I no longer remember being able to give him a big bear hug, though I know I once did. However, as I throw back my memory as far as it will go, at least I remember being able to give him a proper hug. Maybe not the jump on you and get lifted up into the air kind, but at least a solid, proper hug - one where your hearts meet for an instant, where for a moment the world is no longer a scary place, where you know there is something, someone, solid, to anchor you.
I was in the habit of randomly giving him a hug or a kiss on my month-long summer vacation visits. An outpouring of affection that was meant to make up for the rest of the year when I would be across an ocean and out of hugging distance. I still remember the soft skin of his cheeks, the stubble that was all white. He stopped going out too much because it was exhausting, and so he would walk around the flat. Thankfully it was large so going from one end to the other about ten times, especially when you're walking pretty slowly, took up some time and was enough exercise. I would walk with him sometimes. Other times I would be reading a book in a chair in the sunlight and every time he would pass he would lay a hand on my head or exchange a comment about my book.
One day I was just getting up to get another book from the cupboard that houses books that have belonged, at one time or another, to some member of the past three generations of my family. Our paths crossed, and I reached out to give him a hug. A sick sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I felt him falter. A fear in his heart, a fear in mine. I retained my balance and he regained his. And I went and got another book, and he continued his back and forth.
Since that day my hugs became gentler. I warned him that I was putting my arm around him by saying a random 'Hi' a moment before I slipped my arm through his. I cuddled up to him when he was sitting on the sofa. When we hugged, he was not the one pulling me in, I was the one supporting him.
And then came the day that I saw him wince as I gingerly leaned over the side of his hospital bed to brush my lips against his cheek. Even the slightest movement of raising his head to receive my kiss required more effort than his emaciated body could summon. Since that day I held his hand, wishing, wanting, to somehow make my own life flow into him. My hands were warm, his were habitually cool and dry. The pulsing heat that quickened my blood didn't make it past my hands into his, past my heart into his.
I remember the last time I kissed him. Cool, dry, like soft thin silky paper, his skin stretched across his face, his cheeks, his forehead. I can feel, distinctly, his hands in mine. The memory of the countless times I have held them does not fade from my palms. I feel his earlobe still in my fingers. As a child I had a habit of holding on to it whenever I would sit in his lap. I don't feel his skin against my lips as I recall that last kiss. He had already left by then. There was nothing to feel.
"Whatchu thinkin' about?"
I looked at D, startled. He had been telling me about how he is going to visit his grandparents in a month or so, and I had fallen silent, leaning my head against the car window.
"So how long will you be there? That should be fun!"
I didn't want to start bawling in the car.