My neck hurts. My neck always hurts. My back hurts too. I’ve accepted the constant stiffness and discomfort as a normal part of my life.
On an annual basis (or when I find an especially amazing deal that won’t put a huge dent in my bank account), I get a massage.
Massages are so amazing. I like the deep tissue kind, where the therapist uses her smooth forearm or elbow to relieve the ache. The slow, relaxing kind that hurts so good—when she moves her hands in repetitive, long motions that affect only that part, leaving the rest of me completely still. The kind where I know the therapist knows what she is doing, can identify my problem areas, and get rid of them in an unhurried way. The toxins built up by stress are all escaping, leaving me like new. When beautiful music or nature sounds are playing in the dimly lit room, and the aromatherapy massage oil makes me feel like all is right in the world. What could be bad about any of this?
I bought one such deal last October. Ten months ago. I waited and waited to redeem that hour of bliss until the school year was over—until my treasured summer vacation. I waited even longer, until after my move. Why pay for a massage and then undo the work by lifting heavy boxes and stressing about transporting my entire life? What a waste that would be. I waited! Until the opportune moment.
Finally, the day had arrived. I had been scheduled to get my massage from a male therapist. I was slightly worried, but not too concerned. The male strength might be helpful. Plus, my neck was hurting. And my back was hurting. I needed this, and it couldn’t possibly go wrong. I came ready with a ten dollar tip, fully expecting a heavenly experience.
I entered the fitness center where the massage rooms were located. People were lifting weights and doing cardio in the small gym. Listening to all of the gym rats around me, I filled out the necessary forms and waited for my therapist to come and meet me. Out came the last client. Following her was my “therapist.”
There he stood. At six foot two and well over three hundred ironically unfit pounds, the man looked like he had just stepped off of one of the treadmills rather than given a massage. His tightly fitting light green polo was covered in dark green spots, from sweat. His white sweatband was realizing its purpose on his forehead. Out of breath and smelling of body odor, Brent introduced himself. He stretched out his clammy, oil-covered hand, enveloping mine.
After rapidly assessing the predicament I was about to get myself into, I looked again at his previous appointment, scanning her for any signs of trauma or alarm. The girl, in her mid-twenties, did not look relaxed, but she did not look upset or emotionally scarred. Blank slate. I quickly glanced again at the therapist and back to the client and thought momentarily that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
Still, when he turned to wrap things up with his last client, I pulled out my antibacterial gel from my purse and doused my hands in it. When I finished decontaminating my hands, I sent some texts of panic to my good friends. I wasn’t feeling especially optimistic about the next hour of my life. I believe the message read something like, “Oh my oh my oh myyyyyy. I just saw the masseuse. I might throw up.” While there was still time to possibly escape, I wondered what excuse I could possibly come up with to avoid the situation. I forgot something in my car? My friend just texted that she is in the hospital? I just ate at Beto’s?
My conscience got the better of me. I finally decided to let go of my pre-judgments. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe he’s good. After all, I couldn’t just walk out. That would deprive him of a client and be a waste of money I already spent. Plus, I felt bad for the guy. I figured he would draw some conclusions if I developed a random, agonizing ulcer. So I decided to go forward with the treatment.
Before leading me to the room, Brent asked if there were areas I’d like him to concentrate on. You already know the answer to that. By concentrate, I thought he meant that I’d get some relief, and that most of the time would be spent on those regions.
He left the room so I could prepare. I lay on the table and waited for him to return. He entered and started with my back. With motions that seemed to affect only the surface of my skin, I was already feeling a little bit discouraged. A minute later, he asked, “Do you like deep tissue at all?” I emphatically answered, “Yes. I prefer it actually.” I probably should not have said that.
The ineffective “deep tissue” procedure that was performed on me involved the sensation of his wiry black arm hair up and down my back. What should have been slow, pressured, elongated motions were spastic, shallow, and short. His erratic hand movements were shaking my entire being up and down and side to side as if his sole purpose was to prevent me from relaxing. Moving from one side of my back to the other proved to be a chore: on the two occasions when he was trying to squeeze between the table and the wall, his leg hit my head.
He haphazardly switched massage techniques, utilizing the Swedish knife hand method. His rapid movement was exhausting him, and the entire time I could hear him panting like an overheated dog. On top of the crazy shaking of my body, his mouth-breathing was enough to make me want to burst out laughing. And just like that, he was done with my neck and back.
Other prize moments continued to occur in this torturous hour. Recounting them is causing me to fill a little ill, but for the amusement of posterity, I will soldier on.
As the Native American flute music in the background continued, Brent moved on to my legs. I could feel the grainy hair on his knuckles go into the back of my calf. And the violent shaking continued. It seemed impossible for him to isolate or massage one part of my body without forcing the rest of it into involuntary convulsions. Apparently it’s really challenging to work on the legs of a girl who is five feet tall, or so his breathlessness seemed to indicate.
After putting hot towels on my feet, he transitioned from my legs to my arms. Changing from right to left or left to right ensured that my head met with his leg several more times, pulling on my ponytail. And at the conclusion of the arm region, I am fairly certain he tried to pull my arms out of their sockets.
Finally, he had me turn over onto my back and scoot down on the bed. I checked the clock to see how much longer I had to endure. Again, he was at the foot of the bed, taking care of my feet, which I would with anyone else be a little embarrassed about, but not with him. In an effort to stretch my legs, he pushed my knee to my chest, extended my leg, and anchored it between his hairy arm and his sweaty torso. My legs were each temporarily trapped in a chamber of hair and sweat, guarded by a nervous, winded individual.
Brent stooped over and lifted up a towel which was used to absorb the moisture that was covering his face. Then he grabbed the stool, lifted it over me, and situated it at the head of the bed to finish up my shoulders and neck. He sat on the stool, with his face hovering over mine. Not only did his constant heavy breathing make me uncomfortable, it was now taking over my nostrils. To add to everything that had already gone horribly wrong, my therapist had halitosis.
I was ready for all of this to be over. Could I push fast forward? For the first time in a massage, I was fixated on the clock, wishing it would move faster.
He removed the towels from my feet, rubbed them a little bit, and just like that, it was over. I was polite and said thank you and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I left the room and hurried to the front. He handed me a water bottle. I handed him a six dollar tip (fifty cents off for each offense), he handed me his business card. He informed me of a special he was doing where if I set up my next appointment today, I’d get a great deal. I replied, “I think I’ll wait on that.”
And by “wait,” I meant “forever.”
I walked out the door and sat in my hot car, letting everything sink in. After sixty minutes of the bad breath, the sweat, the arm hair, the jerkiness, and the head butts, the only thought in my head was, “My neck hurts.”
**Addendum: I made changes to this after some feedback from my writing group. The above is the most recent, revised version.**