Fifteen. The thought of the number made an eerie appearance in my head— Large and unable to miss.
Fifteen is the number of years that have passed since the last time that I was genuinely touched. By this point in time I can't even remember the last person to have gotten the opportunity. Was it my mother? A friend? A stranger passing by on the street? I don't really know. All I know is that since the time I was eight years old I've been living with this horrific, life altering curse called Haphephobia.
Haphephobia has many other names. It can also be known as aphephobia, haphophobia, hapnophobia, haptephobia, haptophobia, thixophobia, and basically any other combination and order of the letters "h", "a", and "p" ending with a random sound, and then put in front of the word "phobia". But no matter how you say it, in the end it all means the same thing; the irrational fear of touching or being touched. Of course I also like to define it as– Oh yeah, that mother fucker.
Joking aside, as much as I like to hate on it, I've never let it get me down. Sure it's caused troubles within my relationships, some bullying in school, and even some complications with doing something as simple as walking down a crowded street. But for the most part I've been able to continue living my life pretty well with it I'd say.
Always keeping a positive attitude, and learning to find other ways to connect with people is what I live by. Also to always throw in a bit of sarcasm to keep yourself entertained. One simply just cannot live through their troubles without a good healthy dose of sarcasm.
When I couldn't walk out into a crowded place because of the fear of accidentally bumping into somebody, I just ended up working hard on my reaction time and maneuvering skills to be able to get through even the toughest of crowds without touching a soul. When friends and family complained of not being able to hug or get intimate with me, I made a look alike doll that I could hand to them and have them hug instead. I've found that deep conversation is what brings us closer to one another anyway.
Though, Sometimes, on my bad days I start to think about what my life would be like without having to obsessively worry about walking through bustling areas, or what being in a romantic relationship would be like, or how much easier not having to explain to an interviewer why I can't shake their hand would be.
I let out a long, hopeless sigh as I lay in bed letting my mind race way too much before even getting up to shower and start the day. The clock showed a bright red "7:30 AM" and I resentfully crept out of bed and headed toward the bathroom to get ready for yet another day at my university. As I passed through the hallway from my room to the bathroom door I took note of the framed picture of my roommate Kate and her boyfriend Glenn sitting atop the small, wooden desk against the wall. I've passed by this photo so many times without any second thought, but for some reason it stuck out to me today. There are many other pictures placed on the desk. Photos of Kate and I laughing together, high school graduation pictures, and Kate's dorky family. So why is it that this one particular photo stood out to me? Without even realizing it I found myself staring at the photo for a solid minute before I could even notice what I was doing.
"Snap out of it," I whisper to myself as I shake my head vigorously back and forth trying to clear my mind. "I don't know what's wrong with me today," I sigh disheartenedly bringing my hand up to my forehead as if it had healing powers. I go on to finish my difficult quest of finding the shower and getting ready for school. Trying to forget the absurdity of my actions and thoughts this morning I focus on my daily basic makeup routine, throw my hair up into a messy bun, stumble into some casual clothes, and make my way to the front door. My long, brunette hair usually being too difficult to spend any time dealing with in the morning. Getting into my car I head off to attend my first class on The Diversity of Human Sexuality.
Arriving to class fifteen minutes early as usual, I sit in the front row and pull out my notetaking materials from my backpack onto my desk. It's said that those who sit in the front are known to be the most studious and receive the best grades. I always try to pride myself on being a hard worker and a dedicated student, and will do whatever it takes to increase my chance of success. Because of this I have always sat in the front row of every class I have ever taken, and make sure to arrive early to guarantee nothing interferes with me obtaining this golden spot. Due to the relatively small size of the classroom, it only fit about thirty students. This meant even higher stakes and timeliness. Normally an extra 5 minutes would suffice as most students prefer the farther seats. However, I was so misfortunate to have chosen to take the same class in the same time slot as a certain individual named Christian Grey.
Christian Grey is well known within the university as a very intelligent and successful therapist who graduated in the top percentile of the university and passed his licensing exam with flying colors. More popularly he is known for his superb good looks and extremely wealthy father. A father who also just so happens to spend time as an actor on the side, and brought Christian into the limelight with him since he was a baby. It had already been a big announcement when the son of one of the most wealthy men in Seattle had come to attend the university, and then even more so when he became the most successful in his field. Intelligent, handsome, and wealthy. The guy really has it all. That's not even mentioning the fact that he now owns his own clinic due to his father's connections and lack of worry for money. I always wondered what he was doing still attending classes at the university if he had already graduated with his master's degree. Word of the street is that he returned for some sort of continuing education to further his own personal knowledge and reputation.
Of course it was just my luck that he had chosen to take the same undergraduate course as me. Keeping up his good student attitude as well he always sat in the front row. This caused a disturbance in my life as girls that normally sat in the back rows all flooded to the front for the chance to sit next to the irresistible Christian Grey. They would gawk, giggle, and swoon over him in attempts to lure him into conversation and make their move. I wasn't having any of that. All I wanted was to get good grades, and complete my last quarter of college so that I could get my Bachelor's degree in international business, start up my own company, and get the hell out of here. This man, however, made such things difficult. I now needed to arrive an extra ten minutes or more early if I wanted to make sure that the gaggle of Christian lovers didn't take up all the seats in the front row.
Scrolling through my phone checking all the useless posts from my acquaintances on social media I waited for the class to begin. Right on time at 8:55 AM Christian walked through the doors, and all the chattering girls sitting around me fell silent and watched him as he sat down in the empty seat right to the left of me.
With the blink of an eye all the seats surrounding me were mysteriously filled with love-struck girls and eager boys fighting for the seats closest to him. A few dirty glares were unjustly bestowed upon me. I'm sure some probably thought that I purposefully came early and sat in the front every day just to increase my chances of sitting next to him. However, this couldn't be farther from the truth as I didn't give a single damn about him and his fancy reputation.
Almost as if on cue the girl sitting behind me suddenly leans forward in towards my ear and grabs my attention with a "Hey." I look to the side and jump back slightly out of reflex to the closeness of her face. My heart now racing from the brief moment of fear. In my phobia stricken mind, I had no idea how close she was going to get. At least she didn't attempt to grab my attention with a tap, or that could have ended badly.
Next she condescendingly whispers to me "If you think you're going to cheat and arrive to class so early everyday just so that you can steal the chance to sit next to Christian, then you're going to have to suffer some serious consequences as punishment for breaking the rules." I let out a snort and turn around whispering sternly back "Look lady I'm just here to learn about the diversity of human sexuality, and get a good grade unlike all of you who are only here for Christian. Apparently I never got the memo that he was going to be in this class or I would have never signed up for it and sentenced myself to this hell dealing with you and all his other stalkers. I always sit in the front row and I will continue to do so whether he is sitting here or not. I have no business with him, nor will I ever. Also last time I checked there's no rule about arriving to class early. So please get more serious about your education rather than becoming some bimbo and let me get back to focusing on preparing for the lecture." I start to turn back, then realizing I left something out I turn around again and add "Oh and don't talk to me about silly matters like that ever again." Just as I was able to finish my sentence the professor entered the room and greeted the class with a "Hello everyone! Let's quiet down now and start our lecture today continuing with yesterday's topic on gender."
The girl falls back into her chair, scowling at me with her arms crossed. Then lets out an angry "Tch. Fucking bitch," under her breath. With the turn of my head, I realize that Christian had overheard our entire conversation as he slightly glances to the side and brings his right hand up to his mouth to cover a soft chuckle. My heart skipping a whole two beats at the sight. I had been hoping that he wouldn't overhear what I said as it was quite rude, but then again, a good kick to his ego would probably be good for him.
From then on I tried my hardest to focus on the lecture, but I kept getting distracted by the extreme awkwardness I now felt from sitting so close to him. Although I had never really cared before, I realized that sitting next to such a highly worshiped figure was somehow kind of intimidating. Mentally kicking myself in the head for getting swayed by some random rich boy, I reiterated that I should have no reason to feel inferior to him, or to view him as anything other than an ordinary classmate. Getting too involved in my own thoughts, I kept awkwardly shuffling in my seat, and once again noticed him give a slight glance my way.
My heart skipped yet another beat.
Gosh damn it, I internally yelled at myself. If I don't start focusing on this lecture he's going to realize somethings up and think that I'm interested in him or something stupid like that! I try to keep my outside looking cool. Concentrating with all my might, I somehow find a way to calm myself down and return my attention back to the lecture on the gray areas of gender.
Halfway through the lecture the professor calls for a five minute break, and I use the time to check over my notes. Another girl sitting on the left side of Christian nervously grabs his attention while tucking her hair behind her ear in a cutesy manner. She proceeds to ask him if he had written down the notes from the last slide because she had missed them. It was an obvious attempt to flirt and start up a conversation with him as I hadn't seen her take a single note the entire class.
I bet he loves all this attention, I roll my eyes at the hilarious scene. But to my astonishment he looks down at her desk and then gives her a cold reply of "I actually did get them. However, looking at your notebook I think that you will be needing more than just the last slide. Unfortunately that will take more than five minutes and I would like to use this time to take an actual break. You should have been focusing more on taking notes." He then pulls out his phone from his pocket, leans back in his chair and starts scrolling through it. Leaving her completely ignored. She looks so taken aback that I almost choke on my own spit from attempting to hold back my laughter. Quietly, she sinks back into her chair from the embarrassment of being caught.
Guess she wasn't hot enough for him or something, I silently chuckle to myself.
A couple minutes pass and the professor returns to class to finish up the lecture. Finally reaching the end, I pack up all my stuff and quickly get out of the room whilst taking careful notice not to look in the left direction. Somehow I manage to make it out before everyone else, not looking back even once to see what anyone was up to. There was no way in hell I was going to stick around for Ms. Snobby Backseat Girl's wrath. I had to get out as soon as possible before she had time to finish our earlier conversation. That's yet another person I'm going to have to try and avoid in that class. Just fantastic, I mentally kick myself in the head again. Maybe I shouldn't have fought back with that girl.
Exhausted, I arrive at my next class and wipe a rolling droplet of sweat off of my forehead from rushing so hard. "Man you've really done it now Anastasia, haven't you?" I say to myself out loud as a couple people look my way seeming confused as to who I was talking to. I highly doubt she's just going to let that one pass. Should have just kept my big mouth shut and taken it. Realizing that what's done is done and that I shouldn't worry about things that haven't occurred yet, I go through the door and sit down, getting prepared for class again. Five minutes early of course.
Another boring lecture goes by and I make my way to meet with Kate for lunch. Kate is not only my roommate, but also just so happens to be my childhood best friend. We've been through nearly everything together and she is one of the only people who truly understands me and my phobia. I sit down on a bench at a table outside and see Kate running up to me. I turn to wave to her.
"OH MY GOODNESS WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME!" She interjects my greeting and shouts loudly into my face while throwing her hands up into the air before stopping and standing in front of me.
Giving her a puzzled look and slightly leaning away from her, I give her a questioning, "Uuuuuuh…tell you what?"
"THAT CHRISTIAN GREY IS IN YOUR CLASS!"
Hearing her mention Christians name I start going into a panic. "Shh. Shh. Keep it down!" I lower my head into my shoulders and wave my hands down as I peer from side to side to see if anybody had overheard her sudden combustion. "You're going to make ourselves the center of attention if you come over here suddenly yelling things like that you idiot!" I exclaim in a hushed tone. She finally lowers her voice and seems to calm down a bit.
"Sorry I just a got a little too overexcited when I heard the news." She finishes apologizing and takes a seat in front of me.
"Yeah about that, exactly how in the hell did you hear this news?"
"SO IT IS TRUE!" She starts shouting yet again.
"Hey I said keep quiet!" My voice raises slightly in agitation. "Yes Kate, unfortunately it is true. Now just tell me where you heard the damn news!"
"Well you see, I passed by your class looking for you and I heard some girls bickering about how a girl named Anastasia was arriving early every day and taking up space in the front row just to steal a spot next to Christian. I mean she also added that you were a Bitch but that's beside the point right now. Oh actually she also mentioned that she wanted to get revenge on you…thought I should mention that to you eventually as well."
Realizing that it must have been Ms. Snobby backseat girl, irritation arises at the fact that my earlier suspicions were indeed correct. Guess I really did do it this time. In the most sarcastic tone I cross my arms and tell her, "Wow. Thanks a lot Kate. A girl mentions about how she wants revenge on me and the first thing you want to talk about is some popular guy in my class."
Kate raises her hand to her chest, "Hey in my defense it's not just any popular guy, it's Christian Grey! Plus the girl looked like a sissy, I know you can take her on. Anyway, we will get to that part later, so let's start talking about how I can't believe that you never told me that the man of all men is in your class! And that you were sitting right next to him at that!"
I feel a shiver go down my spine as I am reminded once again about how I sat so awkwardly next to him. "Yes he is in my class and yes he sat in the seat beside me, but why should I care? He's just a person like everybody else." With that statement I see Kate begin to shake her head.
"Oh Anastasia. He's not just some normal guy, he's the son of the wealthiest man in Seattle! Plus he's got enough brains to share some with us all. And one look into those gorgeous eyes….sigh." She rests her face on her hand and dreamily looks off into the distance.
"Yeah, yeah I've heard that a million times." Rolling my eyes again for millionth time today at her absurdity. "I won't be smitten by a guy just because his daddy has loads of money. It doesn't matter if he has money or not because I will be making my own big bucks one day. And looks are superficial. Good looks can't make up for a snobby, playboy personality. One thing I will give him credit for is his brains though. I am quite impressed with all that he's done despite not really needing to. A man with intelligence is quite admirable. But I feel more competitive towards him in that regard."
Kate looks at me with disappointment. "Alright I get that you're not attracted by normal things like money and good looks, but what's that about his personality? You don't know if he has a bad personality or not! He became a therapist because he said that he wants to help people above all else. You see, he's actually a really kind and caring person on top of all of that, and you're so quick to demonize him just because he's popular. Maybe it's really you who's the demon here Anastasia." She gives me a wink and fake nudge to the side knowing that she can't actually nudge me.
"Pfft. Come on Kate he's probably just saying that to appear as a nice guy so that he can be even more popular with the girls. Maybe I'm not a demon and I'm just being rational instead of falling for his stupid trap like you and all the other people in this school." Tired of this useless conversation I take out my lunch sack from my bag and start eating my sandwich with my head down, looking at the table.
"Alright I get it, you might be right about him. But I still think sitting next to him will somehow lead you to falling in love and ending up as his jealousy stirring, all-star girlfriend." She suddenly gets all giddy and caught up in her fantasy. I start to laugh. "Jesus Kate why are you even having these fantasies about me anyway? Shouldn't you be fantasizing about yourself being in my place and getting with him? What with you being the one who's supposedly already in love with him and all." I give her an air nudge back.
"That is true. I really wish I could switch places with you, you lucky bastard. But I already have a boyfriend, and you my dear, do not." She pauses for a moment, then changes her voice from her usual over excited tone to more serious one. "Don't you think it's about time you finally started considering looking for someone?"
The unexpected question makes me freeze up. My mind shifts to the moment when I caught myself staring at the photograph of her and her boyfriend this morning. Something that I will never let Kate find out about.
"Ah, who me? No way! I'm way too focused on school right now to have time for a boyfriend. Besides, you know that even if I did have the time, it wouldn't be possible anyway. What guy would want to date a girl that he couldn't even hold hands with without sending her into a panic?" The image of Kate and Glenn happily smiling together starts to fade from my mind, and the usual blackness is present once again.
"Aww come on Anastasia!" Kate looks at me with a face full of pity. "You can't keep letting this phobia of yours get in your way forever! There's definitely a guy out there who would love you no matter what. Even if you scream a little and punch him when he gets too close." We both look at each other and laugh. I'm guessing she was remembering the time that I accidentally socked her in the face after she fell asleep on my shoulder while watching Tarzan.
She brings her hands to the middle of the table and continues on. "There's so much more to you than your phobia. It doesn't make up who you are. I've loved you for all these years, phobia and all. A couple bruises here and there is definitely worth getting to know you, and I don't need to hold your hand to know that we are close." She brings her hands together holding them tight while looking into my eyes with a smile. I too bring my hands to the middle of the table just in front of hers, and clasp them together slowly, giving her the same warm smile back. This is the way we came up with being able to touch. We would hold our own hand and pretend that we were instead holding the others. That way I would never have to miss out on the joys of physical touch, and all forms of closeness with my best friend.
Feeling a bit more uplifted from Kates reassurance, I respond "I guess you're right. I've never felt that my friendship with you or anyone else was lacking because of this slight obstacle. But with romantic relationships it's different. The only chance I have at one is meeting an Asexual."
"Hmmmmm," she thinks for a bit. "That's definitely possible. You'd be the perfect partner for an asexual person. They would never have to worry about you trying to engage in any lewd behavior. It would be great for you. That is however…" She trails off as her face turns up a sly smirk.
"….however what?" I question her wondering what devious thing could possibly be on her mind.
"That is however as long as you don't start desiring sexual contact as well." She lifts her hands up and folds them together while resting her elbows on the table, then leans in closer to me. An eyebrow raises in suspicion.
"Wha- wha- wha- what?" I flush and stammer in embarrassment. "What are you talking about? Jeez Kate, you're such a pervert. Why are you wondering about such a thing anyway?"
"Hey it's a totally normal thing! No need to be embarrassed. It just occurred to me that just because you can't do it, that doesn't mean that the feelings aren't still there. Am I right?"
"What? I mean…uh, I don't know…maybe…I guess…sometimes…er….who knows!" My stammering indicating the complicated thought process that was now going on in my head. "I've never really thought about it. Gee look at the time!" I peer down at my empty wrist as if there was a watch there. "Looks like it's time for this conversation to end. Gotta run!" I stand up ready to bolt for it, but Kate quickly grabs the end of my T-shirt and forces me back down onto the bench. My breath comes to a halt and I feel my body freeze and tense up for a minute as I fall back into my seat. Thankfully Kate had already let go of me by the time that I regained movement in my limbs. "Hey watch it!" I snap at her. "I nearly just slapped you there!" Looking at her in a worried but also angry expression, I continue on "that was way too close to touching me. The only reason I don't react when you get so close to me is because I trust you. But you shouldn't push it too much."
"Yeah, yeah." She flicks her wrist brushing me to the side. "I've already learned how far I can push you. I've had lots of practice testing the limits and getting slapped. Anyway I'm not just going to let you get away from me that easily." Looking completely unaffected she crosses her arms and gives me an expectant stare.
"Okay fine." I give in to her. She always manages to get her way with me. Somehow I just can't resist when she gives me that face. "I suppose I have those feelings sometimes. It's not really something that crosses my mind often though. Whenever I do think of it, I just imagine being touched by another person and that freaks me out. Such things deter my mind away when I'm feeling in the mood. Having a panic attack is a bit of a buzz kill, you know?" Kate chuckles at my joke.
"And there has never been anybody that you felt maybe you wouldn't mind letting touch you?" Kate asks while peering at me intensely, obviously hoping for some juicy answer. Unfortunately I have to leave her disappointed though. Thinking hard on this deep question that she just threw at me, I realized that there wasn't a single face that came to my mind. It sorted through multiple faces of boys and girls that I had found attractive throughout the years. People whom I admired. My favorite celebrities and closest friends. The faces quickly zoomed by like watching a film being fast-forwarded. The play button never seemed to be hit though. I once again let out a long sigh. "No unfortunately I don't think there ever has been. I'm trying really hard to think of a time, but not even a single one is popping up."
Kate looks shocked. "But surely there's been someone you've had feelings for?" She leans over the table and points her finger at me. "I remember in 10th grade when you used to stare like an idiot when Steven would walk by. Then I helped you to internet stalk him for hours in order to find the best pictures to make a collage that you secretly set as your desktop wallpaper. You had the biggest crush on him. You said he was one of the most intelligent and handsome people you had ever seen. Did you not ever dream of getting it on with handsome and intelligent desktop boy? Or how about Sarah whom you always used to joke about her hair being so gorgeous you almost passed out when she would let it down in front of you?"
"Ha ha ha ha ha," I cut her listing off by my laughter that I could no longer contain from the embarrassment of remembering desktop Steven. Teenagers really just do the most ridiculous things. I'm so glad we've all matured a little bit since those times. Well, most of us anyway.
Calming down a bit, I give a final stop to her with an answer of, "Aside from Sarah's amazing hair, I sure did have a ridiculous crush on Steven didn't I? But you see, in case you didn't notice I never even approached him because I knew that it could never amount to anything more. He was just my eye candy and a person whom I admired for his intelligence. The thought of actually getting close with him made me freeze up and want to gag. Not because he was gross or anything, but because the thought of any kind of human contact makes me sick. As such, all of that admiration was nothing more than just that. Admiration. Can't fall in love and break your phobia if you don't even try to talk to the people you have a crush on." My mouth turns up into a sad half smile, and Kate gives me the same look back.
With a look full of pity she rhetorically asks, "Yeah it must be difficult to think about making love with someone when just the thought of them getting close makes you have a heart attack, huh." Clasping her hands together on top of the table even more tightly this time, she brings the other half of her smile upwards and gives me the same sympathetic look she always does when talking about my phobia.
"Hey what is this, don't give me that look!" I exclaim at her as I cross my arms together. "I don't need your pity. As I've always told you I'm fine with things being the way that they are and I don't need to be in a relationship to be happy. Nor do I need to have sex to be happy. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything or that I have anything less than you or any other person does." Still keeping my arms crossed I turn my face to the side. "There! I said it!"
"Okay, okay I get it Anastasia," Kate says as she brings her arms back down to her lap. "I know you're doing just fantastic being who you are. You're a very smart and determined girl who knows how to take care of herself and find her own happiness. I'm sorry for feeling pity for you there. I know there's no reason to. I've known you for a long time, and that's why I can say that sometimes I think you may be lying to yourself that you've never thought about wanting those things. I just want to be sure that you're not hiding that you feel that way sometimes, just so that you don't make other people worry about you, or think that you're not strong. No matter what you say, you will always be the world's most strong girl to me Anastasia." This time Kate gives me a true smile that's full of admiration rather than pity.
Trying to find the right words to say to her, she cuts me off as she looks down at her phone to check the time, then starts up again by saying, "Oh would you look at that. It looks like we got off on a bit of a tangent. I need to hurry up and finish my lunch before my next class starts. I'll see you later at home." She quickly shoves the rest of her sandwich that she had only managed to take a few bites of into her face. Standing up and grabbing her things, she sees me off with a "See ya hot thang," then walks away heading back into the school. That was her usual goodbye that she started giving me since high school. For some reason she finds it amusing to call me that. I always just roll my eyes at it, and yet she does it anyway, even after such a serious conversation as this one. I just chuckle and shake my head. "Oh Kate. Gotta love ya."