I believe that touch is a source of courage, strength and reassurance. Though thirty years have passed, I can still hear Heidi calling from the branch just above me. “Higher!” The papery bark of the eucalyptus felt fragile, but the tree held the weight of two little girls. My first best friend and I, chasing the clouds, moving steadily upwards, hand in hand.
Heidi and I didn’t have a name for the game. I can’t remember who suggested it first, the idea that we’d climb together. It probably seemed a natural extension to our already affectionate relationship: we huddled over puzzles at pre-school, picking out pieces for one another. At snack time, we sifted through peanuts and raisins in each other’s palms like grooming chimpanzees. Reading in the corner, she held one end of the book while I held the other.
The tree at the bottom of her yard was a monster, at least to five-year-old eyes. We’d played underneath it, hiding in the mottled green light. Then one day one of us looked up, and we both knew it was time to climb.
If you’ve ever been in a three-legged race, you know the awkwardness of sharing limbs. Every stride is more deliberate, ever step a considerable effort. But when Heidi and I gripped each other’s fingers, eying our first move, there was never any doubt. The only way up was joined: sometimes her palm to the tree, sometimes mine. Like a seven-legged spider, we scaled the trunk, pulled ourselves into the lowest nest of twigs and leaves, and held on tight.
I didn’t think of our game then as touch for courage, touch to spur us on to do things we’d never contemplate alone. And yet the physical contact, the constant reminder of “we’re in this together,” was an essential element of our willingness to risk catastrophe. And with her hand in mine, there was never any doubt in my mind that we’d reach the top, where the branches swayed in the wind.
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