Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Awareness Tree


     The Voice that saves my life at fourteen when I am drowning is not a one hit wonder. The ageless intonation continues to arrive during situations that are similarly life-threatening, as well as mundane and unlikely.
     An event with the characterization of the latter occurs in my early forties when I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. Words flood into my consciousness as my husband Bill and I are on our way to a hotel and stop at a red light that has a spa situated on the corner.
     “Go get a massage.”
     A natural assumption would be that my ego commanded the instruction, kind of like “eat ice cream” or “buy a Jaguar”. As a massage-newbie-woman, ego would not want to go for the first time during a long engaged fat period. I have a lot of issues with the idea, many of them involving cellulite, jiggling underarms and strangers touching me. Obviously, this sentence did not come from me. It is equally apparent that Bill didn’t make the demand as he is oblivious to anything outside of finding a parking space, after having determined he likes the look of a cozy pub next door to the spa I am stare drilling.
     As Bill maneuvers the car, I mull the Voice ownership. Having previously fittered over silly possibilities, like leprechauns, split personality disorder and my mate attempting to gaslight me, I consider one surprisingly, not yet thought of contender.
      Could this be a higher being?
     Raised on Catholicism, as an adult, I’d tried on Methodist and United Church of Christ and now labeled myself an agnostic, with a slight tilt toward a mother-nature-free-spirit genre that is secretly opined at chick only book clubs. This conclusion had been drawn merely as a convenient alternative to naming myself atheist and because deep down I’m a God fearing scaredy cat.
     Sneaking a look out of the car window I worriedly search for signs of a toad rainstorm. Just thinking that I might be judged as peevish by He who must not be argued with, brings up bits and pieces of bible study that stubbornly cling to my brain cells. If I were to say no, will I be turned into a plus sized pillar of salt? I round on my unsuspecting husband.
     “Let’s get a massage.”
     One of his eyebrows shoots up to the hairline while he directs the car into an open space. He responds while braking.
     “Because of our check-in time, you’ll have to get in and out in less than two hours.”
     Knowing the man as well as any woman knows another species, I suspect he may be thinking he can ride out my unlikely plan on the bar stool next door. So I cut him off at the pass.
      “Both of us, because no way in hell am I doing this alone.”
     He holds the stunned but curious look of a man whose mate has suddenly developed a new and possibly wondrous personality trait. I toss him one last stipulation as we enter the serene waiting room of the spa.
     “If there is a guy and a girl therapist I get the girl.”
     His face falls, any delusions of my being new and improved fading completely. Sighing in unison we timidly approach the receptionist. Secretly I scheme to set enough rules around this fiasco so as to ensure that our next steps lead to alcoholic beverages and then a nap. The twenty-something girl, who has no idea she’ll ever be as old as me, effusively greets us.
     “Hi, welcome to Ren; may I help you?”
     Since this is my brilliant idea, I answer for both of us.
    “We’d like a massage, but only if something is available right now.”
     I smirk inside, one foot and body propulsion already motioning toward the door. Not needing to look at the appointment book the girl exuberantly responds.
     “Yes! And I happen to have two openings since we just had a cancellation!”
     My foot hesitates, my brow furrows, and a light sheen of sweat erupts simultaneously. Still grasping wisps of hope, I list in the direction of freedom while tossing stuttering flotsam.
     “Okay…great…good…but…I want a female therapist and if that can’t be accommodated…well…uh…we’ll have to pass.”
      The cutie pie continues to grin broadly at me.
     “Perfect, one therapist is female and the other male so lets get you settled. I should also mention that the sessions can be 90 minutes.”
     Rigidly I grab the assertive reins.
     “No. Thank you, no. We need to get back to shower at our hotel.”
     As though I am a lottery winner, she shares exciting news.
     “You can shower here! There are two beautiful rain shower rooms for use after your massage.”
     I believe that I hear guffaws from the unknown Voice, but it’s probably the splashing wave wall near the entry. Grimacing at an uncertain Bill I meekly follow the overly helpful girl. She leaves me inside a gorgeously appointed room, with calming music consisting of tinkles, whispers, and flutes. Quickly stripping down to big girl panties, I clamber up on the massage table so as to be covered neck to toe before anyone enters. This I complete at hyper-speed since my bra needs to be wrapped up and out of site, yet not looking like an attempt to hide something. This skill was mastered during doctor visits. Waiting for whatever comes next, my thoughts drift to Bill lying in the room next door. A guy will soon rub his back. Settling more comfortably face up on the cushioned table, a sneaky, snarky smile blooms across my face just as the body worker enters, softly greeting me.
     “Is this your first massage?”
     My mumbled response slips out from beneath a crisp sheet clutched under my nose.
     “Uh huh, how can you tell?”
     She off-handedly answers while lighting a candle across the room.
     “I don’t know just a guess.” 
     It must be my panic breathing.
    The woman continues talking while settling a blanket around me.
     “I love working with people new to massage. It’s up to me whether someone gets another treatment. I’m going to make sure this is something you want to do again.”
     After her declaration, she stops speaking and begins with my neck and shoulders. Within minutes my anal sphincter relaxes and the world outside floats away. The Voice returns to offer an idea seed to root.
      “What a great job. No yelling or phones, just peaceful music.”  
     Whoever, whatever you are, please go away.
     Acquiescing to my request, the trespasser departs, leaving me to revel in the new experience. Shortly after the wedding weekend, a college catalog arrives offering a certification in massage therapy. It appears that my questions about the Voice are beginning to lean in a direction.
     One for the God column.
     I enroll. Other than my husband, every person who hears about the plan laughs; not a chuckle, a flat out guffaw lasting several minutes and ending with one gasped out word.
     “Really?” 
     I’m widely known for my truck driver mouth, anal organizing, and anyone who spends more than a couple of minutes in my presence might have serious concerns about whether I have a pair of Chinese throwing stars in my back pocket. Yet, inexplicably, I manage to graduate and open a practice specializing in chronic pain, directed to classes in CranioSacral Therapy and Visceral Manipulation by unencumbered sentences from somewhere. In the quiet space of each session more of me wakes up from my rule-dominated existence and less of me fights advice that the Voice offers. My grip on life softens, as my rigid task master begins to wear away like a river stone washed by centuries of ancient water. Eventually, I stop asking where the formless words come from, accepting that the answer is probably something that would freak me out anyway.
      Late one afternoon, three years into practice, I invite the wisdom to come, we having evolved to one of soothsayer pontificating to cranky five-year-old.
      “Are you ready?”
     For what?
     “Does it matter?”
     I suppose not.
     “Are you ready?”
     Sure.
     An anxious, unsure shudder runs through me. That sounded awfully confident for someone whose panties are suddenly damp.
     Every heroine’s story has a leaping off point, an intention that propels a story into motion. This was mine, the auspicious moment my awareness tree began to bloom.



Monday, February 6, 2017

The Voice



     Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, I was consumed with a rabid desire to surf so that I could meet Moondoggie. This was the dark haired moonlight surfer and love interest of a teenage girl named Gidget in a series of books and movies set along the California coast. My grand notion was plausible given that I lived in Huntington Beach, nicknamed Surf City, U.S.A. The streets were overrun with dreamy James Darren wanna-be’s. Unfortunately balancing on a long narrow board went beyond my ability, so instead, I took up bodysurfing.
     It’s a unique idea, leaping astride a water horse to connect with fluid in motion. The intersection of human and wave must be perfect. Standing chest deep in water facing shore until a crest curls a few feet behind, while my arms quickly stroke toward land, morphing into a body torpedo. Catch a curl peaking too early it can push me down deep, tumbling through a sand storm. After many early efforts, I’d surface spitting up grit and salt water, long bloody scrapes lined into my skin. With practice, I learned to approach a wave just right, propelled all the way in, grinning ear to ear. I became rather good at body surfing, but not at swimming or obeying warning signs.
     In the middle of a beautiful day during my fourteenth summer, a string of words entered a self-created precarious situation to toss me a life vest.

     “Do not fight a riptide, ride along with the current until it lets go or you will drown.”

The dulcet nuances of cascading letters did not reflect gender or age, they sounded or feel timeless, like an ancient tree. The statement was also accurate since I am indeed greatly immersed in an act of drowning. A riptide swirls beneath an otherwise calm sea. I had frantically made attempts to swim to shore but the current resisted carrying me beyond the ability to touch bottom. Soon I grew too tired for anything but an ineffective dog paddle. Far enough from shore that screaming would amuse passing sea birds, but otherwise be a useless enterprise, I continue with trying to survive.

     Breathe, dog paddle, breathe.

A booming voice repeats the instruction.

    “Do not fight a riptide, ride along with the current until it lets go or you will drown.”

In between salty gulps of air and frantic slaps at an expanse of rolling ocean I circle to see who is also drowning or watching my display with amusement. No swimmers are near since everyone else obeyed the caution flag announcing hazardous conditions. Out of time, out of energy, there is nothing left in my suitcase but trust for a random historical intonation or thought popping out of nowhere. Exhausted I flip on my back, toes to the sun, far enough from shore that people are bits of moving color, more kaleidoscope than human landscape. The ocean fills my ears leaving behind only the sound of my breath and heartbeat.

     Boomboomboombreathboomboombreath

At 14 I don’t find it alarming to hear another speaker clearly not my own in my head. It isn’t unusual for me to talk inside myself, I did it all the time when family matters were overwhelming. But these announcements are not mind circle conversations about who, what and why. They are declarative, informative and said with authority. Typical exchanges with my self-self were chatty, bitchy and occasionally whiny.

     I’m going to die.

Considering the precarious state of my existence, the Voice responds neutrally.

     “Perhaps.”

Having achieved my acquiescence to the original suggestion, the dispassionate stranger then silenced.
     Saltwater laps at my face while the merry sun lopes across the midday sky. Floating, I resume considering what may happen next. My heartbeat does laps around my breath as I think about salt water invading my insides and the process of gasping for air one last time. A question of sharks brings visions of blood and dismembered appendages. My anxious perusing lifts me outside myself, as though watching a familiar actor living my life, a technique I perfected as a small child during trauma drama. Stepping just to the side of my experience I observe the situation with the mind of a scientist dissecting a squid.

     Will my body be found? Probably not. Will my mother cry?

There is no solid answer to that last question. On any given day her reaction to my death would have been different. My heart beat and breath slow softened by the emotional distance I created, while the vast expanse of ocean incomprehensibly comforts me womblike. This is why I loved bodysurfing. Out here in spite of everything, I felt safe and wildly free. I lose sense of time, my shriveling skin the announcement I have been lost at sea quite a while.
     The strong surge continues to sweep along, dilly-dallying off the shoreline until it runs out of steam. A particularly large swell gathers me in slow motion. This wave follows the one preceding it and another arrives shortly after. Each are part of an endless supply directed by gravitational forces of the Moon, Sun, and rotating Earth. Stumbling out of the water I fall to the sand on shaking knees. Sounds of the crowded beach welcome me home, closing the distance of mind-body separation. I walk the couple of miles I’d drifted from family, who wouldn’t have become aware someone was missing until sunset. Not wanting to encourage an addition of more rules I lay down on my towel without informing anyone of the experience, pondering the mysterious swimming coach in silence.