Pushcart 2014: Steve Adams, “Touch” (non-fiction) from The Pinch, Spring 2012

When you receive bodywork what most people won’t tell you and what you may not tell yourself is that the experience is personal. How could it be otherwise? Fears and issues are often found in injuries, and some injuries are more personal than others.… As with the very good dance partner, you can travel to a place neither if you would arrive at alone. And you will think of them years later, wonder at what transpired between you.
Injuries break boundaries. They reshape us, emotionally and physically. Sometimes they create doorways and humble us to the point where we can step through.
This is a love story.

Steve Adams woke up one morning with a funky testicle. Now, I don’t happen to have testicles, but I’m quite aware of how protective men are of them and I’ve been known to freak out over the funkiness of body parts far less meaningful, so I can sympathize.

And when the denizens of the AMA shrugged and reminded him to get a flu shot and keep his cholesterol under 200 (they’ve been taught to the tests their whole lives), he turned to alternative means. That’s a trip I’ve taken. An acupuncturist very well may have saved my life, without laying a hand (or a needle) on me, just by looking at me and talking to me and ignoring the receptionist at my doctor’s office (who insisted it would have to wait until 4pm) and calling an ambulance to take me to the emergency room. I think that’s what happened, I was delirious at the time. Had I walked out of the office, I have no idea what might’ve happened.

So I know that road that Steve travelled. That’s where he met Jonah.

I think it was at that moment he considered what a great distance a straight boy from Grand Prairie, Texas, might travel to come to a point where he could lie beneath him and trust him implicitly with his body. What happened on that mat, as well as my feelings for him, were hardly casual.

For eight years, Steve visited Jonah periodically for shiatsu massage. Initially, he tells us about the effects of the sessions. I’ve heard about this mind-body connection from others – how touching a certain spot in a certain way can release an emotional torrent – but I’ve never experienced it. Perhaps because I’ve got plenty of emotional torrent going on at any given moment anyway; repression is a skill I’ve never learned, though I sometimes get confused and have to play Name That Feeling. Steve convinced me, as others have, that it’s possible.

He traces the path of the bond between him, the straight boy from Texas and the gay masseuse, over the course of eight years. Jonah spent part of each year living in Germany with his partner, and Steve would use other practitioners as needed, but they kept working together to keep Steve whole.

And as Ernest Hemingway said, “Every true story ends in death.”

They say it’s only when someone dies you fully know who they are. Death is the final page of the final chapter, and like a finished novel its total shape only comes into view at that moment. There were certain things I knew about Jonah.… What I did not know was who he was to others.

We go with Steve to Jonah’s funeral, and find out who he was to others. Steve knew Jonah was a clown – a professional clown; he performed in hospitals for sick children – but Steve never really saw that side of him. I met a professional clown once; a relatively famous one (appeared in a feature film) was a client of an insurance agency where I worked. I suppose a clown keeps work for work time like we all do. But clowns, like everyone else, mourn when one of their own passes, and at the funeral, Steve came to know who Jonah was to others by how they mourned him.

I was doing pretty well with this essay, tear-wise, until I got to one particular line near the end of the piece: as Steve introduces himself after the (as unconventional as you might expect; red clown noses were provided, the way yarmulkes are handed out at a Jewish wedding) service, he has the urge to say:

“…you don’t know me but I loved him too.”

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