a writer’s back

love yourself

Working from home, from my bed, I do not have the best posture.  The bed I sleep on is not my own, and it’s hard to sleep on. I sleep on all sides of my body throughout the night, and recently, my left shoulder started to hurt again after many years of being healthy and whole, after tons of physical therapy.

My shoulder was just aching and throbbing, even with meds. Then it started with my right shoulder. It wasn’t just the pain; it was how I was holding myself: stooped forward, my left shoulder pushing forward. Not a good look.

Because this pain wasn’t really going away on its own, I decided to get a massage, just at a chain place near my house. I wasn’t seeing this as a treat. It was necessary. I was in pain, distracting pain, and I need to start healing my shoulders and god knows what else.

The last time I had a massage was on my 35th birthday, on a beach in Key West in a little hut, a dream realized. It was so relaxing and felt luxurious, but it was not therapeutic.

Even further back, maybe another 5 years, I got a free massage after I was done with physical therapy for my knee. Again, relaxing, but not therapeutic.

Even further back than that, probably another 5 years, I got free chair massages from a massage therapist who came to give massages for our employees. That’s where I also learned that masseuse was a passe term and that I should the proper term massage therapist. I also learned how knotty my shoulders could be.

All those other times, I had been carrying a lot of weight with heavy bags and purses. Also, like a lot of people I’m sure that I carry tension in my shoulders. Now I don’t do much of that except sit in bed and write. I knew my back would also be a mess, after hours of bending over at my computer.

I arrive at the massage place (shop? facility?) and was there 30 minute early (that never happens). It’s a benign, bright place of wood and gleaming white surfaces, located in a glorified strip mall. I wasn’t expecting to be seen quickly, but I filled out my health history on an iPad and as I was done, my massage therapist walks through the door.

 

Good handshake, good energy, big blue eyes (oh hey, he’s kinda cute). Also, I just feel so weird and vulnerable. It’s been so long…

Also, to add to all of this, I’m on the rag. Ugh.

After passing this dark brown waiting room that was in stark contrast to the light and bright waiting area out by the front desk, we walk down this dark brown hall of many doors and we go into the room.

This guy is very…quiet. Of course, this is a quiet place–it has to be. But can I imagine him jumping up and down cheering his favorite basketball team? Or yelling at a rock concert? And then those eyes are just taking so much in…it’s like his whole being is doing that, in a quiet way. Maybe his inner serenity is just so easily coming out…at the glorified strip mall.

It doesn’t scare me, though, even though I may be writing like this. It’s not creepy. It’s just subtly intense, the attention. Maybe I’m realizing that he’s good at being present while I tend to live in my head all the time. It’s a bit like someone opening the car door while I’m driving.

I’m also going to be present with this dude for 90 minutes, and it’s just going to be about me. The last time that happened, I was in therapy. Last summer. That isn’t happening often at all anymore.

We’re both standing, and it feels so awkward. Why am I standing? Should I be sitting down? I talk about my injuries. My whole left side, from shoulder to ankle, is basically jacked up that’s what I wanted him to focus on.

He leaves so I can change down to my granny black period underwear. I get on the table face down, under the sheet and blanket. The room is Florida cool, a little too cool. Soon afterward, I hear a soft knock on the door. I tell him to come in, my voice muffled by the headrest of the table.

At first, he starts with the sheet over me. I believe he’s using the heel of his hand and just starts compressing my back, straight down.

I’m frantically thinking, “Dude, is this some chaste version of massage? I came for hands all over me, not this youth group version of a massage.”

It was just a technique, and it didn’t last long.

My mind was even more active that it would be during meditation. I had to internally tell myself to shut up a few times. But the thoughts weren’t necessarily that bad.

As he started tending to (maybe more like deconstructing) my back, I wondered when was the last time someone had affectionately touched me. It had been probably over two months, back when I went to D.C. and that saddened me. It saddens me still. And this massage didn’t count.

As someone who lives in her mind more than anywhere else, it can get really frustrating when trying to live in a physical world. “The life of the mind” is the tagline of my alma mater–boy, do they have me pegged. Yet I can see now, too, the massage gave me time to reflect, so all those thoughts zipping out were also a part of the release. Mainly the thoughts were about deserving to be worshiped, needing this to happen more often so I’m not having so many back issues in the future, feeling good, feeling sad that it’s been so long, and other thoughts I’ll keep to myself. 😈

So many knots. He went after it and I didn’t complain once. I barely spoke to him. I’m sure he used his elbow on my back many times. It was so strange to hear the friction of skin on skin. I could hear his arm hair over my back. All of these sounds are soft, even in this quiet room playing some soft New Agey music.

One time, I heard the loud clatter of rain pound on the roof and cursed that I didn’t bring an umbrella. I was glad I didn’t chat him up–I usually try to have small talk with folks, even though I don’t generally like to do it. It’s usually important, to have some point of connection. But basically, we already had that.

Another time I spoke, it was because he had moved to my arms and I had my watch on, which had been buzzing with a gazillion alerts. I wish I had turned the DND on. Embarrassing.

Here’s a funny unexpected thing that happened: to deal with my shoulder, he had to go through my armpit, many times. It was a little bit stubbly. In all my time with massage and physical therapy, I have never had anyone work through my armpits before. 😂

So all my limbs got a rubdown, with my back, shoulders, and neck getting the most attention. There is something humbling for me to get my hands and feet massaged, like really thoroughly. It definitely felt luxurious, but then I felt him tending to my right forearm and I was taken aback at how junky it was in there. 😫 It’s sore right now.

So after getting the most thorough massage of my life, which I didn’t want to end, he asked how I was feeling. Dammit, it’s over. I told him rather sheepishly and almost with embarrassment that I felt good.  It’s weird to be on your back half naked with a sheet around you and answering that question.

He left so I could get dressed. He came back and brought me a glass of water and I asked him how often should I come back. He said at least once a month. Right now, I can afford it, and I can’t afford to be in pain as I was before. My shoulders are now pain-free and I like to keep them that way.

It was funny, we’re in the hallway and I had no idea how busy it was, but it was probably because it was at the top of the hour. People kept excusing themselves as they passed us by, but we didn’t decide to go back in the room. He told me I needed to stretch more, which I actually did right after I had put my clothes on. I have an app for this, and if I can’t exercise in this heat or at a gym, stretching is the least I can do.

I signed up for a monthly plan and I’ll go back right before I have this retreat in St. Pete that week. I tweeted later that I was going to marry him. I felt really invigorated instead of relaxed. But that was about it, right then anyway.

I went to Target and picked up a few things. Even that ride back was interesting. Long story short: the lady who picked me up had just been sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver, so we talked about accidents, car insurance, injuries, work, wages, housing, racial discrimination. She gave me a tip for the neighborhood that I want to live in. I may need to take a little excursion out there soon.

But back to that tweet about marrying my massage therapist, though–that’s usually how I am, but I haven’t been in a long, long time. Effusive, bubbly, silly, goofy, a little surly and flirty. Comically hyperbolic. I have only begun to rediscover her as new friends enter my life. My life is a little more stable now, so that could also be a part of it. For once, I feel like I’m not nearly as defined by all my losses.

And then, even deeper: I had read a tweet about a particularly watery astrological transit that I had been backstroking in, and then I realized that yesterday was the anniversary of the best/worst date I had been on, and how it had hurt me so deeply while leaving me wanting this dude who literally abandoned me in the dark. This was all at the beach, too.

What I realized was that I was healed from that humiliating experience. Sometimes, things are so traumatic and awful, you don’t have time to process it all. I never got to mad with that guy–just wondering how someone so seemingly great could be such a dick and just leave. Me.

But the real news is that this wound has closed and healed. The scar is fading. My self-worth is in no way tied to that mysterious, rude disappearance.

The body remembers and stores these old stories, both the painful and the pleasurable. It’s possible that the massage helped me realize that this particular excruciating story of loss and rejection didn’t need to be reviewed anymore. It didn’t even need to be re-written. I could put the story back on the shelf.

Body work is important for physical health reasons. I’m also more aware of my body now. It’s interesting how having someone work on it, especially while you’re in a vulnerable state, makes you hyperaware of everything, of everything outside of  your interior world. That massage probably has opened me up in ways that I have yet to discover and in ways that I didn’t know I needed, like realizing that I was (already!) healed from a traumatic experience.

Afterward, I was thinking I’d feel like rubber, like really relaxed. Instead, I felt more confident and open. I felt taken care of. I felt deserving. Not even being melodramatic here: I felt like I had a reason to live. It had been way too long that I hadn’t felt that good.

But I didn’t want to show it. While I was getting a massage, I was trying to have a poker face, no matter what was going on in my head. I didn’t want to break out in a shit-eating grin or that something felt uncomfortable or whatever was speeding and careening through my mind at that point. Maybe I see sharing my emotions as a sign of intimacy…

Yet one thing I’ve been noticing since Thursday is how my emotions have been more intense and more earnest–like not covered in shame or embarrassment. Unadorned. Raw. Powerful. I’m trying to think of a specific example right now. I just feel like some masks and costumes that I was wearing fell off during that session.

This massage wasn’t a treat. This was mandatory for my well-being as a human being, especially since I haven’t formed the in-person friendships and relationships that I am still seeking and calling in. It literally puts me in touch with another person, and that’s a big deal to me. I pray the Universe continues to provide so that I can continue to go…

The power of human touch is really underestimated–especially in my life. I’m very much into and live for some good hugs, but I am not typically a huggy/affectionate person.

So I am torn. There’s this moat of uncomfortability with my own vulnerability. I must create a drawbridge to cross over the moat so I can get to and receive the care that I need. Getting a massage once a month can be one way to start walking over the bridge.

an ode to OK Computer

thomas hardy

In the next World War
In a jackknifed juggernaut
I am born again

–lyrics from the song, “Airbag” by Radiohead

Those are the beginning lyrics of “Airbag,” the first song on the album that changed my life, OK Computer, Radiohead’s third album. It was released on June 16, 1997 (it’s a Gemini!). The 20th anniversary re-issue, OKNOTOK, was released on June 22nd (it’s a Cancer–how nostalgic!), so a few days ago.

I thought I was going to go on and on about this album–and maybe I still will. 1997 was the first year of college for me, after waiting a year to go to college. The TL;DR version of that gap year is that my father was suffering from paranoid delusions about financial aid forms so I waited and prayed and then, miraculously, he changed his mind. It was a year marked with depression and weight loss and anger and sorrow. I somehow hadn’t heard of this album yet, though, even though I was ardently listening to alternative radio. But this is not a radio friendly album.

How I heard about OK Computer was when I went to college in Chicago. One of my fellow dormmates, Anne, a tall, kinda wild girl from D.C., loaned me the album. And this being 1997, this is the time of cassette tapes still, so I recorded the album onto a cassette. OK Computer was a part of my freshman year soundtrack.

As a musician, I wasn’t really listening to the lyrics of paranoia and alienation. But I was really relating to these themes, especially alienation, on a soul level. There was at least someone else in the world who could see that the world was kinda fucked up and wasn’t afraid to talk about it.

Speaking of kinda fucked up and alienation on a soul level–that was me, in college. Although I had some altogether sane, healthy relationships, I did have a kinda fucked up best friendship with this kid from New York–I’d venture to say it was probably my first real relationship with a guy, even though it was 99% platonic. It’s taken so many years for me to really see this relationship for what it was–I had idealized and idolized it so much, because this atheist dude had rocked my little evangelical world.

Still, we were both probably fucked up on depression and brutally took it out on each other (IMO, him more than me). But hey, I made the Dean’s List that year, all while I was sleeping my way through it (according to my first year roommate).

But OK Computer wasn’t necessarily about all of that for me, the glories and the horrors of dealing with clinical depression in college while my family was being eaten alive by my father’s bipolar disorder and subsequent incarceration. It was really about a sonic escape. It was so future-forward and prescient–the same issues and fears about technology that Yorke beautifully sings about are ones we’re currently battling right now. It was also a really good read on what was going on in our society at the time.  It’s funny, too, because the late 90s had all this hope for the future–except Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity”–I’m posting the video here because it was so innovative at the time:

Maybe the Brits knew something that we Yanks didn’t?

From that album on, I was a devoted Radiohead fan. I have seen them twice in concert–once in downtown Chicago and once in Wisconsin. Both times involved me being super hot and possibly dehydrated, being outdoors, with friends, being young. Twenty years later, Radiohead is all married with kids–and I’m in some weird life holding pattern. They were in their mid-20s in the late 90s. I just feel old typing about it.

With it being Cancer season, it’s easy for me to get lost in these large, warm waves of nostalgia, which now push me on the shores of late 2000, after I was out of college because my parents couldn’t pay my tuition and I think my father was in prison at this point.

I was at this church that was probably the closest thing to a real, ideal Christian community of my own imagination–full of art, music, and people on the fringes of society (OK, in retrospect, most of these folks are middle-class white folks, but their aesthetic was mine at the time–wearing thrift store clothing and retro sneakers, listening to 7″ vinyl aka hipsterish).

And there was a boy, a guitarist and photographer, J–either a Virgo or a Libra, and I can’t remember because we didn’t stay together long enough for us for me to remember his birthday. He was a couple of years older than me, this tall, slim kid from outside of Detroit. Just like the church, he was the closest thing to the real, ideal man of my own imagination. Even though there are so many details that I can’t remember as to why I felt like he was a paragon partner, but there was telepathy, there was real feeling, there was real love, however brief and intense, and there was Radiohead.

This guy was proto-hipster, listening to so much vinyl, listening to stuff from the 70s, and he felt our musical tastes only connected on major streets, like Milwaukee and North Ave and Damen. I still liked Creed at the time, unabashedly.

We had our favorite OK Computer songs, “Let Down” (mine) and “No Surprises” (his). He dubbed so many albums for me on cassette with his almost graffiti tag-like handwriting, including a mixtape that was definitely devoted to me. I still have it somewhere…It’s how I got into Slowdive.

One evening, he came over to my apartment and we were watching the documentary based on the tour for OK Computer, Meeting People Is Easy. We sat next to each other on the couch, and I was trying to watch the TV. I don’t know how far into the documentary we got–not very, maybe like 30 minutes in, but eventually he was staring at me with his wide blue eyes, eyes that seemed to take so much of the world in…

He said something like, “I’m a little too distracted to watch this.”  If he is a Libra, then he said it that seductive, Libra way that makes it hard to resist, that made it all about me.

Incredibly flattered (shit, I’m still flattered that I can be a distraction), I gave him a sidelong look back with a smile and walked him back to my bedroom.

My memory gets hazy here, because this may have been the night he told me he loved me. Let’s pretend it is, because he wasn’t over much. I came to his place more often.

I had leftover Christmas lights from college, multi-colored ones. Those were the only ones on, and they were strewn on my desk. It left my small bedroom with a full-sized bed–my first real mattress that I had bought months earlier–awash in a warm, pinked light. We were lying on my bed and I don’t remember how love came up.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you wholly,” I replied (yes, I was trying to one-up him, or at least be like–yeah yeah, I believe this, for real).

It had only been a week together, and then three weeks later, we broke up, on that same bed. He told me that being with me was like being on drugs. Again, I am flattered, but this is part of the reason we broke up. He didn’t think we didn’t had enough in common.

His BFF actually called me later to tell me that he thinks he was scared. I think he also wanted to affirmed that whatever had happened was real. that we weren’t on drugs. There were so many people rooting for us…

I tried to get him back once, in a letter where I only remember typing “Perfect love casts out fear.” He responded that he was “cold and locked up inside.” I wrote my first real poem after that.

“…and I am locked up right there with him…”

Shortly after our breakup, but before 9/11, weary of living in the land of  Pres. W., he left for Brazil to probably be a permanent ex-pat. A friend of mine, half-jokingly, said that he probably left the country because of me. We only got back in touch one or two other times via email some time later.

Maybe now we could be friends, but I can only imagine, after how many hims and mes that we’ve become and thrown away–would we even recognize who we are now?

I am fine to leave us in my bedroom in Logan Square, swimming in pink light and tipsy on new love: frozen in time, as first love should be.

Maybe back then, I would have used the lyrics from the last song of OK Computer, “The Tourist” when we said those defining words to each other:

Hey man, slow down, slow down
Idiot, slow down, slow down

He did try to pump the brakes, because our short love affair was two parts–two weeks of passion and two weeks of silence. But we were already lost…

Because of the rapid speed, it was a love I questioned, out loud, to an older friend, who said–hey, if you’re feeling it, then it’s real.

Either way, there are no regrets. If love is there, you take it–especially when you’re feeling so out of orbit, so out of sync. For a brief but memorable moment, he was the square hole to my square peg. And from the day I met him until the day I die, that will always mean something, because life can be so hard and lonely. For all of that, I will always be grateful: for the respite, for the adoration, for the passion, and for the music.

OK Computer definitely punctuated a large chunk of my forays into adulthood, and in love. I know it was a defining album for a band who so wanted to get away from the song, “Creep” from their first album, Pablo Honey. Radiohead allowed me to be not only oh-so-cool and in love, but also curious and a little afraid of what’s happening to humanity. For all of that, I will always be grateful.