"He places his fingers under the back of my neck and is holding my skull up and away from the table, pulling on my head with such gentle energy that I feel it separating from my body and am about to cry out, You're hurting me, but if he's going to hurt me, even if he kills me, I will let him do it because all the tension in my body is floating away as if I no longer need to hold myself up or carry the weight of my sadness."
By Ginny Wray
COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
I'm lying on a tall, padded table in a small, overheated room, waiting for my appointment with Jacob, a man I've never met before, to give me an Amma massage. I've been slapped once or twice and steamrolled by Swedes, but now I want peace, rebalancing and grounding, as advertised. I've taken off my socks because I want to feel Jacob's fingers on my feet, but leave on my pants and shirt because Ilke at the front desk said it doesn't matter if I'm dressed or not, and I'm too shy to be naked, especially when I'm the one who's paying. So I lie still and let my eyes grow accustomed to the dim ceiling lights. This is a funny place, a storefront business on a fashionable street in a fashionable suburb which I visit like a tourist, but Jacob's seems more like a gypsy fortune teller's parlor with its velvet couch in the window, bells and incense, its long dark hallway at the end of which is a blanket, hanging up over what sounds like a washing machine. Maybe Ilke reads Tarot cards or does past-life regressions, I think, trying to relax, but I can't keep my eyes closed for more than a minute with picturing the woman I saw, sitting on the velvet couch in a robe, her hands bleaching under clear plastic gloves. I'm vigilant and antsy, like an abandoned patient in a doctor's examining room, knowing the loneliness that only a sick child sent upstairs alone in the afternoon can know.
When Jacob quietly opens the door and comes in, he's wearing a T-shirt, shorts and clogs, even though it's the first of December. He asks me how I feel, and I say, "Fine," but I'm not fine at all, which is why I've come here, to be nourished, to feel cherished, the way no one who loves me can make me feel. Maybe I've come because I was never held as a child. Maybe people who were nurtured never need to buy the healing touch of a stranger, but I am here because I have let no one into my life who might touch me; I've become hardened and armored to face the world. I imagine that Jacob will say, "You're very tense," and I will say, "Don't I know it." Then I think I'm too old for comfort, and I'm not even sure I'll be able to go through with this, but as soon as he lifts my head in his hands, I feel a jolt of relaxation like the inner warmth from a shot of rum, and I'm so grateful that I think I'll double his tip, I'll give him anything he asks for, although he asks for nothing. I'm the one, in this strange but intimate relationship, who's doing the asking, and all I ask is to be reborn, to feel my body come to life again.
He places his fingers under the back of my neck and is holding my skull up and away from the table, pulling on my head with such gentle energy that I feel it separating from my body and am about to cry out, You're hurting me, but if he's going to hurt me, even if he kills me, I will let him do it because all the tension in my body is floating away as if I no longer need to hold myself up or carry the weight of my sadness.
"This is so wonderful," I say excitedly, stupidly, like a first-time tourist, like a spinster on a blind date. "I'm so glad I came. Do you know anything about acupuncture? I mean, is it good to help you stop smoking? I've heard that you have to keep going back because it only works for a while, and oh God, I can't believe how good this feels."
Jacob nods without speaking. The room seems to be getting hotter; I feel groggy and lazy, and would throw off all my clothes if he asked me to. It doesn't bother me that Jacob is a man, even when I feel what must be the tip of his penis brush against my hand as he stands at the side of the table and manipulates the length of my arm. We are somehow sexless, two souls touching. He pats the bones between my breasts as if he's looking for a secret spot, then stops and holds the beating of my heart under his thumbs. I remember suddenly that many years ago, my sister's first baby was born with his heart outside his chest, and I need to weep. I want so very much to weep, but I am still in the memory of this truth, this silencer of thought. I must be still, and must forget. I must forget that I am older than Jacob, that I am older than God. But I can hardly grieve now, because the man touching me has found my center, my deepest self, and he may take it if he wishes, since it no longer belongs to me.
He works methodically, slowly; I am a stone in the rhythm of the tide. His fingers move in waves down my body, more deeply than I have ever been touched before, making my calves and ankles known to me as if for the first time. It hardly surprises me that I don't laugh when he pulls on my toes or pinches the soles of my feet or kneads the insides of my thighs, but it doesn't tickle me and even if it did, I have no resistance left, and even laughing would exhaust me. Now each moment is bliss, and I never want to move again as long as I live, and all I want is that Jacob will never stop touching me.
I sense that there is music in the room, although I don't hear it. Who's speaking? I think. Is he speaking to me? He says, "You will write about me," and I say, "How do you know that? Who are you?" Then he tells me he's a sculptor, which I certainly should have known, should have guessed, being only clay to him. "And how did you know I'm a writer?" "Humph!" he says, seeing right through me.
Suddenly, like a drunk, I say, "I'm working on a story now about burn barning." I shake my head, in a fog. "Did I say that right? No, barn burning. That's what I meant to say." Silly language! Speaking at all is beside the point, the past is stuff and nonsense, and I remember the words, gammon and spinach, from Dickens, the names of nonsense, the names of birds. And finally, thank God, I am speechless.
When he says, "Can you turn over now?" I manage to smile, but it takes all my willpower to move. I shift my body over, like a whale submerged, like a child allowed to play too long in the water. And when my face has fallen into the little cushioned trough with its tiny bit of blanket, and warm darkness lulls me, I know that I have moved beyond pleasure, beyond words. It's amazing to me now that I ever spoke to him, that I ever spoke to anyone or knew my name, or knew the use of language. Whatever I've said to him is pointless, as if words mattered only to the unenlightened who have never crossed over into the state beyond bliss. But now the bliss is gone, and I'm somewhere else (maybe in the afterlife?), beyond feeling, beyond caring.
It's not an unpleasant place to be. It is completely mindless; I am reduced to a thoughtless simplicity, to a state of true not-knowing, but of course it doesn't matter that I've forgotten everything I've ever known because it was all meaningless to begin with, since the only meaning in the world comes from this floating in space, this being-without, this true poverty of knowing and having nothing.
And this is my weakness, my pain: it has never occurred to me in a lifetime that there could be anything after bliss. When I was the old me, longing to be released from the sorrows of the world, it never occurred to me that the time would come after the bliss was over, and that I would have to learn to live again without it. But now I am stateless, homeless, nameless, without ego or a will of my own, without friends or family, past or future. If he tortured me, I would tell him everything I know (although I don't know anything) and sell out my beloved. I don't even know where he is standing or how he is able to reach down to push my lower back away from the top half of my body. I cry out in pain when his fingers press down on the ribs between my shoulders, and cry out again - Oh God! - when his fingers move inside the soft, receptive underbelly of my knees. If I were standing up, I would surely fall down, slither down in a heap like an empty costume, to worship at his feet.
Finally he presses his hands like cups over my ears, and then his hands are gone, and it's all over, and I hear the door close, and come to know the unfillable emptiness of being left behind. He is gone, and if there ever was a god, he should hang his head in shame. I know it is over, and I will have to get up again, although I am still washed in the ether of this other world. I will have to put my socks and shoes back on - put back the very mantle of my mortal coil - and rejoin the world. I have been reborn, my body is alive again, and I'm forever grateful to Jacob who moved me to the state outside of my senses, to ecstasy, but how am I to live now, walk down the street and away from him, speak to people again, eat and laugh as if I belonged in the world, to the world?
When I get dressed, pay for my pleasure and leave the temple of my familiar, I notice Paula's House of Pets next door, and follow a ray of light falling on the sign in the window that says, "Full-service pet spa - grooming, acupuncture, seaweed wraps." And then the world floods me in all its untold silliness, and I know I'd be a fool to leave my ecstasy behind, as if, like the crown-pointed rays of sunshine drawn by a child, it had shot clear out the ends of Jacob's fingertips and I'd had nothing to do with it, as if it hadn't also shot out from me and was mine forever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ms. Wray has had essays, short fiction and poetry published at Carvezine, Hope Magazine, Eclectica, Eyeshot, LinnaeanStreet, nycBigCityLit, Pindeldyboz, PoetryMagazine and PoetryBay, with work forthcoming at Creativenonfiction/Brevity and BigBridge. She works as a freelance editor, and is on the editorial board of Fictionline.com.