Rubber necking and the art of massage

The first time my neck froze was years ago, while driving. I signaled to make a lane change, looked over my shoulder to check my blind spot like a good Young Driver’s graduate and that’s when I became a version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. A red-hot skeleton key inserted itself into my ear and unlocked a rusty cog in my neck that slowly wound around an airline cable, raising my left shoulder like a drawbridge. Then the cable snapped.

My left shoulder was now touching my ear. My head was cocked on an angle, looking directly out my side window. Not so bad if the Don Valley Parkway I was traveling on were one giant circle, going left. I made my way home, sideways.

And so began my introduction to massage therapy. I’d never done it before. Too fancy, I thought. Too personal. A stranger touching me? Were they judging me? Thinking my birthmark looks like a splash of spilled coffee grounds? Here was a place where you try to relax by going into a situation that makes you tense? It didn’t make sense.

But the knot in my neck trumped the knot in my stomach, and so here I am, 20 years and dozens of sessions later, waiting at the Hand and Stone on Laird for my sweet relief.

“Mr. Crick-ton?”

I turn my upper body in the direction of the voice so my sideways-positioned head can address who was calling me.

“It’s pronounced Cry-ton…silent C-H….like the author,” I over-explain for the thousandth time in my life.

“Ouch. Is that as bad as it looks?”

“I’ll let you know after the crying,” I whine, as we head to the room.

The person who was going to unravel me was named Joy or Daisy, I think. I can’t recall, but I do know it was a happy name that gave me some peace.

We go through the usual questions: How did it happen, where does it hurt, etc.?

I could have told a story about rescuing a cat or foiling a robbery so there was a heroic excuse for what I looked like.

“I was brushing my teeth.” I opted for the banal truth. (Well, sort of. I couldn’t very well say I was plucking a gray eyebrow hair, now could I?)

JoyOrDaisy leaves the room, and I put my clothes on the chair and get on the bed, face down, sinking my mug into the terry-covered face donut. JoyOrDaisy returns and sets to work. More pain. The kind that causes you to tense up, making matters worse. But gradually, I relax. This is the part I love. And hate. The part where the pain starts to subside. It’s also the part where I start to drift off and embarrassing things happen. My face is like a giant pimple pushing through the cloth donut, skin pulled like I’m in a wind tunnel. Cher would be jealous. I can’t keep my mouth closed. Strings of drool stretch to the floor. I don’t care, I’m losing consciousness. And all I can think about is that when I wake up, I’ll be able to see what the world looks like on the right side of me. I start to dream about floating in a warm lake. The duck, beside me, is quacking. Wait. That’s not a duck. Poor JoyOrDaisy. I don’t care. This is glorious.

Sometime later, I’m awakened with a hot towel on my face. Too short, I think. Always too short.

I eventually collect myself and stumble into the harder light of the reception area. Two people wait on the couch and eye me up and down. I try to make my terry-pocked face appear normal. Like it’s always this way.

“All good, Mr. Crick-ton?”

“Oh yeah. All good,” the endorphins reply.

I pay up, and put a generous tip in the envelope for JoyOrDaisy, to make up for the duck.

I head out to the car and pull out of my parking spot, looking to my right with ease, and smile. Life is good. Gotta do that more often.

I pull out onto Laird, signal to change lanes, and look over my left shoulder.…

Along with being co-founder of advertising agency Grip Limited, and partner in, David Crichton has won numerous awards for his writing, including a Kitchener-Waterloo Kiwanis Club Silver Trophy, in Grade 7.