I have a terrible admission to make - an admission of a fault so grievous, so heinous that I will never, ever be able to proclaim myself a friendly Southerner, no matter how long I live here (more than 20 years thus far):
I am hug impaired.
When people rush toward me - or even sidle up - with arms outstretched, I cringe.
As with all things, I blame my mother.
She was NOT a hugger.
Or a toucher.
Or a kisser.
The most intimate gesture my mother would make with someone she knew well but to whom she was not related was to tuck in the tag if one were protruding gracelessly from a sweater or shirt.
My mother didn't even hug my father, that I know of.
I remember seeing her kiss him exactly once - when I was in the backseat of the car as she dropped him off at work.
I found the gesture a reassuring chink in my mother's Teutonic armor.
My dad used to joke that we were all "welcome home" babies.
I had a hard time imagining that till that one kiss - and it wasn't all THAT easy afterward.
But back to me ...
I wish I COULD hug, but it just doesn't seem natural after all these years of abstinence.
The deacon at church, who's a pretty touchy-feely guy in all things, gave me a hug a couple of weeks ago after Sunday Mass. He said he could "hug the girls" who were on crutches and they couldn't protest.
I don't know whether the good-natured crack was aimed specifically at me or whether he was saying ALL people on crutches could be hugged because they were defenseless, but I took it personally.
It's weird that I don't hug because I sometimes lament the fact that I seem prickly.
From my father, I inherited a facial set that's meant to be contemplative but that comes across as intimidating.
What can I do, I ask my husband, Cliff, to seem less standoffish?
"Smile" is one answer, and I'm working on it, despite my embarrassingly crooked teeth.
"Hug" is another - but I seem incapable of it.
When I try, I grab people by inappropriate parts of their bodies (nothing crude).
I mis-estimate their height, especially if they're tall and bending a bit.
I could, conceivably, in the throes of an attempted hug, perpetrate the first blinding by hug by waving my hands around, looking for a place to settle them in a friendly fashion.
Worst-case scenario: I could poke out someone's eye, that person would crumple forward, grabbing me one-armed on the way down - in a sort of awkward hug - and I would then poke out the person's other eye. We would fall to the ground together - the other person blind and me, again, with something broken.
No one would ever believe our story.
Except my husband, who knows of what I am capable.
And maybe anyone else who has ever tried to hug me.
So, approach me gently.
Warn me when a hug attempt is imminent.
And wear eye covering, just in case I attempt to reciprocate.
I'm warning you.