I think that my life has had its normal share of ups and downs, but Sean, my massage therapist, assures me that I’ve got plenty of unusual stories to tell and has encouraged me to write them down. I’m not sure if he wants me to tell them to somebody else in hope of diverting my focus away from him, or from a sadistic urge to spread the pain around to other people. I don’t feel all that guilty at burdening him with too much of my personal information, however, as Sean has a tendency to dig his elbow into my muscles in a somewhat excruciating fashion while asking me, “How’s it going?” As a man of German American heritage I respond to the intimate association of questions and pain as if I am being interrogated, and I often tell him “how it’s going” in way too much detail. I weakly apologize after his elbow no longer appears to be penetrating muscle and hitting bone, perhaps in the hope that cause and effect can be magically reversed: if I stop blabbing he will stop probing. But then he drives his stony fingers into another joint, an electric shock of pain shoots down my arm, and off I go with yet another tale of woe.
I can tell when I’ve upset my wife with one of these sad and/or grotesque stories: her face takes on a certain tautness and her eyes stare glassily straight ahead. She is temporarily rendered speechless, and I can tell that she is hoping (like a frightened animal) that by remaining quiet and motionless I will eventually forget that she is there, and will go in search of another victim. We’ve been married thirty years, and I have been unable to avoid picking up an understanding of her body language. When I see these signs and it gradually dawns on me that I have caused damage once again, I try to put a bandage on her mental lacerations by saying, “Sunshine, puppies, rainbows and butterflies.” Her facial muscles relax and her eyes regain mobility. She knows by this verbal signal that I will shut up, go away and leave her in peace. Our marriage contract is renewed once again.