My dog died, so I decided to get a massage.
Yesterday, I left work early, drank a full bottle of wine and fell asleep on the couch. This morning I woke up confused, my head pounding with the dehydration caused by the alcohol and the endless leaking of the faucet that had become my tear ducts.
When I remembered again that my dog was dead, I decided to call out of work. Yesterday was a day of destruction. Today would be a day of rejuvenation.
Down a dark hallway, up a set of stairs, I was led into a small room with a massage table covered in a set of sheets. I undressed quietly, opting not to remove my underwear, and then slid into the sheet.
I didn’t know how to lay down. Obviously I couldn’t really sit up because my top was bare, but I didn’t want to put my face down into the pillow until the massage therapist came in. Still on my stomach, I balled my hands into fists, stacked them and rested my chin on top.
She turned off the lights and told me to place my arms by my side. I did as I was told and scooted up to put my face in the donut hole.
Cathy pushed down firmly on my back and then told me to breathe in, as my nostrils flooded with eucalyptus, sage, and citrus. Then she pressed on my back again, told me to breathe in again—the pressure, then the scent. We did this three times, Cathy pushing, me breathing.
It was as good a way as any to begin. It was as good a place as any to grieve, or to escape grief. I hadn’t decided what I was looking for yet.
Cathy went to work on my shoulders, her fingers and elbows plowing into my skin. At times she held firm on one pressure point with her finger. The tension resisted at first but then bowed to her persistence.
What could she glean about my life through this tension in my muscles? Was my whole history right there beneath my skin?
Assuredly, she could tell that I hunch over a desk, over my phone, over my laptop. The way she handled my legs made me think she could tell that I was flexible.
Did the texture of my skin reveal my age?
Did the tone of my muscles convey that I used to be a dancer?
Could she intuit the nature of my stress? Could she feel the anxiety and social pressures and sadness?
At first, I felt an unsettling vulnerability as she moved over my body, but as I relaxed, I thought how funny it was that one was capable of trusting this easily. I didn’t know Cathy, but I felt comfortable with her, taken care of, which, of course, was her job.
At the end of our session, Cathy needled her thumbs into my feet, and I wondered if she could tell that I liked to walk, that I walked to this appointment. When she was done, she shook me by the ankles, loosening my limbs.
It took me a moment to get off the table, though less time than it usually takes me to get out of bed. I dressed slowly and almost put my shoes on the wrong feet.
It was ancient, dusty. I found it at the bottom of another bag, a party favor, something I discarded that was now a welcomed token.
I retrieved the gold book of matches that I stole from a bar and lit the cigarette. As I inhaled, I thought of Cathy. I squeezed the bottle in my other hand. She had given me the leftover lotion, infused with the aromatherapy I inhaled at the beginning of the session.
I was leaning against the building, inhaling tobacco and exhaling smoke. After a few moments, the door opened and a man plopped onto the sidewalk. A man I used to know and who used to know me. Someone I hadn’t seen since it all ended. It was like seeing a ghost.
I paused, the cigarette inches from my lips. There was a half smile on his face, dumbfounded and pleased. I shook my head.
“A massage in the middle of a weekday? How decadent,” I said.
“I had the day off. What’s your excuse?” He asked.
I took a drag of the cigarette. “My dog died.”
He dropped his head to his chest and put his hands in his pockets. I took another drag. Slowly, he brought his eyes to mine. I could barely meet his gaze.
“So, what?” He said, gesturing toward me. “You’re a sponsor for Adidas now?”
I looked down—my maroon sweatshirt with three white lines on the sleeves, my black leggings with three lines behind my calves, both with the word “Adidas” branded on the left side.
I laughed in an easy way that had become foriegn to me and stubbed my cigarette against the brick of the building.
“Want to get a drink?” he asked.
I shrugged, “Sure.”
We stopped at a sushi place I had once been to on a date. As he opened the door, a private smile played on my lips, and he pretended not to notice.
We sat at the bar. He ordered us two shots of sake and two glasses of Sapporo. When our sake arrived, he held his aloft in front of me, so I brought mine up to meet his.
“To Spuds,” he said.
My heart faltered. I swallowed my sadness and he watched me. I nodded my head and we threw the alcohol to the back of our throats.
“So, how are you?” he asked.
I smiled wryly. “Honestly?”
“Honestly,” he confirmed.
I hate you. I still love you. I’m fucking sad. I miss my dog. I miss our life. I miss who I used to be before I met you. I’m never going to see Spuds again. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.
But instead I said, “I’ve been better.”
“How about you?” I asked, with more than a little effort.
He turned his whole body toward me and like a magnet, I turned mine toward him.
We studied each other. I wondered if I looked as relaxed as he did—his hair tousled, a gentle smile around his eyes. He took a breath as if to speak but let it back out without saying anything. I nodded and turned back to the counter, finishing my beer.
I nodded again, shrugged, and turned to walk back the other way.
“Claire,” he called.
I swiveled back toward him.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I stared back at him, and I knew what he meant just as I knew that he wouldn’t explicitly say it. He moved toward me and I wanted to run but my feet were rooted to the pavement. I held my breath as he tucked a piece of hair behind my ear and then gently folded my body into him.
At first, I was stiff and tense, like with Cathy, but then I let out a breath and relaxed in his arms. Relaxed so thoroughly that I began to cry against his chest as he held me, still saying nothing.