I don't remember faces well, but I remember hands. When I'm speaking to a person, I often keep my gaze a little low, fixed on hands rather than eyes. For many significant meetings in my life, my primary impression is of hands.
When I met my ex-husband, we were sitting beside each other at a table. His left hand rested on the table next to his plate, and there was a large wart on one side of his thumb. As we talked and I realized I was attracted to him, I paid more and more attention to that wart. It became the center of my internal sexual questioning. I wondered what it would feel like and if there was anything bad about it entering my body.
I have always been attracted to people with long, delicate fingers, skillfull fingers. I spent countless hours watching people play guitar, and, later in my life, watching people hack computer hardware. The steady sureness of familiarity turns me on—someone who can position a piece of fabric under a sewing machine just so or precisely administer a dot of solder.
With men, there is something sexy to me about certain sorts of hair on the hands. I like when the arm hair is thick and impinges onto the back of the hand. I also like tufts of hair on the backs of the fingers.
With women, I am fascinated by fingernail choices (I would also be for men, probably, if there was more variety there). I notice the remnants of a sea-green polish and can tell the difference between tip wear and something that's been picked at methodically. I can often distinguish a DIY manicure from a salon manicure, decals from paint, and treatments such as shellac from traditional polish. The other day, I was stunned into extreme arousal by the sight of a woman's long, slim dark hands accented with gothy deep plum nail polish.
On both sexes, I love calluses and scars. I like to know the stories behind them or just to feel them. I also love seeing signs of work on hands–the incredibly stubborn grease that clings to a mechanic's hands, for example.
There are also the smells. It's sexy to catch the iron-tipped aromas of machines. I also enjoy a cook's hands, often wreathed with remnants of garlic, onion, and oils.
I'm not crazy about lotion. Living in New England as I now do, it's an occasional necessity, but I try to use unscented, fast-absorbing varieties. The lingering scent of lotion often strikes me as overbearing and it creates a slimy, too-soft sensation on the skin. I've been very put off in the past by hands that felt too soft to me. I enjoy the sensations of the sort of hand massage that comes with a nice manicure, but I always want to get the lotion off afterwards as soon as I can. It's always seemed like a cruel irony to me that nail techs' hands are often deeply affected by the chemicals they work with so that their skin is overdosed on lotion and their polish melted by contact with remover.
In moments of attraction, I often grow obsessed with the positioning of hands. They can be so close together that they brush accidentally when walking side by side, and yet the distance between that and taking a person's hand can seem like an immense cavern. The tentative hook of pinky finger around pinky finger can take my breath away, hit me solidly in the gut with disproportionate force. There is the deep awareness of the aura of heat coming off the hands, which sometimes creates a reactive frisson when one hand is in another's proximity. Sometimes, it's different. Sometimes, it's like there's no distance or barrier at all. When I met my current husband, I walked up to him in a club and put my hand on his shoulder as if I had every right to do so. I remember the breathlessness of that night, the way I couldn't get over how bold our hands were being and how it seemed as if there was nothing stopping them.
When I'm with an old lover or an interesting friend who can't become a lover, what will often make me sad is the way our hands must behave, the way that I must keep my hands to myself and not give in to the urge to close the gaps between us. And for so many of the romantic near-misses in my life, I was left with the memory of hands to comfort myself. There was the girl who invited me to her house and took my hand and explained that she had struggled with herself and questioned but she just didn't think she was interested in women that way. There was the boy whose hand I held at a party in an innocent fugue, but for some reason neither of us made any further moves.
I tend to think about sexual possibilities very frequently, and sometimes I walk through the world with a weird sense of freedom, realizing that I could take anyone's hand if I wanted to see what would happen next.
I don't. I've written this romantic meditation, but I'm usually reluctant to touch people I don't know. I am the person who downgrades hugs to handshakes, or doesn't step in close and satisfies myself with a wave. If I end up holding someone's hand in a supposedly innocuous way (in a group prayer, for example) I'm often consumed by my awareness of that person's body. The jolt I feel when I brush hands with someone else is too intimate for casual contact.