One by one, milongas, practicas, festivals, tango classes, and seminars cancelled worldwide. My facebook notifications screen looked similar to an airline terminal monitor during a snow storm, one cancellation after the next. Sadly, I had to do the same and postpone indefinitely our weekly milonga, which had debuted only 3 weeks prior and received collective support from the community. Soon after all the cancellations, tangueros worldwide scrambled online to find solace and camaraderie within pop-up Facebook groups, such as I’m not dancing tango so I did this instead, Where do you dance online tango on Earth tonight ? and Tango Covid-19 Comedy Club & stress relief. Restricted by local and nationwide ordinances to embrace, lock palms, and allow tendrils of infected sweat to fall onto our cheeks and chests, tangueros retreated from the material and temporal conditions of tango to the virtual infinite spaces of the Internet. In the past 10 days, tangueros have hosted virtual milongas, shared memes, and posted updates about learning a new language or musical instrument or knitting the second half of a sweater that lay abandoned in a drawer after starting tango. In addition, stories about tango withdrawals have become more frequent.
It has been 10 days since I have touched someone.
I live alone. Luckily, I cannot infect anyone in my household in the event I contract the virus. I also have no contact with the elderly or any vulnerable populations at this point, one benefit to living 3000 miles away from family and good friends who are in their 60s and 70s. I feel fortunate that I can work from home, have access to online yoga and cycling classes, and live behind a hiking trail that is often vacant. However, it is day 10. My skin has begun to sting without touch, like hands submerged into an icy river. How long can this last?
No time in recent history has the world had to confront an invisible enemy in which the one thing that can save us is physical separation–no hugs, no kisses, no holding hands. Touch is the one sense that all humans share in common, the one sense that we cannot ever turn off. Touch is our connection to the world–it is how infants imprint onto their mother’s bosom; it is how toddlers learn spatial awareness and develop their motor skills and cognitive functions; it is how adolescents test their boundaries; it is how teens learn to discover independence; it is how young adults explore each other’s bodies; it is how parents nurture and protect their offspring; it is how a dying grandmother grasps your hand one last time before dropping her head to the side of the hospital pillow; it is how soft the pedals feel above my father’s coffin before lowering six feet into the earth.
It has only been two months since my father has passed. If he had been alive today, I would be more worried like the rest of America. I am fortunate that the virus had not made its away across our shores, and I could touch his long-sleeved flannel shirt while I gently leaned down into his sofa chair to leave one kiss on his warm cheek. My father was never affectionate. Growing up, we were never hugged, caressed, or kissed by our parents after the age of 6 or 7. My only memories of hugging my mother were when she would introduce me to strangers, and I would cling to her wide hips to avoid talking to anyone. In the early 20th century, psychologists and doctors would warn parents against hugging and kissing their children to avoid spoiling them and raising morally inferior children. I hardly doubt that my uneducated immigrant parents paid much attention to the conventional wisdom of psychologists; however, it was very much a part of their culture to avoid coddling children. In our household, touch was associated with pain–the prickly sting of a spanking, the careful tug of a rusty nail embedded in our barefoot, the pinch pull of a baby tooth, and a mother’s palm pressed against our jaw as the warm olive-oil-soaked cotton ball soothed an aching ear. Without pain, how else would we know that our parents loved us?
Days before my father died, I kissed his cheek. That was the first time in my life that I kissed him, a tradition that I imported from Buenos Aires after living there for a year. It happened so naturally as if that had always been our tradition. It was in that moment when he looked at me in a way that he had never looked at me before, so naturally, as if it had always been our tradition to love each other. In that moment, I held back my tears. I knew I would never see him alive again. The next morning, I drove cross country to New York. Two weeks later, he was dead. At the funeral, I chose not to touch his corpse. It was my story. I wanted it to end with the ghost of our first kiss.
It has been 10 days since my last tanda. The music touches me, but we know that isn’t the same. The outpouring of kindness amongst strangers throughout this crisis touches me, but we know that isn’t the same. The kindling of old and new social ties online touches me, but we know that isn’t the same. If you had known that it would be the last time you touched someone, would it be the same story?