I often walk my dog in the city’s central park. It’s no rectangular monolith of NYC, and in fact is diminutive compared to the expansive prairie parkland that encompasses it on all sides. But it does the trick. It has trees, it has trails, it has rabbits and squirrels and a lake stocked with trout.
I have been going to this park for years. I go even more now that I have a dog. I am kind of an old man in that way. My wife and I get up, drink coffee, then go to the park on the weekends.
And for as long as we have been going there, Trish has been going as well.
I don’t know Trish in any other capacity. You would think for a city the size of ours (population ~30,000) you would run into another person every once in a while. But we don’t. Trish is strictly a feature of the park.
Trish does not come alone. Nor is she a dog (in case you are trying to anticipate me). With that said, there is clearly something ‘abnormal’ with Trish. She is not a healthy human. It’s possible that most cultures would probably have shunned her after birth. I don’t know what ‘condition’ Trish has, and I am too embarrassed to ask her parents, who are probably in their sixties and take Trish for her park walk on weekend mornings, when we also happen to be out like sixty-year-olds trapped in twenty-something bodies.
I can’t even tell how old Trish is. She is small and scrawny like you would expect from a child, but she has a few faint greys spotting her dark black hair. She wears those giant wrap-around sunglasses you see for sale at pharmacies and wonder, at what age is it okay to buy these—hipsters, even the normest core of them, wouldn’t dare rock these glasses, because in reality we’re all sensitive pussies in our youth, and it isn’t until age/a mate/children makes us too weary to actually care what we look like that we could possibly don these sunnies. But that is Trish. She doesn’t care.
Her parents are kind folk. At the first few encounters, they seemed quite embarassed. They would step aside while Trish did her typical greeting—which I’ll get to in a ‘graph or two—and kind of look away, only to thank us afterwards. Which was weird. They never said hi themselves.
The next few encounters, they were far friendlier.They spoke with us. Chatted about the weather and our dog. Surficial, but friendly.
Now, about three or four years on, they seem tired about the whole thing. True, Trish is repetitive, and they are her caretakers who must spend all day every day dealing with this monotony and kind of sadness. They only smile, nod, maybe say hello, then take up their walk after our encounter is done.
Despite what medicine and culture has dictated for a long time, Trish is a beautiful human. And not in a fashion magazine or even Dove commercial kind of way, but she is beautiful in her proverbial heart—her soul—whatever you attribute to the capability of humans to connect in an emotional way. She is just so fucking sweet.
We have greeted her the same for years: she sees us down the path and starts to veer away from her parents. She usually says, “Can I pet your dog?” and we usually say “Absolutely.” She hangs her hands over the dog, and might touch it once or twice, but very quickly. Then she asks one of us, “What’s your name?” in an almost aggressive way. And we tell her and she says something like, “That’s pretty.” And then she hugs you. She hugs and kisses your cheek. And then, “OK bye.” Along their way they go.
That is all I know about Trish. But I would have to trade in my humanity the day that that doesn’t touch me. Some days, yes, we see her and I am in no mood, so I try to redirect our path if not awkward. But even on those days when I am in no mood for anything and we encounter her, that hug and kiss strikes me right to the fucking core.
It brought me to the edge of tears once. And today when it happened, I had a good think about it. I was thinking about how, on our South American and European trips, greeting someone with a hug and a kiss was not unusual. In fact, it would be unusual not to. But here, with our North American stalwartness and weird Christian hang-ups, getting hugged and kissed on the cheek is so rare that if you don’t do it with family or a romantic partner you may never experience it at all.
My wife riffed off my idea, saying that we encourage kids to show physical love when they are young, but as they get older we teach them not to show that same love, or at least to reserve it for family and romantic partners. And that is normal. And that seems reasonable, really, as we talked it out.
But what if we lived in a world where greeting each other like Trish was the norm?
Studies have shown that the physical touch can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, etc. But we also get transmissible diseases through touching. Use hand sanitizer and fist bump. Kiss your infants on the cheek because it helps socialize them…into a world where socializing means no touching. Personal space and special places. Perverts and priests. Physicians who need to check your genitals, but don’t let Johnny or Katie down the block do the same.
Maybe that is okay. I am not suggesting a revolution, because it is a Sunday and I’m tired. And really, if we were in an alternative history encountering Trish at the park would not be so touching.
And I wouldn’t be inspired to think about what we are missing out on, here on Turtle Island. What we all hope Patchamama would do to us, what our own mama would do to us—what we need on some of those days when you are just in no mood.