Distance: A Case Study of You and I

by Caitlin Friel

Scientifically speaking, there is always distance between two objects. Like when you’re touching someone, you’re not actually touching them at all. The electrons that exist on the outer limits of the atoms that comprise everything repel one another. So every sensation we feel on our skin, in our mouths, and everywhere else on our bodies is really just repulsion.


We have been conditioned to ignore the microscopic distances between our bodies. When you touch me, you don’t consider your electrons repelling mine. You believe you feel my skin, you tell me how soft and warm I am. You slide into me and we pretend we are one, we ignore that this can never be true. What we cannot ignore are the vast distances—the miles, borders, and oceans that hold us apart. We are forced to find an alternative way to forget the space. Sometimes we call this love.


You’ve probably heard stories about people who live miles apart and still fall in love with one another, likely through an online dating site, with hardly any regard for the physical space between them. They reach out into a void with their hearts stretched like putty and desperately grasp onto anything they can find. With love and hope and blindness they fill the physical space that separates them.


It is different for couples whose love, so comfortably grounded in physical proximity, is pulled in opposite directions by unexpected relocation. You and I know this distance. Our love was like your blue T-shirt in our one-bedroom in Minneapolis. We each held a sleeve and pulled, our grips tightening as the fabric stretched. Then we heard it—a barely audible rip—and we both let go. I remember looking at the distorted fabric between us and wishing you would just stay. You told me not to worry— it would probably shrink back in the wash.


Technology has made distances seem smaller. I can be sitting on the curb outside our old apartment and you can be sitting in a café in Kansas City, and we can use our phones to video chat each other. I can see your face and hear your voice as though you’re sitting next to me, and it’s almost like when we would sit outside and smoke cigarettes every day after work. But not quite.


Inevitably, without the time and care required to prevent such an occurrence, Physical Distance attracts a parasite to its sickly, stretched out body. We call this disease Emotional Distance.  Emotional Distance preys on Physical Distance. It finds the weakest spots on Physical Distance’s fragile form and attacks, gnawing and ripping and devouring until it has completely overtaken its unwilling host.


I don’t know when our Emotional Distance started to consume our Physical Distance. But I knew the process was underway when we stopped video chatting every day. And even though we could have reversed it, we could have healed our Physical Distance with love, you could have called me on my birthday, I could have cared when you forgot—we didn’t. You didn’t. I didn’t.


Time is the hollow distance between then and now that we are told we must somehow fill. Seconds since you left: tears. Days since you left: cigarettes, newspapers. Months since you left: wine, a puppy, one nightstands. Years since you left: a daughter, no real father, public school, dance recitals, college debt, one wedding (mother of the bride), two grandsons. One funeral. Yours.


When we stand at the grave of a person long dead, we are close to them, physically speaking. Maybe six or seven feet of dirt and glossed wood separate you and the bones of someone you knew or someone you loved or someone you never knew at all. But time-wise, you’re years, decades, even centuries apart. Yet you feel close to the dead when you stand on their graves.


Scientifically speaking, there has always been distance between us—the circumstance of your death is inconsequential to this fact. Your body is buried deep in Kansas City soil. I root myself in memories of Minneapolis, somewhere far away from you.


Caitlin Friel was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and is a literary studies and German double major at Bucknell University. Previously, she has written for The Intelligencer as a contributor for the reality section. 


Filed under Fiction

6 responses to “Distance: A Case Study of You and I

  1. Caitlin, you got me goosebumps! Thank you for the simplicity and ease of your piece. It is sure to touch many many hearts, like it touched mine ! I’m going to look forward to more of your works in search for inspiration. =)

  2. This is SO good. I loved reading every second of it. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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  4. An amazing piece of work. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. This article of yours, clearly shows that everything is connected and how little we know about the connection YET.

    And in the words the Srinivas Ramanujam, the great mathematician” Everything is already out there,we just don’t know it yet”

  6. Your article remind me how the invisible connection is real

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