Memoir / Essays: Hands

Kelli J Gavin

Since I was a small child, I have been fascinated with hands. Whenever I met someone new, I looked at their hands. I judged teachers worthy of their ability to teach based on the appearance of their hands. I felt a Sunday School teacher with beautiful hands was better equipped to teach The Word because any Bible would look beautiful in her hands. My dad's rough working hands were a sight to behold. He worked so hard every day, and then worked every night to clean up the mess the day had left behind on his hands. I loved watching shelves being stocked at the grocery store by capable strong hands. I watched my grandma Charlotte as she gently placed each glass ornament on the Christmas tree. I loved witnessing my other grandma Re cut into a roast and then she would serve our family. I found myself continually distracted because I have spent so much time concentrating on everyone else's hands.

In 8th grade, I went to a dance at school. Joined by a couple of friends, I felt bold. That was the night I was going to ask the boy I liked to dance. I must have been fire engine red by the time I made it to the other side of the lunch room. (Yes, the dance was held in the lunchroom.) To my astonishment, he said yes, he would dance with me. He walked away from me and I realized I was expected to follow. That was my first up close and personal experience with a boy. I remember how he used his hand to brush his hair out of his eyes even though it wasn't even long enough to reach his eyebrows. I remember how his eyes squinted when he smiled. I remember the feeling of his large hand pulling me closer into an embrace. I remember how he flexed his shoulder involuntarily when my fingertips brushed his collarbone when I re-positioned my arms. As the song ended, I was thrilled that we had danced an entire song together. He said, "Thanks for the dance." He turned on a dime and went back to his group of friends. 

Thanks for the dance? Our time was up? I was so confused, but so new to all of this. I went back to my friends and we quickly excused ourselves to the restroom. What was it like?  Did he say anything?  What did you say?  Are you going to dance again?  The questions came at me so quickly. I couldn't answer one of them. I was still stuck on the movement of his arm, the feel of his hand on the small of my back and the subconscious flex of his shoulder. I thought about those things the next few days a million times. 

Monday arrived and I couldn't wait to get to school. I had such a crush on him. I really wanted to see him, to talk to him. I made up so much in my mind when there really was nothing more there except that one dance. Those 4 minutes and I wanted more. I tried to say Hi to him in the halls a few times. I even wrote him a letter. He never answered me, or even made an effort to say hello. But I watched him. I saw him at lunch. I saw him in between classes during passing time. I saw him in gym. I observed how his legs were much shorter than mine, but his torso made up the majority of his height. He was slightly overweight, but was excellent at sports and played football very well. I loved how he laughed with his friends as they traveled in a pack from class to class. He always carried his books in his left hand, and tucked his right thumb in his belt loop and his hand in his pocket. He rolled his jeans perfectly. Almost as if he had talent and personal style. I was under the impression that his hands were amazing if they could do all that with so little effort. I got jealous the day I saw him in the hall talking to another girl. He squinted his eyes and laughed at something she said. I adored how he squinted his eyes.

We never talked after that night at the dance. I was so socially awkward still and had yet to develop my voice. He must have been shy or just not that into me. But what I did take from that chance encounter at the dance, was an appreciation of how people move. How one person's body changes form and even reacts differently in each social situation. How someone will change their physical mannerisms, personality and even their behavior, based on whom they are with at the time. 

I became a keen observer of people. I also became a very good listener. Not just listening to what people were saying, but all the things that were left unspoken. I watched people cover their mouths or not look others in the eye when speaking to them. I saw teachers adjust their clothing over and over again as if they weren't quite comfortable in their own skin. I saw the janitor mopping the same spot on the floor over and over again, stuck in thought. I watched a female student pretend to pout and blow kisses for attention when she was beckoned yet again to the office for another disciplinary speech. I found that people used their bodies to communicate far more often than actually telling others what they were thinking or feeling. 

In 9th grade, I had a friend who loved to sing and dance. She wasn't particularly good at dancing, however her desire and determination to perform always made her shine. She was funny, self-deprecating and friends with everyone I knew. We spent quite a bit of time together at school and other activities and I truly enjoyed her company. She started to grow and mature, her body changed and more fully developed. As she became more aware of her maturing body, her desire to dance and perform for anyone who wanted to watch, dwindled. She still had fun with her inner circle of friends, but I felt that she became very selective as to whom would actually see how fantastic she really was. With her closet of friends, she often held hands, linked arms and encouraged others to carry on with her. I wonder if she felt that the physical encouragement would enable her to not find herself abandoned in her shenanigans. She needed partners in crime, and she linked hands to pull us all along and participate. 

One afternoon as class was about to end, she stood and began gathering her books. The teacher gently asked what she was doing as this was atypical behavior. My friend said, "I need to leave." That was it. I didn't understand if something was wrong or what was happening. A few kids snickered at her abrupt answer. She gathered her pen and her purse off the back of her desk chair, and majestically approached the teacher. A brief, hushed conversation took place. My friend then held her head so very high and pranced to the door. She turned and gave a huge wave, and grandly bowed from head to toe as she exited and gently closed the door behind her. A few more students laughed. Two boys stood and began clapping. Whatever that flourish of physical humor was, she had all 30 of us in the classroom captivated. We couldn't take our eyes off of her. 

My teacher laughed and said, "Leave her alone, and stop making fun. She just needs to use the restroom. Maybe next time you all need to use the restroom, you will think twice before being boring and just raising your hand from the back of the classroom."  We all laughed. The way she stood with such confidence, how she moved her long legs as she approached the door. How her chin jutted towards the heavens. I was so taken with this funny, original display of her playful personality, I made note of how she carried herself and presented herself on a daily basis. I took note and applied how I could make these changes. To be more confident. To understand what my body was capable of. To always hold my head high, even if I was just heading to the restroom. 

In High School, I casually hung out with a young man whom I adored. I am sure that there was absolutely nothing casual about how I acted when I was in his presence. I wondered often when my social awkwardness would turn into quirky confidence. (I am not sure to this day if it has yet happened.)  I found myself studying his hands. The way he flexed his fingers after gripping the steering wheel for too long. The way his right hand always reached for me to pull me into his arms. The way he high fived his friends from the basketball team when greeting them. The way his long fingers bent to hold a fork when he ate canned fruit off a lunchroom tray. The way his hand held mine. I wished that I had any artistic ability whatsoever. I wanted to draw his hands. I wanted to capture the curve, the look, the feel, every nuance that I saw in his hands. I was never able to draw. Not even a stick person. His beautiful, and somehow graceful hands were embedded in my memory.

My mother had the softest hands of anyone I have ever known. When I was small, she would stroke the bridge of my nose to help settle me in for the night. And often would do the same to assist in quieting my tears. As an adult when sitting together on the couch or at church, she would reach out to hold my hand. Or I would even find myself absentmindedly stroking the top of her velvety hand. My mother often connected with people through physical touch. She understood that comfort came from the love that she had for other people. She hugged freely, embraced often, held hands for longer than necessary. I miss my mom. I miss her amazing soft hands.

When I was dating my husband, back when we were in college, I remember watching his hands move. How he shifted the manual gears in his car. How he twirled a pen when he was concentrating. How he held sandwiches tightly as if he knew it was preparing to fall to pieces. I loved how he always reached for my hand when we were driving those long country roads back to campus after we had been out to see a movie or to dinner. I loved watching him embrace his little brother and play with him. I adored watching him deal cards to his grandma and grandpa and myself when we visited for dinner and a few hands of gin. His hands are so strong and were what I came to affectionately call, man hands. They were strong and slightly callused from working hard on the job that was funding his college tuition. They were the hands that I loved. The hands I would always hold.

Now, even at 17 and 13, I hold my children's hands. When escorting them across busy streets, when calming them after an upset. When guiding and pulling them into an embrace. I am the lucky one. Still at these ages, they don't resist much. They love to hold my hand as much as I love to hold theirs. I already have felt a pang of sorrow for the day that they will no longer seek out the refuge of my hands. My hands will always want to comfort, guide, encourage and love my children. I must always insist, my loving hands aren't going anywhere and will continue to serve as a balm for the weary soul as long as necessary. 

Bio: Kelli J Gavin of Carver, Minnesota is a Writer, Editor, Blogger and Professional Organizer. Her work can be found with Clarendon House Publishing, The Ugly Writers, Sweatpants & Coffee, Zombie Pirates Publishing, Setu, Love What Matters, and Southwest Media among others. Kelli’s first two books were released in 2019 (I Regret Nothing- A Collection of Poetry and Prose and My Name is Zach- A Teenage Perspective on Autism). Her 3rd and 4th books will be published in 2020 and 2021. Kelli is currently writing a book of fiction short stories. She has also co-authored 15 anthology books.

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