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I was Social Distancing Long Before it was a Thing

It began when I was a kid, not liking affectionate greetings or goodbyes at family functions. Okay, I was a cute little kid, so I'm told, and my Grandmothers and Aunts all wanted a piece of me! They’d pinch my cheeks, call me cute, and plant big wet ones on me - yuk! I went home with old lady lipstick and powdery make-up plastered all over my young, innocent face. I didn't like it!

As soon as I was old enough, I devised plans to avoid such encounters, and I did so with effortless grace. I danced around crowded gatherings like Fred Astaire, avoiding the welcoming hugs, kisses, and handshakes I detested. And when the function was nearing the end, I immediately ducked outside with the finesse of a cat burglar and waited for the rest of my family. I got very good at it, perfecting my craft well into adulthood. I was social distancing long before it was a "thing".

My first year teaching (2005), I was assigned a mentor, in fact, there were 15 of us in the group. Carolyn guided us through our first school year as teachers, answering any and all questions we had. She hosted a party at the end of the year where we all received certificates acknowledging our successful completion of the “Mentor Program”. Carolyn was petite, a silver top in her late 60s, she was sweet and took a genuine interest in each one of us. She was also retiring and so the party was twofold.

The party was held in a small classroom with only one door. We sat around reminiscing and laughing, eating large, bakery-quality chocolate chips cookies and drinking cold bottled water. The focus was on Carolyn, how much we enjoyed having her as our mentor, and how fortunate we were to get her before she retired. Then the line formed... There were only three guys including myself and the rest were young women, and they were the ones who started the overly affectionate goodbyes, which intensified as the line grew shorter. I wasn't sure if I could exit unnoticed through the single door, and so I anxiously held my place in line. I began to sweat, wondering how I could pull this off without getting all touchy-feely like everyone else ahead of me.

When it was my turn to say goodbye, I displayed a warm smile. When Carolyn leaned in for a hug, I had PTSD flashbacks, and I wasn't sure what to do. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me in tightly, and not wanting to create an awkward moment, I didn't resist. The embrace felt uncomfortably intimate as Carolyn's breasts collided with my chest. It was strange, Carolyn was old enough to be my mother and grandmother to my children. My knee-jerk reaction was to pull away, but I didn't want to appear unappreciative. I froze, and I let Carolyn dictate the length of the embrace. When she finally released me from her clutches, it had been one of the most awkward moments of my life. We stepped back and looked at each other in shock, realizing the embrace was uncomfortably intimate and way too long. I made a beeline for the door, hurried to my truck, and never looked back.

After that horrific encounter, I had even more reason to avoid affectionate greetings and goodbyes at social gatherings and I successfully stepped up my game and haven't been caught off-guard since.

Now, in 2020, in the midst of a Pandemic, our culture has drastically changed its socializing habits and traditions. There will be no more handshakes, no more hugging, and social distancing will be the norm. When we finally leave our homes, get back to work, and begin socializing again, I'm going to feel more comfortable about keeping my distance because now social distancing is a "thing"!