I hit my peak at two or three. I was too fucking cute. I’m being objective. My older brother didn’t share my misfortune. He had coke-bottle glasses and an oversized preemie head. He looked like he belonged to a race of mongoloids—a suspicion that was confirmed when my mother spoon-fed him cough syrup and he repeatedly rammed into walls with his battle-skull of a head. As a result, he grew up to be a successful member of society. I did not. My cuteness left me disabled and dependent on the affection and validation of others.
As the baby of the family, I was literally held above my brother and sister as a kind of child emperor. I was carted about in a shaded throne while my siblings walked by my side, ready to be sacrificed if our procession was ambushed by stray dogs or men with free candy. Women waited in line to hold me. They professed how perfect and special I was while I, in turn, shit on them. I was held up at antiabortion rallies as proof of God’s existence. I was pure potential—what all my religious ancestors believed they were put on this Earth to create. And the moment I felt the least hint of discomfort, I'd cry out and instantly be lifted, coddled, kissed and celebrated.
My innocence eroded with my cuteness. I became too big to be picked up and too talkative to be tolerated. My mother began shaving my blonde locks with the same clippers she used to shave the dog. My brother and I shared a wardrobe of hand-me-down sweatpants and oversized t-shirts that made us look like hobos-in-training. We had missing teeth, scabby knees, and a constant veneer of dirt, sweat, grass stains, and blood. My awkward stage hit its prime when I was outfitted with black plastic glasses. These labeled me a nerd, like my brother, albeit a nerd lacking his intelligence and mongoloid strength.
More and more I was pushed outside, away from the affection I craved from attractive, older women. I was made to wander the empty lots and dry creeks of childhood with other lost boys. Like most boys, my brother and I bonded through violence. Affection was reserved for younger, cuter kids, or those who had crossed the desert of adolescents into young adulthood.
The symbolic end of my innocence came one night when I suffered through a reoccurring nightmare of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." For me, this dragon was the embodiment of the “bad touch” that adults constantly hinted about. As I always did when I woke from nightmares, I ran to my parents’ room where I expected to pass the night, incubating in a warm cocoon of security. But, for the first time, their door was locked. To me there were two distinct possibilities. Either they locked the door because they no longer wanted me sharing their bed, or they merely forgot to unlock it for me after they finished whatever it was they were doing behind their closed door. Either way, I was being kicked out of the nest. It was a rejection as harsh as any dismissal I would experience from the opposite sex in the years to come.
When I sought sanctuary in my brother’s bunk, he did not argue. He merely moved over. For all the pedestrian “gay” insults we slung at each other, sharing a bed did not strike us as peculiar.
Up until this point, I had come to understand my identity, and my self worth, through affection. Another person’s body heat pressed to me told me I was not alone in the outer dark. The older and more awkward I became, the less attention I received. I learned that I was not inherently special. I realized that people would only want to touch me, to validate me, if I possessed something they desired. In a way, I came to fetishize the affection that was stripped from me. I've spent my adult life seeking the level of adoration I received as a toddler.
If I'm being honest, my need for attention can't be entirely traced to how people treated me as a child. I was exposed to a wide range of environmental cues that others might credit with precipitating their various fetishes. Sleeping with my Pink Panther doll, (which I later outfitted in pants to cover his theoretic penis) did not give me a fetish for fucking stuffed animals. My love of clinging to women’s legs didn’t lead to a foot fetish. My propensity to wear my mother’s bra as a space helmet or to dress as a bearded woman to trick-or-treat in June didn’t turn me into a cross-dresser. Pecking my scruffy grandfather on the mouth didn’t give me a thing for grandfathers, or bearded women. This is to say that my environmental explanation for my "affection fetish" could simply be my attempt to rationalize a predisposition. Perhaps I was merely born with an abundance of the cuddling hormone, oxytocin.
Most men don't like to cuddle as much as me. Perhaps this is because most males weren't cuddled as much as I was as a toddler. My ex referred to my tendency to ferociously snuggle her in my sleep as snaping (snuggle rape). My unconscious self will cuddle any warm body in my bed. This usually is only a problem if, like at a bachelor party in Vegas, I'm forced to share a bed with a man. (Though this really wasn't a problem on this particular occasion as the small gentleman in question, Seth, politely extricated himself from my desirous grip each night without so much as waking me.)
Whatever the cause, the conclusion is the same. I have a problem. I'm addicted to affection. I need to be touched, to be validated, by as many attractive women as possible.
I concede that my obsession with physical touch may not even meet most people's definition of a fetish; I do not think about snuggling when I masturbate (unless you count sex as genital snuggling). In fact, I may only characterize my need for human contact as a carnal desire because of our culture’s insistence on pairing physical affection with sexuality.
Just as the origins of this preference are obscure, so is the end result. Perhaps my need for attention will lessen with age just as my sexual desire will slip away with lowered testosterone levels. Maybe I'll find a single woman whose affection alone will sustain me. More than likely though, I'm fucked. My desires will have me bouncing between relationships head first, much like my mongoloid brother ramming himself into walls, his sense silenced by something as trivial as a spoonful of medicine. And just as I slipped from a cute kid into an awkward teen, I'll progress gracelessly from a bachelor to a dirty old man who gives coworkers back rubs that last just a bit too long. I'll be the geriatric who circles the downtown bars in a homemade shirt that reads, “Free hugs.” And to think, all of this could have been avoided if I was simply born a bit less perfect.
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