Caitlin Hernandez


"I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow."
-The Goo Goo Dolls, Iris

Listen to Audio Version read by the author.

"You can't fight the tears that ain't coming."
Twice, I sat beside you as you cried. Twice that I know of, anyway. Both times, you used a steady but shallow stream of words to douse your tears. Both times, I reached out to you, shyly, with an open hand. I left it up to you: touch, hold, lean in, reach back.
You picked "none of the above." You didn't bring your small, delicate hands to mine. And that was okay.
I know, maybe a bit better than most, never, ever to chase anyone along the avenue of proximity. When someone strays away from closeness, there's almost always a reason: a painful, unspeakable reason that's better left untouched. I've lived that. I've been there. Sometimes we need to be reminded that touch won't hurt. That, actually, it can heal, if only you're able to let it: if you find the right person to trust. If you both move slowly. If you speak. I can't help but worry that someone hurt you: that there's something dark and scary burning a hole inside you, making even the most tender touches scald and smart. But however much I wish they could, my hands can't be the ones to smoothe out those rough places. At least, not until your stream of words deepens.

"I just want you to know who I am."
Silence can form tangible barriers. Dishonesty can manifest as coldness, or distance, or separation. Sequestered secrets can have sharp, lethal edges that slice like knife blades. If people don't know all of who I am, their touches will not resonate. Sometimes, I feel undeserving of closeness.

"Everything feels like the movies / yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive."
The very first thing I did after months apart was to hug you with everything I had. I held on to you, my cheek pressed to yours, my fingers tangled in your short, curly hair. People had to veer around us.
I was surprised that you stayed. It seemed to me that all you ever did was nudge away my hands. You worried about what others might see…and what they might think. Later, behind closed doors, I nestled in the curve of your arm and rememorized you: the feathery wisps of your eyebrows, the swells of your cheeks, the angles of your lips, the silky-smoothness of your skin, the suede-like softness of your broad palms.
Away from prying eyes, you held me close. You said that no one had touched you in all our time apart …not really.
Your reality hit me like a slap in the face. I pretzeled my arms around your neck and hugged you so tightly that you laughed a little as you loosened my clutching hands. For me, touch is essential, imperative, a key component of survival. For you, touch is a novelty. It has to be. You consider yourself lucky if you find it.

"Sooner or later, it's over."
Touch is my primary love language. In its absence, my interactions and connections never quite feel complete.
The glow of affectionate touches are indelible, bringing brightness and warmth to an otherwise bland memory. But the opposite is true as well. If the touches of instrumental people turn sour, or become detached, or grow stilted for whatever reason, I take "once burned, twice shy" to new heights. Now I understand that I can't help this.
My heart and mind forgive easily, probably too easily. But my skin and sinew don't, won't, and can't always follow.
Time alone cannot patch wounds. It must be blended with patience. Love, too. Empathy. A listening ear. The ability to supplement touch with a mix of words and silence.

"Everything's made to be broken."
It's dark and drizzling, and we're walking together. As ever, your lithe, graceful piano fingers enfolding my hand feel like home.
The wind blows your long, heavy hair into both our faces. We don't speak. You're crying. When I squeeze your hand, you squeeze back, hard, and I know that you know I know. Your tears are soundless, but we've been friends for so long that I perceive them more than sense them. Your handhold is different. Your fingernails are ragged, uneven, bitten down to the quick. Don't let go, I think.
I want that closeness for you, not for me.
That was the first time I knew emotions could be touched.

"I don't want the world to see me / 'cause I don't think that they'd understand."
My fingertips are my eyes, my hands portals to everything which can be touched to be better understood. To take my hand in yours is to steer my consciousness, to press Pause on my explorations. The way you hold my hand gives me a glimpse of your essence. If I seek or accept your hand, it means many things.
When I cry, I feel disconcertingly, sharply visible. Sometimes, being touched magnifies that vulnerability to a raw, harsh ache. At other times, touch grounds me, anchors me, fills the cracks and empty spaces.
Whether falling apart helps us or hurts us is unclear. The line is fine, brittle, an undetectable smudge beneath my fingertips.

"I don't wanna go home right now."
There was a time when I was almost broken: when touches were muted and sunshine dim. My ears were full of cotton batting, my skin permanently shivered, and I drifted. I was lost, helpless, stranded on another planet. There was no exit, and no map to find one. There were no answers, either…how could there be when I wasn't able to form questions?
I was waiting, desperately, for the arrival of something I couldn't begin to name or to understand. You asked me what was wrong. Your concern rattled me ... and comforted me. No one else had noticed that anything was amiss. No one else would.
After you asked and I didn't tell, you walked me home. The rain had just stopped--it couldn't be my mask if I lost control—and I struggled to remain dry-eyed.
Usually you didn't, but that night, you held my hand, your warm, powerful fingers wrapped beneath my cold, quivering ones. Your hands, callused and work-worn, could easily have grown blunt and imperceptive. But your guitar and your kindness lent them an infinite gentleness.
You considerately slowed your long-legged runner's stride, and I automatically fell into step with you. You led me through my silence in the same careful, deliberate way you avoided the muddy grass, and the puddles, and anything that might have caused me to lose my footing.
For four years, you'd never touched me beyond the perfunctory. Your reticence, I knew, was rooted in rationale. You knew what had happened. You knew how I'd felt, and why. You were wary of doing more harm than good.
For four years, you'd quietly guarded me from behind the scenes, stepping in when I most needed you …and though I'd tried, I'd never found a way to thank you.
That night, outside my door, you lowered tentative hands onto my shoulders. Slowly, gently, you guided me into your arms. Your touch was just what I needed it to be: firm enough that I felt secure, light enough that I could have pulled away, if I needed to.
It had been so long since anyone had held me like that: like I was the center of their here and now. Like there was time, all the time I needed.
My breath caught, not because I was afraid, but because I wasn't afraid. I had lost faith in others like you. But you, I trusted absolutely. I always had, always would.
I took a fresh breath, lowered my walls, and placed myself in your hands. I rested my head on your chest, and I breathed. And believed.
When I started to shy away, you kept me close for one extraneous heartbeat. I could feel safety, and understanding, and your unspoken "It's okay." It was there in your palms on my back, in the almost nonexistent movement of your fingertips. It pulsed through your forearms where they softly pressed my ribs. It spilled into my badly bruised heart, bypassing my ears altogether. I'm sure you forgot that embrace the moment you turned away, walking yourself home through the restarted rain. It was late, and you had to retrace your steps because helping me had put you on a different path.
I never forgot. I never will. And someday, I hope I can thank you, though you may not fully understand why I feel compelled to.
Until that night when you reached out, I didn't know that touch could shatter and mend my heart at the same time. Your compassion met my pain in the middle, and they fused, the way flaming wicks melt and mold candle wax. You catalyzed a change, transforming my hardened, clotted scars into something softer …and stronger.


Caitlin Hernandez is currently pursuing her masters degree in special education from San Francisco State University. She enjoys reading, eating ice cream with Oreos, mentoring and tutoring students with and without disabilities, skipping, and writing novels and short stories for and about young adults. Currently Hernandez is writing her third play for CRE Outreach. CRE Outreach is the only acting company in the country which hosts a theater troupe comprised entirely of blind and visually impaired actors.