Muscle Massage Memories

Dearest Rachel –

The late Betty White (don’t know if you’ve seen her up there, or if you could find her. While I’d admit that Rose had that ‘faith of a child,’ similar to how your mom was during her last few years, I’d wager that Sue Ellen wouldn’t be remotely interested in religion; and from what I’ve read about her, Ms. White was rather more like Sue Ellen than Rose. But who am I to judge? I don’t know anybody else’s heart, and I shouldn’t claim to) is quoted as having said something along the lines of “People yet should get eight hours of beauty sleep every night. Nine, if you’re ugly.”

Well, I got my nine last night. I also got a nasty backache.

Thankfully, I’m still at the point where jumping in the shower and letting a jet of hot water shoot down on it is enough to get the worst of it to melt away pretty quickly. That was rarely ever enough for the aches and pains you suffered all the way up and down your spine.

Now, I don’t know exactly how much pain you were ever again – that’s the thing about pain, everybody knows what theirs feels like, but nobody has a clue as to the extent that others feel pain. We can guess and approximate, based on our own experience, but that’s all that it is – a SWAG, or ‘scientific wild-ass guess.’ It’s one of those things, like yawning, that science has studied since time immemorial, and still doesn’t have a good handle on what it is, how it feels from person to person, and how to measure it.

All I know is that a jet of hot water was never sufficient to unknot your shoulders nor ease the nag in your sciatic nerve. You left that to the professionals… and me.

By ‘professionals,’ I’m referring to Ellen’s brother-in-law, who studied for a certification as a massage therapist, opening up a practice some years back. I think most of us thought this was another of his flights of fancy at the time, but he really managed to discipline himself and make it a going concern, with three locations and (I think) ten or twelve masseurs and masseuses working under him these days.

It didn’t hurt that he and his team were really good at it – at least, if I’m to believe you. As a family friend, you would get a special discount at his clinic, and would in turn often serve as a training dummy for new staff and as a draw girl at various festival booth setups they would participate in for advertising purposes. You would talk with me about some of the appointments, particularly when you were training a new person and wanted to relate your experience with them, and why they were (or weren’t) a good fit. I recall you being particularly impressed with several hires who did well despite disabilities: one, being all but blind, proved to have a genius touch, while another, who was deaf, performed well, but took some getting used to, as you couldn’t simply tell her what technique worked for you or didn’t. I forget how that was resolved, but those are the stories I remember; these are the sort of things we would talk about in those days when we had to go out and walk Chompers.

I sometimes think you wanted me to know about this simply to reassure me that this was purely done on a professional, therapeutic basis. Prior to Ramón opening his practice, you relied almost exclusively on me for relief of your back and neck issues. And while I had studied certain techniques when I was in college (and operated an informal – but decidedly amateur – practice of my own out of my dorm on occasion), I never did anything more after graduating. You were my only client from then on.

More times than I can recall, you would look over at me from your seat on the couch, and, with your hand on your shoulder to indicate what you needed, you’d ask, “Could you…?” You’d hop over to where I was sitting in the recliner, and either sit down at my feet or on my lap, and I’d press down or run your shoulders, while you tilted your neck back and forth from side to side until there came that satisfying ‘pop’ as everything lined itself up. You usually wanted me to keep going, though, and enjoyed however much I could give you before the muscles between my thumb and forefinger began to tire (which, I’m sorry to say, was considerably sooner than you would have wanted them to).

Then there were the Sunday mornings, after you’d washed your hair in the shower (I stayed out of that, as you used cold water for that process in order to keep the purple dye as colorfast as possible; once you’d finished with your hair, you allowed me to adjust the dial for hot water and join you. More often than not (depending on how much time we had before needing to get dressed, walk the dog and leave for church), I’d take the opportunity to soap your back and neck, and rub both down, often resulting in another satisfying ‘pop’ before you needed to rinse off.

And of course, most Saturday mornings began with a rubdown, starting with the neck and shoulders, and moving on to the base of your spine. You’d lie in my lap on your stomach, so I could press down on your sciatica, and slowly make my way down your legs to the soles of your feet, and everywhere in between. It wasn’t entirely therapeutic, of course, but I always liked your praise of my ‘talented fingers,’ and that I could get so much reaction out of you from them.

I miss those days; heck, I even miss that mild ache I would get in my own thenar and adductor muscles from it. I’d love to have that pain back, if it would come from being with you and making you feel good.

But I suppose you feel better now than you ever did down here. And I wish I knew what that felt like, too.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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