Dune – Of Barren Wastelands and Meditations on Touch

By Nella

In the sci-fi classic Dune, Arrakis is a harsh desert planet where few forms of life are able to survive. As a long-time sci-fi nerd and book lover, Dune is up there as one of my favorites. However, lately, I’ve been hearing the famous phrase in my mind; the meaning of which has begun taking a much more personal tone. 

On the desert planet Arrakis, the natives have had to adopt some unique and extreme habits in their fight for survival. Water rules everything. He who has water is richer and more powerful than the greatest king. As I watched the movie and am currently rereading the book, I now see a terrible parallel between Arrakis water and touch. 

“Maybe the times I couldn’t move were the times I needed to take better care of myself.”
― nagata kabi, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

Now an adult living in this harsh world, the key element that I need to survive is as scarce as water on Arrakis. Touch and intimacy for me seem to be in dangerously limited supply as I roam this planet. It has been scientifically proven that humans need touch. It helps alleviate depression, reinforce bonds, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress. The list of positive benefits goes on and on. I am one of those people, due to a combination of past trauma ingrained into my nature, for which touch is a necessity. Like water, it nourishes and sustains me. Like water, it is one of the main pillars of living a happy fulfilled life. 

Here in Beijing, I watch the inhabitants of this planet and see them getting their supply of physical touch and intimacy either through partners or close connections – their “fix” if you will – whether it’s a pair leaning on each other in the subway or a couple passionately making out at a club, and I realize that others seem to have found their water supply. They drink deep often while I stare on in near agonizing thirst. 

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Currently, I haven’t had touch or experienced any form of physical intimacy in about three months. Before then, I’d gone without it for five years. I remember how when my former partner would simply hug me, I’d want to weep with joy. When they would kiss me, I could do nothing but openly stare in reverence, truly grateful for the wonderful blessing they’d bestowed upon me. 

However, Arrakis is a harsh world, and my oasis dried up. I was left to roam the desert once more. 

“I think that starving for a sweet nectar you can’t drink — being unable to try — is because you can’t love yourself.”
― Kabi Nagata, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

On Arrakis, the natives have suits that recycle their bodily fluids for them to drink. So I similarly have had to survive. I’ve developed habits of doing things like hugging myself, stroking my own cheek, or even gently caressing my own leg. These small yet powerful touches of intimacy that I so deeply crave, I have to give to myself. Often times it feels weird and silly that I have to do this. Yet at other times, it feels downright sad and depressing. How foolish and desperate I must look sitting and crying trying my hardest to pretend the soothing hand on my neck isn’t my own? Sometimes, it leaves me wondering whether I am so repulsive that no one will give me a simple drink. 

At this point I wouldn’t even try to drink my fill, just give me a small trickle from a stream to help ease the pain of my own personal Arrakis. Or perhaps it is better to lay down and give myself up to the desert sands.

“Maybe I’ll be able to look harder at the past by getting some experience in the present.”
― Kabi Nagata, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

Much like the natives of Arrakis, I dream of the day when water can run freely. Where strict survival methods will be a thing of the past. For now, though, the Dunes of Arrakis seem never-ending. I trudge on through the desert planet, surviving as best I can.

Photos: Unsplash

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