I laid face up–a different start to a massage–and felt the warmth of a heated pad beneath me, a soft sheet and cozy blanket above. Those first few minutes, after undressing to my comfort level (down to the beige underwear that is as close as I’ll get to being in the nude) and taking my spot on the table are always awkward in my larger body. Or maybe it’s that way for everyone and I assume it’s worse for me.
Head as close to the top of the table as possible, but not hanging over the edge. Arms at your sides. Knees or ankles over the pillow that gives your legs just enough of a bend to be comfortable and provide some support. Blanket pulled over your chest. Stillness. And trying to make it all perfect (without messing up the sheet as you adjust) before the massage therapist walks back in. I don’t want to be a problematic client, especially as a plus-size woman.
That’s a lifelong story that stretches far beyond the massage table: Don’t take up more space than you’re already taking. Cover up everything that you or others might find uncomfortable. Whether that’s cellulite or tears, keep it to yourself. Hold your stomach in. Powder your red cheeks. Sit up straight. Say it’s allergies.
Just … pass.
It’s an exhausting cycle.
I wanted that day to be different. My body was exhausted–same for my spirit. Two years of living in fear of another’s touch, even their breath, had taken its toll. So had the last few months of my former job, largely influenced by living through a worldwide crisis. If given the chance, I could have slept through at least 24 hours of the news cycles I tried to avoid and the anxiety that followed.
Being a deeply feeling person in a messy world (shout-out, Glennon Doyle) means the deeply feeling is also physical. Holding the heaviness of experience and/or memory and bearing witness to others sits underneath our skin. Shoulders get tight, jaws clench, stomachs turn, heartbeats quicken, and muscles ache.
And when you have so long believed that those uncomfortable things are too much—that you are too much—it stays.
You might test the waters and tell a friend how terrifying it was that we washed our groceries in an attempt to stay alive then realize that while they seem to agree, it’s not the same.
You might share the story of how you thought you would have to pull off the road and get sick when you heard Esther Perel refer to the refrigerator trucks that held the bodies of the COVID dead because you couldn’t process it when it was happening. The reminder one year later brought up visuals that desperately wanted to get out of your body.
So you protect your feelings, push them further down, and just … pass. Until you don’t.
The website described my chosen massage as, “one of our most relaxing and soothing full-body treatments.” I was ready.
A few weeks prior, I had a full release (though some might call it a breakdown) on my fiancé when he asked me if I wanted to go with him to pick up some frames. We had a few photos we wanted to hang and needed a replacement for a gorgeous print from my artist friend that had recently fallen off the wall. There was no passing this time.
“Can I be honest?”
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t have it in me.”
He stayed home with me, offered his shoulder, and asked what I wanted for dinner.
“I knew you were feeling bad, but I didn’t know you were feeling this bad. You don’t have to do anything but rest.”
It all came with me to the table.
My massage therapist had a gentle voice. She wore silver hoops and silky black hair in a messy, perfect ponytail. From the moment I met her I was relieved—her body looked a bit like mine. This would be my first hot stone massage and on the way to the room, she told me they were her favorite and promised I was going to love it.
“People get the signature, and they get a taste. They just don’t know how good the whole thing can be.”
I could hear her warming up her hands with stones before laying them on my skin. It warmed the lotion, too. The heat helped me surrender, and I decided that at least for the next 85 minutes if I was going to think (because monkey mind is real), I would at least try to think about all the things my body has done.
As my muscles relaxed, my body welcomed me to hear her story.
“You have been tired for so long. And overwhelmed. You have carried fear and sadness and resentment and responsibility far longer than you know. But you’re knowing.
“You have cried and screamed and slammed your hands against the steering wheel and pillows and your thighs.
“You have ached through depressions and heartbreaks and songs and sentences that take you back to the very moment something happened.
“You have walked trails and hallways and stairs and down the aisle. You have run for movement and emergencies.
“You have given your face to the breeze and smelled honeysuckle and rain.
“You have held hands and hugs.
“You have offered bread and wine.
“You have laughed so much–there is joy in your bones.
“You have worn your truth.
“You have played piano and basketball.
“You have chopped vegetables and baked cookies and sipped hot tea.
“You have skipped across lawns and rolled down hills and found freedom on a swing.
“You have wrapped yourself in blankets and the warmth of another body.
“You have worn lipstick and lavender oil.
“And you have survived all of it—even the wounds you gave yourself.”
A whisper woke me up. “Kitty, we’re all done. How are you feeling?”
We felt rested—me and my body. Connected.
I had to acknowledge her pain to get to her peace.
“First the pain,” says Glennon, “then the rising.”
With one extra letter, so does a Psalm.
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the mo(u)rning.” (Ps 30:5).
Kitty Taylor is a writer (and Grief Support Specialist in progress) living in the north Georgia mountains. She has contributed to Ministry Matters and was a featured essaysist in Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. Kitty received a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School and completed a yearlong residency as a hospital chaplain, where she found her niche as an essayist. She currently serves as Parish Administrator for St. Clare’s Episcopal Church in Blairsville, GA and as Resident Artist for Writing at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.
You can connect with her on Instagram @kittyeveling.