My brother gave me a gift card for my birthday entitling me to a session at Massage Envy. I’d seen the building: lots of windows and shades made it seem mysterious, but maybe they were just keeping the sun out. Some of the most glamorous spas are located in the vast and gorgeous West, where the desert takes its toll. This one is in a shopping center near my home in Ohio.
Massages were nothing new to most of my friends, who had always told me I would love the experience. I didn’t know if I’d love it or not. Was I supposed to get naked? In a salon where I got my eyebrows waxed, I waited for my appointments in a spa environment. On Saturdays, especially, it was common to see bridal parties in their white terry robes having a day of beauty before the wedding. They were always young and beautiful. Let’s just say that I’m in a different place and well accustomed to a daily routine of trying to disguise my flaws.
I have wrinkles. My belly isn’t tight. My legs are all freckled from years in the sun. Yes, such changes come with age, but all of a sudden somebody I hadn’t met was going to know those things. Maybe the Kardashians can just throw their clothes off and relax, but could I?
In some circles, massage is a shady word. That’s a shame, but I did think about it before I made my appointment. Would any of the touching be too close for comfort? Many people wouldn’t worry about such things, but after all these years I’m sure I represent the ones who would.
When I arrived, I filled out a questionnaire. My lack of experience prevented me from answering some of the questions, e.g., what kind of massage did I want. There was a list of body areas on the form so that I could indicate which ones were all right to include in the massage. One was gluteus. Who goes around saying “gluteus”? I wasn’t positive I knew what it was. That’s hard for a writer to admit, but at least I was right. The girl at the counter confirmed that it was my butt.
After the questionnaire and a little spiel about what to expect, I was shown to the inner sanctum of the spa. If you haven’t been, a spa environment is hushed. Soft music plays in the background. The lights are low. People use their indoor voices. Maybe you remember the Seinfeld episode about the “low talker,” the woman who practically whispered her every sentence. In a spa, everybody talks that way. The whole idea is for customers to relax. Even the rooms are named to soothe. While I was waiting in the Tranquility Room, I silenced my phone in case an actual call might come through.
The massage took place in a small room with a heated table made up like a bed. I undressed to my undies and lay down under the covers to wait for Jen, my massage therapist. Some people like it quiet during a massage, but I knew that I would feel better if she explained what she was doing. I found out I was having a Swedish massage, and because it was my first time, Jen applied a light-to-medium touch. The light in the room was dimmed, and that helped my anxiety about my body.
From that point, I did relax. I realized that a skilled professional was taking the tension knots out of my back, improving my circulation, and helping me to leave my Type A personality behind for an hour. Anyone who can do those things—especially that last one--deserves high praise.
The second half of my massage, the part that took place after I understood the process, was very quiet. I no longer felt the need to talk. I left the spa relaxed. I didn’t feel like I would melt into a puddle, but maybe next time, now that I know what it’s all about.