Sat down to write. Heard my gate. Heard footsteps. I waited. A voice called. I went to the door to see my neighbour with knitted brows staring at my ceiling accessories. He came to put me on alert that thieves broke into one of the apartments and left with a new flat screen TV. (Reminds me of another neighbour who had advised me that a naked man has been knocking on the door of single ladies early in the morning and suggested that I be careful. He has been watching me and noticed that I leave home while it is still dark to go and walk. Who should I really be afraid of?) I told him I did see a TV box by the gate a few days ago and that it might have been considered an invitation. He said that the aggrieved tenant kept his box at the back of the yard, and box at the gate belonged one of the other ladies. He said when he had bought his flat screen TV he kept his box inside. This would have been normal conversation elsewhere, but having been reoriented to the Trinidadian meaning of words the whole box talk was getting too much, then he added: you should be careful about leaving your backdoor open. Excuse me? I expressed appreciation for the information and concern and he headed down the stairs.

I had pulled the chair coverings off and bleached them and was downstairs hanging them out when the aggrieved neighbour exited his apartment and walked pass me without saying: Boo. We do greet, but it depends on the mood. So it was the very windy night when my coverings were flapping in the wind, making extra noise, that they thieves went in unheard. Maybe had I washed another day there would have been less noise and we all would have heard the thieves. He saw me afterwards, but it would have been awkward to now make small talk when he already has difficulty with the usual pleasantries, so another neighbour was told and he chose to relay the story to me. May God comfort him in his hour of need. It is hard to buy things for Christmas and have Santa visit too soon to take them to another home.

I have had unlocked doors while being away from the house and have suffered no consequence, because God is good, or maybe I have done enough community service. For example, I feed the birds…that’s giving back to the community…and they fly around and tweet the word out that no one should trouble the massage lady. I also put out usable stuff: a stand fan that had minor rust on its blades, a computer desk with one misplaced wheel, etc. On every occasion that I put out something, it has disappeared within the time it took me to visit a client and return home. Someone is always watching, which is how they knew the victim was not home the night they went down his chimney. Thankfully, the watchers probably decided that I have paid my dues so they do not harass me. Should I go tell my neighbour that he first has to put out things of substance before he is allowed bring in anything new and keep it? As part of our precaution this Season, let’s put the neighbourhood watchdogs on your gift list. We don’t have to know who they are, we just need to leave decent furniture or appliances by the gate.

Okay. Now for saying what I was going to say. Nursing Home. One Nurse who got the best leg massage of her life finally caught up with me to advise that she was in pain for days. She felt that the massage woke up all her old issues. But she is fine now, less cramping compared to before. I told her I’ll pass the info on to the Therapist who worked on her. On the other hand, while I was massaging one of my clients his relatives came to see him. They remarked at how he was now sitting up straight and making attempts to grasp with his hand – he had a stroke…too. They said hypertension and stroke are hereditary. They felt happy that the therapy is working. Having seen both sides of the coin often enough, I know that some experiences are worse before getting better, and some get better almost immediately then plateau off when you least expect. Of course, there are those who recover fully too. Hence we can’t scream Good/Bad Therapist too early. We might be embarrassed, or pleasantly surprised. But I am glad that they have observed, and more so, that my client is getting a little more comfortable which allows me to work with more relaxed muscles. Did I ever tell you of our first encounter? While sitting before him working on his arms, he suddenly coughed. I had to head to the washroom. My face and the front of my clothing had whatever were the contents of his mouth. I cleaned up and returned to continue the massage. If it was a test, I must have passed. We’re having better times now. Occupational hazards.

My other friend who used to have cast wine and a 5-piece continued his stories this week. He said all he has now are memories. Not sure about his wife these days. Feels abandoned. Reality check: women do get weary. Said he has been praying. He has three Psalms that he says at night and in the morning and he believes that God will help him. I asked whether he has been squeezing his ball and moving his arm. Not much work with the ball. Said he has to get a chain for it so that even when it falls from his hand it would still be attached to his arm. Constructive thinking. A few days before I visited he said he got his leg to stretch out straight. He was not trying to do such. He woke up and felt normal and functioned as such. In remembering his condition, the leg started retracting, and he could not consciously get it to straighten again. Hmmm. We remember things of significance, consciously or subconsciously. His stroke must have been truly remarkable that he had to remember it. On the upside, as long as he remembers it I continue to get paid. But working for money alone can be soul-destroying. How can we explain working with people in distress and having no real interest in them or their problems? To forget to be human hurts; both us and our clients. So it’s mutually beneficial. I get to have financial gain and emotional satisfaction, and he gets personal/emotional development. Physical development will come in time…based on what he chooses to remember/forget.

But he is excited and hopeful. I told him to keep it that way. And the conversation went to exciting times of his past. If there a mad country in the Caribbean he believes it would have to be Jamaica. He has lived there and recounted seeing a bus accidentally hitting a motor cyclist. Naturally, the driver stopped and got out to inspect the damage. While awaiting the arrival of the Police the cyclist’s friend pulled up and shot the bus driver and rode off. For all the craziness the worst was returning to Trinidad and experiencing the frustration of sneaking to get a 5-piece. He said in Jamaica ‘man selling weed in the market like bhagie.’ Never heard that before. I asked if it was legal. No. Then why wasn’t the weed vendor arrested? He laughed. He said Friday nights were most interesting. A man and woman living together displayed remarkable singularity when Friday night comes. He goes to his party and she goes to hers. Freedom is expected, or understood. ‘Eh, watch nah, all man drinking is stout and smoking weed.’ Oh that Trinidad and Tobago was Uruguay. But don’t worry, they’re down south, and with a little stirring, legalization could float to the top, so it would reach Trinidad.

I never knew there were plans for a military hospital, let alone that they were abandoned. He advised me of this and opined that had such been undertaken he would not have been in the Home, but in a bed elsewhere being properly treated… at the tax-payers expense. Maybe it should be a concern that persons who serve their country (don’t we all?) are left in squalor when they are off the payroll and sickness or old age strikes. At least some dignity remains in being cared for specialized facilities where they are still known for their achievements. I grew up knowing that the military camp back home was self-sufficient. During holidays when my mother took us to work with her we would get to move around a bit with someone who has agreed to be responsible for us. I have gone into the hospital and seen ill soldiers in bed, visited the Dental School which was a separate unit, passed by the prison and seen soldiers peeping out behind barred windows, I was bedazzled by regular drills and parade routines, and had my appetite satisfied in the kitchen…drinking buffalo milk and eating baked custard are etched into my memory. And even after retirement there are functions to which my parents are invited, as recent as a few months ago. The camaraderie does wonders for the psyche. So yes, I could understand my client wanting to convalesce in a facility where he still feels a part of something. Where someone he knows might pass through before the day is out. Not sitting in a wheel chair…near a guy who is also in a wheel chair…who is near a guy with his urine bag taped onto this upper leg…watching TV and arguing over who is superior based on the amount of pension received. Undignified.

Am I told all these stories because I enter sessions hopeful of being unburdened on? I have my own impressions of situations based on consultations and experiences and am content to have a prayer in my head while I work. But verbal communication is important and I know enough to know that there is no throwaway comment during the massage. Whatever the client says means something. And as casual as they might be, my responses have to be measured because people basically read into comments things that are a reflection of their own psychopathology and not necessary what is conveyed. As part of the Massage course we have to look at the pathology of the various bodily systems. For example, in the Muscular System there are specific definitions for Myositis, Cramp, and Rupture. Similarly, we all have personal definitions for our various experiences. By default this makes communication problematic in that the message which is heard makes the impact, not the message which was intended. Hence conversation can get out of hand if I did not understand that the client was just in need of a listening ear and interrupted with perspectives of my own. I could have spent time telling my client why there is general displeasure at the mannerism of the Police and Soldiers in their private and public relationships, but he has had a few dates with depression and just wanted me to listen as he courted his memories of euphoria. So we rehashed to undo some of the distortions. The situations he recounted might not have happened exactly as he remembered, but we don’t want to undo all the distortions. Our attitude to life is dependent on them as they help to determine how we perceive the various things that happen to us. So all we need is clarification to survive the hour together. Nothing radical.

The client who said we met two years ago had some distortion going on. We did meet, but not when he said. There was a massage, but not the way he remembered it. This happens easily when we shop around. We can’t remember clearly in which store we saw the fabric we prefer. I did wonder how he would feel if his baby behaved the same way at age two as it did at birth. There should be concern that the child is retarded. Does he think I am so retarded that he could show up two years after and find me in the same mental place? Maybe he did not mean it that way, but that is irrelevant. What I heard made an impact, so whether he intended to or not I could have gotten upset. But I chose to be a sounding board, and he was able to double check his memory and found an element of doubt that started to unravel his version. And again, it is about the human element. I cannot remember exactly what I had for breakfast on this day one year ago, so provision has to be made for others. There is a filtering process at work in all of us that ensures that whatever we remember is distorted by selective memory, which means that our best reconstruction of an event would still be lacking minute details…that we logically fill in and declare the new construct accurate. As Therapists our role is to make communication easy for the client. To understand what the client is trying to say. To verify and get feedback and not fill in our own blanks. It’s all part of thinking and acting professionally.

And as much as we might imagine that we are seeing the worst side of our clients, men of status condescending in the name of pleasure, it is unlikely. We suppress sad or negative emotions, so we won’t see their worst side that easily. What we keep getting from them are the happy or positive emotions that the massage routine helped to evoke. And the happy hormones do wonderful things to us. They cause spontaneous reflections that are not always obvious to the Therapist. The Psychologist would advise us that what is transpiring is that the client’s normal mechanism for filtering is bypassed due to the excessive touching the massage entails, thus causing earlier experiences to gush to the surface with an urgency to be re-experienced. These sensual memories prompt clients to want us to touch them a certain way or to touch us, or see us disrobed or have us focus on their nudity, or hear us say appealing things to them or tell us etc. Hormones don’t discriminate, whether stirred by a 5-piece or a massage they give us euphoria, which explains some of the behavioural patterns during sessions of massage therapy across the world. Clients are expressing – verbally/non-verbally – that which makes them happy. It is understanding that saves the day; that prevents us from ruining our reputation, or losing our temper and clients too.

We can therefore understand the change in facial expression when we tell someone that we are Massage Therapists. To some extent we are like the Police and Soldiers, necessary but not always ‘nice.’ We basically turn people on, right? Technically, yes, but massage has many benefits…bla, bla, blah. And what does the client get with the massage? Get? Didn’t I just mention the benefits? Who cares about benefits when we have psychopathology going on? Massage is quite often personally defined as a prelude to something, not as a treatment in itself, and if you are not offering anything then it’s just plain wicked to arouse someone and leave them like that. It’s like a Doctor preparing you for a surgery that you believe you need then he tells you that there will be no surgery and that the preparation was actually a very beneficial process. To who? So we need some clearance to do a more satisfactory job. We need legislature to allow us to share a 5-piece with a client during consultation to ensure that we have a ‘happy starting.’ Some clients might book 1-hour consultation only. We also need revised code of ethics so that we can, with a clear conscience, provide our client with a ‘happy ending.’ I don’t think we will hear any man saying: I wish the government would do something about these Therapists, I can’t get a massage in peace without them trying to jerk me off.