I'm lying on a table on my front with my face poking through a hole. There's some plingy-plongy music that I drift in and out of. I feel warm and secure. Sabrina is pressing an area in my upper back that makes me feel a) like a moth being pinned to a board and b) as though she is releasing every ounce of tension in my body through that one point. She does the same with a point on my arse. In a moment she will appear to put her fingers inside the bottom of my skull and I will think "Ah, being decapitated is not so bad after all, it's a bit weird but it actually feels really nice." She will rest her hand on my breastbone and somehow I will have remembered my sense of courage and strength. When I feel unsure I will come back to the memory of that touch.
At times I flash on my mum and dad and wonder if they ever had a massage. I think about people who haven't experienced touch, maybe for a long time, and what it might be like for them to be lying where I am. I think about the layers of embarrassment, fear, shame, class identity and lack of entitlement, lack of access that stops people from getting mostly naked and allowing a stranger to touch them. I reflect on how getting massages has been one of the ways in which I have been able to make sense of and make room for my own body. I think of my friend Deb.
I can't remember the number of times I've climbed on the table. It's different every time. I used to get scrubbed down by a burly woman at Ironmonger Row. I've been scoured with chocolate-smelling goo at the spa at Hershey, and prodded around in the kinds of places where ladies lunch and hairy legs like mine are a rarity indeed. A man in Budapest blasted me underwater with a high-pressure hose. I don't discriminate, I like the variety.
I remember having a massage at Therme Vals, the most beautiful bathhouse I've ever visited. It was over ten years ago. A muscular guy in shorts and vest gave me a going over with hard bristly brushes. It was all I could afford! He had no truck with clothing of any kind and he insisted in a brusque way of doing my front and back. I got the giggles as he brushed my belly and wobbled me around the table. I was so naked and the scene so strange.
For a while I worked at the kind of places that offered workplace massage. A woman would come round with a chair and do you by your desk for ten minutes. It didn't make up for capitalism and the exploitation of labour and it was hard to relax with my boss nearby. At another office a woman set up in the sub-basement. I'd go and see her every few weeks. The ambiance down there was like Eraserhead. I often think about the working conditions of people who do body-work, how they put their bodies on the line too. It's hard work and there's often a big gap between the worker and the punter. I suspect it is hard to unionise. It's work that takes place in these edge spaces and, surprise surprise, it is a kind of work dominated by women.
These most recent series of massages have been part of the dancing I've been doing lately and they also feel connected to therapy. I feel more conscious that they are a means of putting me in touch with my body, noticing things. I've been explicit about this with Sabrina, the practitioner, and she has responded with a wide repertoire of touch, working with my body in a really great and respectful manner.
I go though different states when I'm being worked on. I'm aware of fat, muscle, bone, tightness, warmth, my body becoming extremely relaxed. Sometimes I feel as though I am meat or a corpse, but not in an alarming way, more like an acceptance of my physical self. I often want to say: "Wow! That feels fantastic! Thank you!" but I'm deep in the moment, allowing myself to experience it. Sometimes the touch feels as though it is pushing my limits of tolerance but this is always immediately soothed. It makes me feel brave. I lie there appreciating what I have, enjoying my embodiment, feeling resilient. When I'm on the table I feel as though I am bringing the history of my body with me. I'm glad I can be there at all.