If physical contact can be a metric for human connection, these are the markers I remember:
- The women who take my hand in careful, casual acknowledgement before buying masa at your sister's window
- Your mother who silently encircles her small arms around my waist the first moment we meet
- Your children who slowly allow me to hug them at the end of six full days
- Your grandfather who folds me into a stiff, emotional embrace the following year, when I near the end of my second trip.
Very little kissing, very few words. Rarely do I feel another cheek pressing against mine. Though, the kids ask me to sleep with them early on. Asleep and unconscious, they throw their arms and legs across my body; the little one's dusty feet caress my face in the early morning before the rooster crows.
Almost always, they want a story or song in exchange for stillness and sleep. I sing the children's songs my mother never sang to me. They hum along with an old Teresa Teng I've taught them, the only one I know the words to.
It's the true stories on the tip of my tongue that we have to avoid—the ones they know intimately and savagely well. The 43 young men from a neighboring town rendered to ash and spark, an old VW bug burning in the center of town, the death 48 hours following a single mosquito bite, their father an old memory, their mother an unnameable ghost.