On the Table

What do you think about when you strip to your tighty-whities, lay face down on the table, and wait? Do you think about when in the rotation of penny whistle covers you will hear “Danny Boy” or Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting”?

I think the following:

I shouldn’t think.

I could pray.

I hope my nose doesn’t drip.

Is it okay to tell her that’s not enough pressure, that I want the crap beat out of me?

I can hear my husband breathing- this is a couple’s massage- Is his therapist applying the right pressure?

They are whispering in an Asian language.

Are they skinny? Mine is strong. She sounds older.

Are they Chinese like the woman who took my appointment and checked us in?

Is that woman Chinese or am I assuming?

Are these legal immigrants? Are they safe? Are they paid fairly? Are they working here of their own volition? Is this an industry where people are trafficked? Do they like their jobs?

Do men who come alone expect happy endings?

That review on Groupon  “No happy endings but good massage anyway”-  made me feel icky.

She is sitting on the edge of the bench. She is gripping and loosening her hands up and down my biceps and forearms, my hand jelly in her grip. It brushes her. Does a sick, predator of a male make his move here? Does she wonder if a person will make a move? Does she have recourse?

Where does she live? Does she have an apartment and friends to hang out with on her days off? Does she share a tiny space with too many other people? You know, like my Hispanic neighbors?

Why do these places ask you to book without Groupon the next time? They say, “Book with us. We give you same price. Not Groupon next time.”

She is strong. She will leave my muscles sore. I love her right now. What is more than a twenty-percent tip?

Tomorrow I will wake up and run another dozen miles by sunrise. I will be sore again. I need massages every three months.

What does she and her fellow therapist think of American bodies? Mine used to be yoga-stringy and hard.

Since my sister died last year, I’ve been eating and drinking too much, sleeping eight to ten hours a night. I’ve added a layer of doughiness.

I am ashamed of my body now.

Does she think Americans are fat? Or hairy? I forgot to shave. My legs have the tiniest prickle of hairs.

Does she shave? What would she think of my husband’s growing hairy-ness?

Why do I sleep so many more hours? Is that part of what makes me fat?

Do I sleep because everything hurts? Because of the two fractures in my pelvis and hip socket that I either ran, biked or walked through, so that MRI’s showed inflammation two years out? Do I sleep because I’m depressed that my sister died last year? That she was only 33? That God didn’t save her?

The last “couples” massage was with her. She came in the beginning of the summer, shortly before her last “NED” scan, a scan that turned out to be false. She had an aggressive tumor climbing down from her tongue, half of which had been reconstructed from her arm. We didn’t know then that it would kill within months, but her instincts hinted as such. Her instincts said this pain was more cancer. She’d squeezed in one more solo trip to see me, Grandma and some of her gal pals in the Rust Belt. While she was here near Indy, I sprang for the massage.

She’d said she appreciated it. Her MIL offered massaged but her MIL worked so hard that my sister struggled to ask or accept offers. In the waiting area, my sister wrote on her form, “I have an ostomy.” She had to say this again in case the girl, who’s language skills seemed in doubt, needed reinforcement.

We’d undressed as if e were little girls, sisters without shame, sisters who had given birth with midwives, who were comfortable revealing imperfect bodies. She had full breasts still. Her’s swung with a graceful heaviness one could cup. Mine looked like green walnuts compared to what swung out front before I nursed two kids almost sixteen years ago. She wore a skin colored belt over her ostomy bag. I sucked my thick waist, a lifetime imperfection. After our massage, we brushed our wild oily hair, dressed and drove to a nearby Pho restaurant for noodles and spring rolls.

Another first in a yea without her. I realized I thought about her because I’d had a dream about her two night before, a dark dream where my entire family was indigent. We were staying in a broke-down shelter, a community building in disrepair. She was in labor and my mother, sisters and I were going every whichway to get a phone, an ambulance, money, someone to help, someone to watch kids, and she gave birth to a baby on the dirty bed, wrapped in dirty blankets and wouldn’t stop bleeding. The bed turned out to be on rollers and we pushed her to the service elevators to get her downstairs to any broke down van to get her to any clinic but she kept bleeding. Under a huge swaddle of blankets she bled to death while we held her infant. Helplessness shows up over and over when I think of her.


I realized why I am sleeping so much. Dreams, man. I hate them and I need them.

After a dream like that I cannot  muster the energy to get out of bed. The dream vivisects my waking self. It knifed me. I loved her alive again in my head, I hate the nightmare. The past and the present are confused about their identity.

I want her alive again. I want the pain. After all this, the pain makes sense to me. It makes sense like the four years leading up to her death.

I fractured my right pelvis the week after Christmas 2012 and walked fifteen miles a day at my treadmill desk to replace the usual twelve or thirteen miles I ran outside before dawn. I popped a dozen ibuprofen a day and drank several shots of Evan WIlliams a night to sleep. Later, while I still popped six or eight ibuprofen a day, she told me it contributes to cancer. She also told me that by relationship to her I was at risk for the rest of my life.

I complained about this sprain to y crazy old doctor, coincidentally Chinese, who, in turn, told me I had “strain,not sprain” for the first eight weeks. The week after my sister’s diagnosis with stage four rectal cancer, I demanded an x-ray. A hairline fracture had slowed me from seven or eight miles an hour to one mile an hour.

In the four years my sister lived with cancer I broke a wrist trying to avoid crashing my bike into the seven am Amtrak and I fractured the ball of my femur. The sports orthopedist told me I’d better start paying attention to my pain or I’d end up with a pin in my leg. My pain, I could tell him, is how I cut myself to stay aware of my sister’s pain. It was the language that united us in the frequent calls where I interviewed her about her life before and during cancer. My pain paled in comparison, but I knew what it felt like, in the same way she’d bonded with me about the year of mysterious gut problems she’d experienced leading up to her diagnosis. Whereas I have an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder that likes to take me one wild rides – I ride the anemic danger zone, the zero-menses osteoporosis dare, the I-exhibit-signs-of: blood cancer or lupus–  she actually had cancer.

I thought about all this on the table.

And the Pho noodles. Also that in one exact month I will turn forty-three and remember the day of her death, the same day.

And I realized why I sleep eight to ten hours. It’s not because I’m getting my wish– to have a fatal disease that will let me out of this loop of pain and loss– but because I need my dreams. I don’t remember all of them, but I remember more than I used to. My dreams keep me in bed so late I have to rearrange the daily run that keeps me from getting digestive pain and thus my work days.

This disruption looks like depression but it’s something undocumented in grief and mental health. My dreams help me make sane what is insane. That is, my sister died at 33 with a husband and two kids left to live without her, not to mention the rest of us.

While slurping Pho in a generic strip mall in Carmel, Indiana, I asked her what she thought about the state of the Asian women who’d massaged us. We took a pass on speculating too much. We couldn’t know. If we did know that they were trafficked or paid unfairly, my sister and I would have one more thing to wrestle. We wouldn’t take a pass on it either. The cancer card doesn’t trump the abuse of another human being. She was the kind of person who would live with pain before allowing a person to be abused for her relaxation.

At the end of my massage I tip generously. While on the table I pray. I thank God and think, I need to do my research.

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