“God that class was a nightmare. Bunch a bitches. Effin’ cunts.”
I lay there quietly, silently, while the massage therapist continued to work on my recently sprained hand. She mostly likely recognized my silence as stunned shock.
“ANYways,” she said followed by an awkward chuckle. She’d overstepped again. I’m sure I wasn’t the first client who she’d done this with. She proceeded to offer me thoughtful advice on how to heal my hand. I thanked her.
But I wasn’t silent because of shock. I’d actually had this massage therapist one other time. Surely she remembered me and our deep conversation for the full 65 minutes we’d had a few months prior? In fact, how can one not forget massaging someone’s near naked body for an hour? I think I’d remember every encounter, but then again, in that line of work it might become as routine as a cup of coffee. I don’t know.
But I clearly remembered that particular deep tissue massage three months ago and how she spilled her guts about so many disparate yet ultimately related aspects of her life. She touched on her time in the army, a painful childhood, alcoholic male family members, struggling with debt, the “me too” feminist movement, politics, and more. I mostly listened and when I could, assumed an older sister role–a calm voice of subtle suggestions and alternative perspectives, but mostly overt hope. After all, I didn’t know this woman. I’d just met her. But I sensed in that moment that she needed someone to care for her or at least to listen.
Her intensity, and dare I say toxicity, was apparent the minute I met her. She wasn’t mean or outwardly angry, but she was holding so much dark energy. I could see it by her lack of sustained eye contact; I could hear it in her heavy sighs. I listened to her continuous talk, as she spouted sharp opinions and offered pointy counters to nearly any carefully-worded idea I proffered.
“Girl, they’ll let anyone into the army now. It used to be you couldn’t get in with flat feet. Now you can be transgender. I think it’s a mistake.”
“I’m not a feminist. I don’t want to be associated with that type of feminism. I don’t hate men.”
“But it’s hard being a girl in the army. They’ll tell you it’s equal, but it’s not.”
The comments were flying so fast and in so many directions, I decided all I could do was recognize her as a 33-year-old woman who is a collection of her experiences. She is doing her best, I thought, especially considering what those experiences likely were. She’d seen things. She was surviving. And she was even braver for not playing a role and masking it all. Swallowing it and pushing it way down deep for years would only poison her slowly.
When I finished that first session with her, I remember feeling a mix of things: cheated out of a “relaxing” massage; annoyed and amused by her constant cussing; glad that I could listen; worried for her; the sense that she needed a hug. But I couldn’t say those things. It wasn’t my place. Instead, I tipped well and doubted if I’d rebook with her.
It was a darn shame too because she gave me the best deep tissue massage I’d had in years. I had gone in with a lot of muscle pain and mild depression, both symptoms of a TSH of 24 due to Hashimotos. But after her massage, my body felt amazing. She was really good at this, and I told her as much.
This December, with the crush of commitments and the prompting of my dear husband who assured me we could afford it, I picked up the phone. I was in pain again and feeling sad from the weight of it, so I took the first appointment available. I’d forgotten her name completely. It wasn’t until she walked up, tall, strong, with unicorn pink sassy hair that I remembered her. But she didn’t seem to know me. Instead, she barely took me in and stumbled over my name. I smiled, relieved. This time I’ll stay totally quiet. I just need to rest this time.
She led me back to the room again, clearly strained and sniffling back the start of a cold. When I mentioned my hand and asked if she could massage it, she launched into her understanding of pain management. She told me of her cracked tooth. How she had to wait for three months to get it fixed. How the pain was so unbearable.
“Girl, I don’t like drugs or medicine, but I finally said, where’s the weed?” She laughed, and I laughed along with her, simultaneously admiring anyone who could withstand mouth pain for that long and grateful for my own dental insurance. She told me how she’d just paid off her credit card and was now going to be in debt again because of the dental bills.
“It’s your teeth. You had to,” I said with compassion and conviction.
“I just let it go. The collectors can come after me,” she said.
We talked about injuries and she shared the time she had a sprained ankle and had to get from class to class without crutches. It wasn’t even a good class. “God that class was a nightmare. Bunch a bitches. Effin’ cunts.” I set aside my hatred for that word. I set aside my political views. I had not walked in her boots. I listened.
As the massage wrapped up, I again felt the need to nurture this person who serves others everyday, granted not with grace and dignity, but certainly with skill. I thought of all the people who might easily vocalize their appalling experiences to the front desk or on Yelp. How they’d be justified even, and that she could lose her job.
At the front counter, I left my tip and asked the receptionist if I could write a note. A bit surprised, she smiled and handed me a scrap of paper.
‘That which is right is unfolding.’
Have courage. Take heart.
As I walked out into the brisk December air, my pain relieved and my heart and body grateful, I thought: Girl, I got your back.