I work at a no-frills kind of place, where I like to hang out with Liz, the manager, when I’m between appointments. She says she’s never seen a massage therapist with so many clients who buy packages—which means I have a lot of repeats. Liz’s brown hair is always shiny, and there has been only one day in three years that I’ve seen her without makeup. Her voice is kind, and when she was just a little girl—her mother told me—she’d organize all the children on the playground—had them standing in lines.
My mom would be hard-pressed to remember anything positive about me as a kid, even though I was a good kid and still never forget her birthday. It was Friday.
“Hi, Mom, I’m calling to say happy birthday.”
“Thanks for remembering,” she said, and then asked me how some ex-boyfriend from my distant past was doing, and if my long-estranged (from her) brother and his family—whom she has never met—got swept away by some rains on the East Coast.
“Okay, time to hang up,” she said after about five minutes of uncomfortable conversation, none of it about how I was doing.
I have heard that people who are drawn to healing have something to heal in themselves. This intrigued me. I’d always felt a part of me was broken. I grew up lost, had a hard time feeling connected to people, and according to my mother, wasn’t exceptionally good at anything. I drifted as the stray tend to do, from place to place, passion to passion. After quitting an MBA program, I enrolled in massage school, where I learned a new language—the language of touch.
Massage therapy seemed like underachieving, except that the bar was pretty low on achieving, so there was no going under it. My mother warned that I’d ruin my hands, so I had to seriously consider it.
Once I started touching people, I didn’t want to stop. It was like Braille to a blind person—I discovered the path to wholeness resided in my fingertips. Finally, I felt connected, like the broken part had found a fix.
I witnessed a stilling of myself when I was in the treatment room. I was able to control everything: the temperature, the lighting, and even telling the client when to turn over.
The room was like a womb for me: dark with soothing music, a candle. There were times in the beginning when I still heard the words, I miss my mother.
Sometimes I got a little teary.
I spent eighth grade in a boarding school and was homesick the whole year. I’d never been away from home, but after my parents’ divorce I learned that a building didn’t constitute a home anyway. Once my dad got remarried and moved away with my little brother, and my mom went off the deep end, I was on my own.
And I missed everybody all the time.
For high school I went back with my mom, who decided to move to Florida three days before school started. She’d always wanted to move there; it said so in her high school yearbook.
“I thank the Course in Miracles for giving me the support to make this move,” she declared during the drive from Wisconsin, while I sat right next to her worried I would miss the first day of school.
“I’ve got a brother who’s an alcoholic and a crook. Can you imagine, stealing from your own mother’s estate? That’s exactly what Jack did, and my father, who told me, ‘Judy, go jump in the lake,’ me—the only one who has any sense—let him!” She took the cleansing breath she’d learned to quit smoking.
“My brother killed my mother!” she concluded. “She may have had a stroke and emphysema, but she died of a broken heart!”
What a crap-head, I would never do that to you, I thought but couldn’t say.
“If I hadn’t married your father—the most indecent man I have ever known, I would have been at my mother’s bedside, but no, your Grandpa Ollie told me, ‘Don’t worry, dear, we’ll take care of you. Your place is with your husband—in Israel, we’re your family now.’ Well, a lot of good that did me!”
I counted the telephone poles through Georgia.
“My mother couldn’t even talk, she had paralysis!”
I knew the feeling.
“The way you’re looking at me, that glare, it’s really unbecoming. But go ahead, you’re a teenager, I’m not gonna take it personally.”
“This drive is really boring,” I said.
“I just want you to realize that without the Course in Miracles, I’d be dead!”
“I wish I knew where we were going to live,” and I wished I had some friends in Florida.
“You’re such a planner!” she said. “Could you give it a rest for a minute?” she said, like it was a birth defect.
“When you were a little girl, I couldn’t leave you in a room alone for five minutes without you screaming. It was really hard for me to get a break. You always had to be entertained.”
“You think you know everything. Well, I have news for you,” she breathed out, heavy on the exhale.
I braced myself.
“Someday you’ll understand. Someday, when your life did not turn out as you had planned, someday when you have children of your own—children who do not appreciate you, having to plan everything around them—when you have a son who doesn’t send you a birthday card, someday when I am dead—I hope you can understand what it was like for me to have no support!” She banged her hand on the steering wheel for emphasis.
By the time we got to Florida I was exhausted.
My mom was a cat that wanted to be petted one minute, then would bite you the next.
It was an impossible job, being her kid. Even though I was a hard worker, my resignation has been finally left at her desk. I am still trying to separate all the places where I stop and she starts, but my new work helps me do that.
Now, in my job, people are happy to see me. Soothing a tight neck, helping a sore back or leg, and ending a headache make me feel powerful. New clients are always surprised when I walk into the room after they’ve gotten situated on the table and I am able to touch exactly the spot that causes them pain.
People always ask me, “Isn’t being a masseuse hard work? I mean, don’t your hands get tired?”
“Not really,” I say. “It doesn’t feel like work to me.”
Because, where I work, all the cats like being petted.