Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pounds and Pounds of Empathy . . . or . . . My First Massage

My younger cousin Emily gave me a writing assignment. She can do this, and I cannot say no, because she's a brilliant creative writing professor at BYU. I hesitate to share her blog with you because you'll never come back here, but in fairness to you:

My assignment (I put it in purple because that's the kind of girl Emily is):

Do something you have never done before and write about the experience. The activity must be something on the domestic level (no sky-diving or other "huge" things...just something small). Examples: using a loofa, riding the bus, visiting a homeless shelter, something out of your ordinary schedule or something you've always been nervous to try doing.

My "domestic activity" was receiving a massage. So, here are my thoughts from the Shower Wall about this new experience.


I got a massage today, my first. I'm thirty-eight years old. After three years of carrying around a gift certificate in my wallet—seriously three years—I finally got up the nerve make the appointment. Truthfully, my husband had to make the appointment for me after I declared my intent to go. How many hours have passed since I showered this morning? Do I smell? I wonder as I fill the bath tub. Why have I delayed this pleasure? Just how probing is a real massage? I wish I were skinny. "Sally, you need to leave," my husband calls to me. At the last possible minute, I shuffle through papers looking for that gift certificate. Have I really procrastinated something that the entire free world considers a luxury? What could be so threatening?

Nothing, I decide. I haven't been procrastinating; I've just been very busy. How many women with eight children sit for a massage, really? Yes, this is perfectly natural. I clear my throat. I'm going to get the massage therapist to work out that burning spot in my back. I should have done this months ago. I'm supposed to be 10 minutes early, but getting out of the house is more difficult than I'd anticipated. Maybe I should go to the bathroom again. I finally leave. I won't be there early. As I drive, I ponder the trade-offs of having a man or a woman masseuse. I'll be more comfortable with a woman, but a man will have stronger hands, and I really need this knot worked out. It's killing me. I walk into the clinic and get in line behind a Gen Y businessman who's buying a membership. (I didn't know memberships were a possibility for massage therapy.) In front of me is a shapely, middle-aged woman who has the confidence of someone who's been here before. My eyes probe the walls for reading material. Behind the counter, the door opens, and a young blond man wearing an apron walks through. My heart leaps into my throat: He looks about fifteen though I know this is impossible. I realize why I've been this putting off. Oh, Master of the Universe, please don't make me undress in front of that child.

He's far too young to have accumulated any empathy. I imagine him telling jokes about my body to the other therapists after I leave. Stop it! I correct myself. He's a professional. But, in a split second, I admit the truth. No, this boy-child will not do my massage.

Then sudden clarity: No man will give me a massage. Forget the fireball in my back and stronger hands. I regret becoming a sexist, but I must have a woman.

I find myself wishing that English had a word, like comedienne or stewardess, for distinguishing between a man and a woman masseuse. How pathetic for me to have to announce, "I prefer a woman therapist." So much more dignified to say, "Schedule me with your masseusess." Even if there were such a word, the feminists would have stamped it out by now. Damn the feminists. [Footnote: see Diane's enlightening comment about this.] The woman in front of me speaks up. "I'm here for Kurt" she says. "Hello," the child-masseuse replies, and I'm spared the shame of having to refuse him. I smile briefly then steel myself for my impending request that will announce to the world (the empty lobby) that I am a sexist with body hangups, likely abused as a child, therefore unable to get a massage from a man.

Don't be ridiculous, I chide. Who cares? I assure myself that there is no shame in requesting a woman. After all, I'm the client here. With new resolve, I prepare my words and anticipate my masseuesess . . . I wait . . . I fill out the form where I indicate that I want a "deep" massage, not "mild" or "therapeutic" (not sure what those mean), and I wait again. . . . then, a new fear. Please let her be large, I pray silently. Before I even have to ask, the door opens again, and a woman comes out. She looks me in the eye, and I can see that she's comfortable in her profession and kind, old enough to have experience, but young enough to still have strong hands. (Maybe that spot will get worked out after all.)

But, more importantly, she's large. Not just large but hugely obese, and obese in a strange way, so that her top looks almost normal, but her hips and thighs spread out in rippled scallops. Pounds and pounds of empathy. I pause briefly to acknowledge the blessing. My body will present no surprises. Relief. We walk down a professional-looking hall and into a darkened room. I hear soothing oriental music. I explain that I've just had a baby, so I'm hunched over, nursing all the time and sleeping like a pretzel with my baby next to me. I tell her about the fireball. "Undress to your comfort level, and lie face-down under the blankets. I'll knock before I come in," she says. Wow. I admire her script. (Has the whole world had sensitivity training?) I undress and climb—without shame—under the sheets. She begins by standing at my head and pushing down my back, horizontally, like I'm a truck stuck in a snow bank. "We're going to communicate here. You tell me if it's too hard." Her hands slide down my back until she comes to a marble that sits under my skin next to my spine—exactly where the burning is. Her fingers probe for other lumps, then return to the marble. She pushes down with her thumb, slowly, applying constant pressure. Harder. Hm. That feels a little uncomfortable. This lump becomes her enemy. She rolls over it with her thumb, increasing the pressure, pushing it into my rib cage. Just before I scream, . . . she lets up. She uses the back side of her forearm to roll over my back, stopping again on the marble, She rolls again over and back, over and back, always edging towards excruciating. Can human hands rip the cartilage off my ribs? Now I will scream. But, again, she releases the pressure and transitions into light brushing movements—Ah, yes, the familiar feel of generic back rub. As she finishes working on my back, I realize that this pleasure, like all good things, is going to end. I begin some long term planning. I should do this again, maybe twice a year, just to protect my back. I can see I'm developing back problems. When she gets to my neck, I become earnest. This is really something. It must be healthful, even medicinal. Maybe this is like vitamins—not urgent, but important. I should come in at least quarterly. What was David saying today? "Back to a hard budget. Cut 7 years off our mortgage with a fifteen-year loan." "Yes," I had agreed. "That will feel good."

As good as this? I wonder. What did I hear about membership?

Yes, I'll be back.


emily said...

sally! i love you! also the purple is very appropriate. thank you.

Greg and Michelle Andersen said...

Sally, it's your cousing Michelle. I just found your blog and LOVED your description of the massage. I have done that once and I totally related to what you were thinking. You are a beautiful writer.

Diane Linford said...

Sally, a mother of 8 needs a massage at least 8 times a year (10 times a year if one of the 8 is a boy).

Masseuse is the feminine form of masseur. Definition - one who gives massage as a profession. I hear these days they like to be called massage therapists.

Nikie and Steve said...

sally found your blog from nicole. Great assignment from your cousin. I thing you should just give all of us this assignment. Maybe for friday? Glad you liked it and now we all know what to get you for gifts.:)

Nicole said...

I'm so glad you shared your massage experience with everyone! When I first read it you declared it off limits to rest of the population and it made me sad because it is so funny, true to life, and definitely your real voice. You're hilarious.

Sally said...

Diane, I can see that your expertise at scrabble has really paid off. Of course, you would know the feminine of "masseur." How strange the that feminine has become standard.

RayRay said...

I absolutely love this... Emily heard me laughing so hard through the wall that she had to know what I was laughing at.

I am in her class, you know. I wrote my paper about sleeping in the nude. I contemplated posting it on my blog, but I got too shy.

I am glad you weren't too shy to share this piece of joy.

love you!

Jon and Katrina said...

I have actually had two gift certificates for massages expire in my wallet and a trip get a massage that actually failed when they found out I was in my first trimester. (You may remember that as Jon and the kids were at your house while my friend took me for a massage for my birthday.) I wasn't as disappointed as I thought I would be since my masseuse was an 80 year old man who had come out of retirement by going to school to become a massage therapist. No kidding, my friend and I could barely contain our shock. And this after she had gone so far as to request a female for me when she made the appointment (at my insistence-you're not the only one!) I have long wondered at my inability to actually get a massage accomplished and loved your blog. --Katrina

Marian said...

Oh, Sally. I have to go call and make an appointment to get a massage right this instant! I'm so glad you finally got one, and hope it will become a habit. You deserve it! That's my excuse, and I only have 2 kids!

Jodie said...

Oh Sally! To think you've had a blog all this time and I didn't know?! I could have been thoroughly enjoying myself for a few weeks before now...

I love coming over to your house and having small conversations with you on your front porch. Now, I can have my daily dose of "Sally's humor" from the comfort of my kitchen table! Don't worry, I'm sure I'll still find my way over there for the real thing. I'd hate to know what would happen to you without my monthly drop-ins!