High ceilings: a clean bare apartment, in the modern, comfortless style. The floor-to-ceiling windows, which might have looked out over the city lights, were covered with matte black shades. The books were few and serious: T.C. Boyle, Jared Diamond. The effect was elegant but lonesome.
So also was the young woman, who had no fund of smalltalk, nothing to expose or to apologize for. One of those rare clients who seem to go nowhere during a massage, who stay warily present and alert. You ask them if they're comfortable and they answer at once and clearly, with the same readiness and tone they would use in a job interview. I sometimes wonder if the pheromones are simply wrong, with such clients. Have I done something wrong, or failed to do something right? I'll never know, but I'll be astonished if she calls me again.
I pondered the massage, and my responses, as I drove home. I sometimes feel a little awkward with clients that much younger than I am. They come from a different world. When I was young there was much solemn discussion and hand-wringing about the generation gap, but it seems to me that the distance separating me from young people now is far greater than the one that separated me from my parents. My parents and I grew up dabbling occasionally in despair. But these young people grew up immersed in it, they live and breathe it. They believe in nothing, and they have never trusted anything enough to be betrayed by it. My heart aches for them.
Or possibly it aches for myself, and all this has nothing to do with her. I need to bear that possibility in mind, too. As I drove through the rainy night, I went methodically through my heart, labeling the potentially toxic responses and putting them up to dry. Here was my dismay at being treated formally and distantly; here was my anxiety about being old and fat; here was the millionth iteration of the story of my only being able to talk my game; here was the faint but insistent conviction that my body is awkward and de trop; here was the sense that my tongue is thick with some ancestral poison, which prevents me ever from expressing the kindness and generosity that overflows my heart. I hung them carefully, one by one, with the clothespins of the dharma. Let them hang like prayer flags, till they turn to powder and fly with the wind.
This, I feel, is my great qualification for doing massage. All of us who work along the boundaries of intimacy, doing massage or talk therapy, need this capacity above all others: to be able to see our own responses, and not believe in them – not ratify them – and certainly not impute them to the people we work with. Nothing needs to be done with them. They don't need to be accepted or rejected, evaluated or justified. They just need to be given proper ventilation: they'll disintegrate on their own.
Underneath it all is a floor of heat and fire, that ancient, inarticulable potency, the thing that all prayer invokes. We can't afford to smother that with damp laundry. Hang it up and let it dry.