“We will begin this next session by beginning to re-teach you how to touch, Minis.”
“What? I know how to touch!”
"True. And I am wrong stating it so. I mean, touch without fear."
I got up from the chair and started pacing back and forth, suddenly nervous as a cat. I missed my cat. I missed the stupid white kitten that wouldn’t leave me alone in the Marble Palace even when I was being a cruel idiya kid.
“And,” Zinchaer continued thoughtfully. “It depends on what you mean. Everyone knows how to touch, of course. But in your estimation, do Arkans – in general—touch like Haians?”
“No, of course not!”
“We are all people and the way we touch is a thing that is taught us by our parents, our peers, everyone around us.”
That made a certain kind of sense. I sat down again and thought of the wildly different ways people around me had touched me.
"How did your father touch you? Did he hug you, lovingly or harshly?"
My father had been pig-handed. Not only with me but with everything around him.
"My... father hadn't cared for anything around him." The image of my carefully chosen glass gifts, set aside or casually broken by his clumsiness flashed through my head and I shied away from that memory. "But it could also be because everything around him didn't seem real, I guess. I don't want to touch like that."
"A good wish, Minis. You already don't touch like that. Who else touched you while you were growing up?"
"Misahis did." My voice dropped. His touch, the touch of the Haians, even in the dungeon. In recoiling from that memory I went as far opposite the Haian touch as I could. "The way Mahid touched was either... painful or indifferent."
"Yes." No judgment there at all. "Who else?"
"My nurse... Binshala. I could tell she liked me... loved me. And my first friend. I could tell through his hugs that he loved me." Zinchaer nodded. Thinking of Chevenga raised his face in my mind and Gannara's as well. Gan and I could touch without setting off the vile sexual stuff. My mind flashed to that hideous night in the Bedchamber.
Even mind-broken and under my father’s command, Chevenga’s touch didn’t hurt me. Even while I did that to him. He still touched carefully. He wasn’t there in mind to touch in his usual ‘mindful’ way, but he’d been broken down to his basic nature. He touched me carefully, even when I was raping him. I swallowed my gorge and turned my mind away from that. I would remember other times… like the first time he hugged me.
I gulped and sipped my tea, set the empty cup down with a click.
"Those were the only people who touched you?" He prompted gently.
"No, no. At that point I was being touched every day by my companions as they dressed me, and Binshala dressing my hair or washing me. Or the garderobe man cleaning me afterward. They were all very careful." I looked down at my toes. "I could feel it if they feared me. I could feel it if they cared. It felt different when I made friends with them."
I looked up at him. "And how Ili and I touch. I got Binshala to teach me how to hold a baby and the first way he touched me was to wet on me!"
Zinchaer smiled very much the way Binshala had. "You got past that, obviously."
"Well, he was a baby and couldn't help it."
And how I touched Ili. The only time I’d touched him harshly that I could remember was when I’d snatched him up when he was having the tantrum outside the Tunnel and my fear was bigger than my love for him.
Zinchaer let me sit and think it through. “I suppose we symbolize that by wearing gloves,” I said.
“Oh. Hmmm. Not only do we see hands as vile and only to be exposed in private… except my father and I since we were supposed to be above such things… in a sense we emphasize our insulation from everyone else. Since we are supposed to be superior, having fallen from the sky.”
“I suppose that is so, at least one reason for Arko to have such a custom. Here.” He held out an orange to me. “Just touch.”
“Yes. I picked it off the tree this morning and set it in one of the kitchen root cellars for a while. Take it and touch it. Talk to me about how it feels.”
I took it gingerly. “Ah. You are not going to crush it inadvertently, lad. Just hold it at first.”
I looked down at it, sitting in my palm. It was cool from having been in the cellar. There was weight to it. Heft. It was greenish orange with swaths of yellow in between the green and the orange.
But I was supposed to be feeling it, not just looking at it. It made sense, I suppose. I could hardly hurt an orange’s feelings by touching it wrong. It seemed right that I should raise it to my face, so I did, and inhaled the sweet, slightly sharp odor of the peel under my nose. The skin was nubbly, roundly bumpy. I passed it from one hand to the other. It felt good. There was no meaning to be had behind the sensation, other than it just existed in my hand. “Good,” Zinchaer said. “Now would you please do the ‘relaxing the mind’ meditation I taught you a few days ago?"
“But I’ll drop the orange and fall over! That’s not relaxing!”
He smiled. “It would, however, be very funny. You may just lean back and let the chair take your weight and put the hand with the orange in your lap.”
Zinchaer had taught me four separate meditations, one for each of the kinds of tensions, out upon the beach, moving through the musculature, the breath, the mind and the emotions. I’d found that doing the first two made the last two easier. I leaned back and put myself back on the beach in my head, listening to the surf-roar and the gulls and the swish of the clacking sword leaves and branches of the bottle-brushes that Haians called trees. The painful whirl in my head began to slow down as I focused on my tight-knotted head and neck and shoulders. As I worked on getting things slowed down enough so I could start paying attention to just my breathing I was aware that Zinchaer had gotten up quietly and taken the orange out of my loose hand.
I was just getting used to it, why did you take it away? But before I could complain – I had just gotten to the point of letting my eyes drift open – he’d put one of the ubiquitous Haian cats across my hands.
The Haians have this odd breed of cat. Mostly with a cap and saddle of the hooped variety… oh on Haiu Menshir I could say striped… with white faces and paws and bellies… and they are so relaxed that they would lie across a screaming patient’s arms limp and unafraid as a wet towel. Sometimes purring even. This one was purring so loud I could feel my whole lap vibrate.
“Now you may touch the cat the same way you touched the insensate orange. You were gentle enough. If you can, stay in the calm place in your mind.”
Now how exactly was I going to do that? Rather than get annoyed at Zinchaer… it never did any good and he was just as likely to find some even more annoying significance to my annoyance, I petted this lap-rug masquerading as a cat.
It was so soothing. And I could see that I was soothing it, as it stretched out its legs and if anything purred louder. “Please describe how it feels, Minis.”
“Warm.” It was very hard to cling to my annoyance with this buzzing fuzzball on me. “It tickles but I can feel its ribs.”
“Her ribs,” I dutifully repeated. It didn’t even bother me that he’d probably deliberately picked a female thing for me to touch. “And her spine and her hips and her tail. Her fur is so soft it’s standing up, charged, from me touching her. She and I crackle.”
“Here you go.” He handed me a cool towel and I wiped my face and hands and I started describing it even before he asked me. “It’s nice and nubbly and a little rough and smells of lavender.”
“Good!” He had a smile on his face. “I wasn’t going to ask you but that is good, too! Your touches are important and how you connect with the world. I would like you to write down what you think of touch, tonight and you and I will be able to discuss it tomorrow.”
“Um. Zinchaer, you’re working up to me touching people aren’t you?”
He smiled wider. “It is obvious, isn’t it? Yes.”
“I… I’m all right touching people who haven’t hurt me… Gan, Ili.”
“And every time you do, you are healing. It also helps them heal from a number of traumas.” He looked out the window at a yellow butterfly on the purple bush there. “Your intake form mentioned that you had been sexually abused.”
I felt my relaxed mind flow away like water down a drain, gurgling pain behind it. I had stayed away from that. I had tried to be as honest as I could in everything but that. My guts started churning again. “Oh. Yes. Well.” I leaned forward and set the cat down. She didn’t bother moving but stayed to make my feet too hot instead of my lap. “Zinchaer… I can’t hold onto the mental quiet.” I had to swallow my gorge and force myself to say it out loud. “I… I…” I wrapped my arms around my chest where my heart was hurting again. Such a familiar pain.
His eyes on me were quiet, just waiting. “I…” Forzak it, why are these tears not done with yet? My lack of control offended me, angered me, disgusted me. “I… have to admit… I was the abuser, not the abused.” I flinched my eyes shut so as to avoid the disgust I was sure was there.
“The abuser?” My eyes popped open at his tone. There was no disgust there. No repudiation. Of course. He was Haian. It was all illness and dis-ease, from their viewpoint. Mainland sickness. “How old where you?” Wait. Had I told him? This was starting to sound familiar. Had I said something and forgotten it?
“Zinchaer… I’m falling apart… have I told you about this already and have forgotten?”
“No, Minis,” his eyes were so kind. It was as though he touched me with his gaze the way, well, the way Yeolis did. Gan did that. Intent and not painful. I was starting to associated brown eyes with being looked at in a way that didn’t hurt, as if blue eyes were somehow edged and pointed.
“No.” He repeated. “You are showing signs of having been abused, at least to a trained healer’s eye.”
“I was twelve.” I whispered. But my gorge rose up and I shook my head violently. “No, no I can’t tell you. I refuse to tell you. Zinchaer I can’t tell you!” I was on my feet but the cat was still across them, meowing mildly because I had disturbed her. I stood, frozen not wanting to kick the cat. I was a hair away from running from the room completely.
“It’s all right Minis, you don’t have to. It’s all right.” He held out a cup of water. “Are you thirsty? You don't need to run... but you can if you have to. No one will force you to reveal anything. You will be able to work on it one day but I am certainly not going to pry open the caterpillar’s cocoon to see inside it.”
I gulped and reached out for the water even though I didn’t want it. “Can we… Zinchaer… I need to swim, not just have water inside me.”
“I will come down to the beach with you. We can finish our session on the sand there.”
“Thank you, Zinchaer.”
“No need, Minis. I am with you on this.” He scooped up the cat and placed her across his shoulders like a shawl, freeing me to move. It was as close as a Haian would get to ‘taking sides’. A Haian was always on your side. It made me sick to think what my father had done and tried to do to them and their home. It was almost enough to make me pray that my sire was in hayel, but I wouldn’t. If the Gods were really there, I didn’t want to draw their merciless attention to me.