation that has dominated this entire year. In this time, we are told to return to “normalcy” after the injustice of our old normal has been thoroughly exposed. In this time, we are told to continue mindlessly spilling into the future. The familiar loneliness returns and settles on me. You’re back, I greet it. You never left.

In the shade of my apartment, my feet are never warm. I reached my arms out to caress the cold walls and to feel its loneliness too. To feel, to touch. As I stumble into occupying the new present, I come back to the abandoned sculptor on the sidewalk.

I fell in love in the pandemic. I am intentional about touch. I linger in the warmth radiating from my hand spreading all throughout their back. I trace and retrace their fingers after a bath, feeling the folds of wavy wrinkles. At night, I tune my heartbeat to theirs so that even in sleep we walk hand in hand with synchronized footsteps. I find all the places our bodies fit together and swirl like two kites caught in the summer breeze.

I want to expand my imagination around what love in public can look like. I want to be artistic about my new ways of being. And everything has to start with venturing my hand out from the warmth of my blankets, eager and intentional the touch of something outside of us.

Annie is a recent Taiwanese UC Berkeley English and Social Welfare major who loves strolling through her neighborhood in San Francisco, a city she adores.

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