Hurts So Good

I’ve had the luxury of a week of spring break. Unlike many of my co-workers, I didn’t drive south to the beach or Disney, or jet off to some far-off destination. I have stayed home and hoped to get some things done. The weather has not been particularly pleasant during my time off, but it has afforded me the opportunity to get some nagging jobs done.


During the last few weeks of work before the break, I noted that my shoulders and upper back were aching. I would be at least a song and a half into my daily drive home before I would notice that I was leaning forward and hugging the steering wheel of my car with my shoulders up near my ears. “Lean back. Let your shoulders drop down,” I would tell myself. “I need a massage,” I would tell myself.

Monday was cool and rainy – a perfect day to complete some of the errands on my list, including getting a long overdue manicure. I tried to get an appointment at French Nails – my favorite salon where they play movies while they pamper my feet and hands – but they, too, were taking vacation. I couldn’t go back to my previous shop because they would know that I had abandoned them when they saw that someone else had done my most recent manicure. I didn’t want to have to explain why I had left them. I had to find a different salon – just for this one time. I found one near one of my errand stops at Home Depot AND as an added bonus, the salon was right next door to ATL Massage. “Perfect,” thought I. I could park once and get both my hands and my poor, aching shoulders pampered.


I’m not new to massages. I’ve had several in my life. Each time that I go, the massage therapist works on major knots in the muscles of my back. Each time they suggest that I go regularly to keep those knots under control. Each time, I vow that I will, since the whole experience is so relaxing. Each time, I let a few years pass before I go back. This time, before I even got back to the table, I purchased two massages. I HAD to because they were offering a second massage for half price. I’m not about to turn down a BOGO, so I signed up for two sessions and added the hot stone treatment for good measure.

I was escorted to a room with a massage table in which the lights were low, some essential oils were being diffused, and lovely, calm Oriental-styled music was playing. I began to relax immediately. My massage therapist entered the room. She was a teeny tiny young Asian woman wearing scrubs and Crocs. Yes – of course I wanted a deep tissue massage and could she please focus on my shoulders and upper back? Yes, indeed, I had purchased an hour session. Yes, I will disrobe and shall I put my clothing on this chair?

Some friends at the lake and I had recently discussed the level of undress with which we were comfortable when getting a massage. I thought of my more modest friends who keep vital garments on when they go for a massage. I believe that any bashfulness I may have had completely disappeared when, in preparation for Eric’s birth, I asked my doctor if I could have more than one person in the delivery room with me. Dr. Barootes told me that I could sell tickets to the event if I wanted to. I considered it. Childbirth allows total strangers access to secure areas that are otherwise entirely off limits. Childbirth demolishes one’s privacy and modesty.

I had nothing to be ashamed of. Rather – the parts that I am ashamed of would be hidden. Since I had asked for my therapist to focus on my back and shoulders, the most troubling of my many trouble zones – which protrudes from the area around my belly button and spreads across my entire mid-section – would be completely squished and spread out on the table as I lay on my front under the strategically placed blankets. I took off every stitch of clothing I had and snuggled in – front side down, face in the cradle  – under the warmed blankets on the massage bed.


Annie, my masseuse slipped into the room and began to warm some lavender scented oil. Ahhhh, my favorite! She told me that she was warming the stones and that they would be used later in the hour. Warm, smooth, stones were going to feel goooooood! I happily closed my eyes and she began the massage. Annie quietly explained that she used a hybrid of Thai and American styles of massage. Thai includes heavy pressure pushing down on specific parts of the body, while American involves circular movement and pressure that moves around on the body. Great! Let’s go! Sigh!

If it weren’t for being able to see the tiny little toes of her Crocs, I would have sworn that somehow, Annie was swapped out for a 350 pound Andy once the massage began. There was no way in the world that the tiny little thing that I talked to whilst fully dressed was able to force the amount of pressure through her hands that she did! She was simply too small.

Annie knew what she was doing. It didn’t take but a few minutes before she was kneading my upper back at exactly the place that I ached. She would push against something solid a few inches toward the spine from where my bra straps would be (if I had one on!) and eventually her hands would slip from the edges of the solid, and in the motion, a little cracking sound would be heard. I asked about the source of the noise. Muscle knots. She was pushing, kneading, pinching, rubbing on two knots that extend from the tops of my shoulders halfway down my back. I asked if Annie would be able to take care of those nasty knots. She would, indeed, but not likely in one one-hour session. Good thing I got that BOGO!

Friends – I have enjoyed every other massage that I’ve ever had. Sure, there were moments during each that were a little uncomfortable, but never before would I have described a massage as painful. In order to endure my experience, I had to reach far back into my repertoire to when modesty was lost and recall the relaxation breathing techniques that I had successfully employed during each of three childbirth experiences. Little Annie, positioned at the top of my head, accessed my knots and pushed so hard on them, that I believe the only thing that kept me from being pushed down along the table was my chin, which was hooked over the table’s edge. I tried to ignore the agony by focusing on my breathing and looking straight down at the floor. I started to hiss the /s/ sound with each exhalation and worked very hard not to add the /t/, /o/ and /p/ sounds and bring this torture to an end. Annie moved silently around me and attacked those knots from every possible direction. I found it helpful to alternate the hissing /s/ with a soft /sh/ sound upon exhaling, and, again, had to concentrate so as not to add the /it/ to my expelled breath. Annie asked me if I was OK when she heard my noises. Oh yes! Just fine!


I tried to picture my happy place – gently swinging on a hammock under the shade of a palm tree on a private tropical beach. I counted seconds. I sang childhood songs in my head. I closed my eyes hard and prayed. I waited and waited for the hot stones – which I was sure would be a sign that my torment was through. Not so. Annie’s attack on those knots was only augmented by the heat and the solid surface of those stones, which, once cooled, were deposited in a perfectly straight line along my lower back.

After what seemed to be forever, but actually was exactly one hour, Annie quietly spoke the words I had longed to hear. We were all done. I should rest for a few minutes before getting up. I did. I got up, I had survived. I rolled my shoulders and – it felt good! I was invigorated, revitalized, restored! Annie advised me to drink plenty of water to rid the toxins. I looked forward to being less toxic. Annie suggested that I might like to use a heating pad later in the day if I was sore. Sure. Will do! I took my energized self home.

Five bottles of water and about eight hours later – I sat close to an outlet so that I could press the heating pad alternately on my excruciating shoulders. I hurt. Badly. But – I can’t wait to go back. It hurt so good.