In Providence

In Providence: Holding

“I had the worst temper of anyone I’d ever met. That was before I went back to holding people. My life was really missing connection and intimacy, and allowing myself to reclaim that just cleared so much up.”

For her, “holding” is exactly what it sounds like. She invites people over to her apartment — men and women — and they hold each other. There’s nothing sexual about it, although it is very intimate. She’s done it with friends as well as total strangers, but that wasn’t until later.

“I have a little space off my living room and– When I moved in, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. It’s not very big. So I put a few pillows there and a blanket, and I just — I would lay there and feel so safe and comfortable. One night I invited a friend to lay there with me and we had the most beautiful time together. We just held each other and talked and slept and– We were there like that for hours. It was really special.”

She started inviting other friends to spend time in the space with her. Some politely rejected her offer, but more than you would expect said they’d try it, and many really seemed to enjoy doing it. Pretty soon, she was spending all her evenings among the pillows lit only by candles holding onto to someone she cared about, but eventually she had to expand beyond her inner circle to find regular company.

“That was when I got a little careless and posted in a few Facebook groups saying, ‘This is what I like and would anyone want to do it with me?’ I knew I would get some people with, um, not the right intentions, but I thought if I did enough checking before I invited them over, I’d be okay. Nothing too bad ever went down, thank god, but I kept getting these people who thought this was going to be a way to — to get me into bed. I made it clear — crystal clear — that I wasn’t looking for that, but everyone thinks you’re just saying that. I just said, I need to quit this before something bad happens.”

That led to her stepping away from it for a few months. She left the pillows and the blankets, but she didn’t spend any time there — not even alone. Her moods became erratic. She had trouble sleeping. Stomach trouble. Her anxiety was becoming a daily obstacle. Finally, she decided to go back to holding.

“I think by admitting that it’s something I have to have in my life, I’m able to control it. I’ve just gotten so organized about the whole thing. I know it’s something I need every single day. That means I plan for it. I have people who are — who get something out of it the way I do. Who don’t have partners of their own, or, they might, but they’re not getting the right kind of intimacy from those partners, and so by being with me — and it’s all very above board. This is not meant to hurt anyone. This is healing. It’s healing for me and I find that I get the most of out of it when it’s healing others too.”

She asks me if I’d like to come take a look at the space, and it feels like writing about her would be incomplete without taking it in myself. Her apartment is on Union Street downtown, and when we get there, she kicks off her shoes, and goes right to the slightly raised rectangle next to the living room.

“Do you want to try it?”

I tell her that I don’t really feel comfortable holding her or having her hold me. She tells me that’s fine, and then asks if I’d like to just lay down next to her and we can relax quietly for a few minutes so I get a better idea of what she does.

I say, “Sure.”

It’s a Saturday night in Providence and as we’re laying there side by side, I try to hear what’s going on outside. I tell her that when she asks me what I’m thinking, and she tells me the point is not to think about what’s going on outside, but to be present in this moment in this place — a corner in a stranger’s apartment where I’ll never be again next to someone I may never even talk to again trying not to think about any of that and just … be.

She asks me how I’m doing.

“I’m okay,” I say, not feeling okay at all.

She puts her hand right next to my hand — not on it, but next to it.

“Don’t worry,” she says, “It’s always like this until it’s not.”

That last part I’ll try to hold onto for as long as I can.