Have you ever had someone lay their fingers along the spaces between your ribs and squeeze? Really find those fleshy bits between the bones and just curl into them? I have. The thing is, you can’t help your natural reflex in reaction to that strange, visceral, intrusive feeling. Your body knows, “hey, I don’t think I should be touched there!” and so it flails wildly, almost manically, to protect your most vital organs, even if there’s no real threat.
My wife loves the spaces between my ribs, but has kindly refrained from squeezing them since I’ve asked her to stop. Still. I’m a nervous person, and the guard just goes up sometimes – can’t help it.
The other night, we were laying in bed and cuddling, and I was about on the brink of passing out while baby lay curled over me. Her hand rested on my chest, her head lay nestled between my shoulder and my chin, and I was smelling her hair – a vague scent of shampoo, still a little wet from the shower. Everything felt warm and right and peaceful, but for the fact that (as exhausted as I was) baby was like a shaken up soda can of hyperactive lesbian. She was happily chatting away when her hand traveled a little lower, then circled around my side and her fingertips moved into those vulnerable little dips.
“Noooooooo,” I whined, and I yanked her hand away.
“But I can’t sleep!” She protested, laying her leg over mine and lifting her head to give me that wide-eyed, entreating look. “I won’t squeeze! I just want to count your ribs! It’s soothing.” I can never deny her anything when she gives me that look. (She has very long eyelashes and very blue eyes. It’s my kryptonite.)
So I let her hand go, cautiously, and relaxed a little bit. She teases and jokes, but she never lies to me, so I knew she’d at least stop herself from squeezing even though I know how much she loves it. She moved her hand back over to my rib cage and I took in a breath.
“You know,” I offered as her fingertips began to dance gently over each individual rib, “you could count sheep instead.”
And baby chuckled lowly, snuggling closer, warm and soft and sweet. And then she proceeded to say the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard come out of her mouth, in a voice that sounded like it should have been wafting inexplicably down the halls of an abandoned building.
“There are no sheep here,” she whispered, “but there are plenty of your bones.”
And somehow that simple statement was more instinctively horrifying than the feeling of fingers in the spaces between your ribs. Turns out, it inspired the same reaction. I flailed, and she laughed and laughed and laughed until I was laughing too.
It took us both a while to go to sleep.