Some morning in late 2015, 10:30 am, Massage School, Texas
Note: To protect their privacy, I have changed the names of those mentioned in this post.
I’m about to fall asleep in massage class. It’s the middle of the morning – that time when you want to find a private place at work or school and sneak in a fifteen-minute power-nap. My airplane flight and travel demands from the night before have drained all of my energy reserves needed to plow through the remaining ninety minutes to lunch.
I never imagined we would be talking about something so boring or so very unrelated to massage. Our veteran instructor, Nikki, is explaining how a brain cell does something in the brain. “What is she talking about?” I whisper to Horch, my classmate. He is transfixed staring in a linear forward direction. I can tell he hears me but his brain is trying to decide whether to answer me or to listen even more carefully. He’s on the very edge of deciphering the point of this lecture. Horch is black, athletically built, street smart and works in the county Sherrif’s office. He wears a mantra on his shoulder and switches it out for a chip on his shoulder when he is in a busy grocery store filled with inconsiderate assholes. Toward all of us, he is considerate and kind, but, probably keeps his guard at full attention.
Ah! I see his mouth tighten. Then the edges of his mouth start to curl up as if he is in a losing arm wrestling contest. His hands fly back – he’s lost the tug of war contest with his brain. He surrenders. “What Wally?” I ask again, and he gives me a ‘where are we going for lunch?’ look. It’s 10:30 am.
Less than an hour later, I can’t hold it in anymore, and, I unintentionally expel a crescendo’d yawn that could have been mistaken for a vociferous mournful ghost. My very kind and non-judgmental instructor gives me a look as if to say, “I know, I know this is boring, but, standards require I teach you this.” Everyone else was looking at me. Our class valedictorian makes eye contact with me and smiles affectionately with a familiar look and whispers “you goofball!”
Nikki has one of those motherly voices that makes anyone feel safe. She could tell a bedtime story about Wes Craven’s monsters and the listener would still have heavenly dreams. I first met her on the phone when I called to inquire about massage school. A few weeks later, I was sitting at a table with her listening to her pitch about my future education and signing a financial agreement to pay for it. She has curly red hair, Irish skin, and a demeanor that compels one to her company. She is always surrounded by people seeking her knowledge or counsel about massage techniques, essential oils, or psychic experiences.
I figured out early on that Nikki was either a medium, a psychic, or an intuitive life coach. When I could catch her unattended by school obligations, I would seek out discussions with her about those subjects. I often wondered how much she could see into my life (that I was already doing massage without a license and getting paid for it) which caused me to create an imaginary metaphysical wall in between my mind and hers. At times I wondered if I should wear a baseball hat lined with tin foil.
Nikki continued: “A neuron consists of a cell body (also known as ‘a soma’) with signal receivers….” Gradually, everything went blurry and her words made no sense; they were only sounds that comforted me. I was sinking lower into my seat, my face cocked towards my feet. And, without warning, I was instantly transported to an ocean liner that was only as big as a small yacht. I didn’t have the capacity to argue that this yacht was not an ocean liner, but, in my dream it was fact. People I didn’t recognize where everywhere. I was conscious of my existence there, but I was without a history, a purpose, or luggage.
“(GASP)!!” I jerked up in my seat. My classmate, Horch was pushing on my elbow to wake me. I had fallen asleep. As I adjusted my posture, I murmured apologetically “how embarrassing, I’m so sorry.” I could feel the heat on face, I was rock-lobster embarrassed.
Nikki was looking at me and then scanned over the class. “Why don’t we come back to this later?!?! Let’s go to lunch early but come back early. How does that sound?” She was mildly startled by the unanimous and resonant response to her question: “Y-E-S!!”. “Great. See you at 12:45 and sharp!”
Most of us usually went to lunch together, but, this time roughly half of us wanted to stay and take naps to regain their energy lost during the lecture. The rest of us walked to a nearby Mediterranean grill. We stood in line staring through the posted menu above. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through the rest of the afternoon,” Horch sighed. All of us produced resigned expressions in agreement, and, I had a feeling that eating lunch would only weaken our abilities to survive another march up ‘snooze mountain’.
After leaving the eatery, we were faced once again with having to make another dangerous crossing of the six-lane street known for its hustling traffic. Our adrenalin glands activated and induced our muscles with a temporary dose of fight or flight energy to dodge the accelerating cars traveling towards us well above the posted speed limit. Without the help of traffic lights or a cross walk, we walked quickly toward the other side.
As we rounded the corner of our drab outdated building, Nikki was exiting her car and walking toward the school entrance. She waved and waited for us to catch up. “Are you all ready for a few more hours of brain science? Isn’t this exciting?!?!” Her farcical humor was lost on me as we wandered into the school like zombies. I turned toward her and said, “exciting?!?!” She saw my zombie expression and broke into a loud giggle.
“Actually, we’re switching gears today…we’re picking up brains tomorrow.” Like the rest of us, Horch was in a brain coma and processed every ridiculous statement as if it were true and possible. He coddled his newly filled belly like an unborn child. “We’re picking up brains? Uh…Nikki…,” Horch interjected, “uh…I don’t think I can make class tomorrow…I will have to do a make-up.”
‘Picking up brains with his hands’ seemed like a real possibility to him because from the beginning of the semester our Sunday instructor, G.G., would consistently ask if we’d like to go the city morgue sometime to see the body in action. “We’ll make it a field trip!! (GASP!) They even have a cafeteria there – we can have lunch!! OH!! And, you’ll be able to pop the I.T. (illio tibial) band just like a rubber band…isn’t that fascinating?!?!” She demonstrated how she would play the I.T. band by bending down near the side of a pretend body on a pretend examining table and how she would pull it outwards. “POP – POP – POP!!”
As we all settled back into our seats, I noticed that the classmates who stayed to nap somehow had large-sized Starbucks coffees in front of them. I gasped and then belted out “GREAT idea!” I scanned the room to assess our class start time. Nikki was still in the administration area. She was delayed by walk-in clients looking for an inexpensive massage by massage school interns, but the school admin was still at lunch.
“Nikki is detained because the admin isn’t at her desk. I’ll be right back,” I whispered to Horch. I scurried to my car to retrieve my coffee bar on-the-go. It contains a coffee maker, bottled water, coffee filters, a coffee grinder, freshly roasted coffee beans, and, of course, a fresh bottle of Clorox spray.
And, that I am intruding on my school by setting up a coffee bar there is a non-issue. There is a casual vibe that allows one to have such conveniences if the electrical occupants on the rickety card table which I call ‘Fire Marshall Violation #3’ are only mildly disturbed. Our school is a hodgepodge of forgotten sinuous electrical cords, overburdened electrical strips, abandoned stacks of paper, corralled dust bunnies, mismatched furniture, and roach poop– all housed in a 1980’s structure. The school has a housekeeper, but, she is not really a housekeeper. She’s a close friend of the owner and, it’s been rumored that he hasn’t the heart to replace her. I give him kudos for keeping her employed for whatever personal reason. The housekeeper and her assistant refill the paper towel dispensers, and, gently graze over the wooden floors with their stringy mops. There is no Lysol or Clorox in her tool bin – so I bring mine.
I have never been a brand snob when it comes to clothes, cars, jewelry, restaurants, alcohol, etc. But, I draw the line at exceptional coffee. Coffee that has been medium or dark roasted, ground, packaged and shelved is just ‘coffee’ to me and I can take it or leave it. But, coffee that has been freshly light roasted and recently brewed with filtered water helps to steady my mood and reestablish my connection to the world. Very few retail establishments have satisfied my craving for amazing coffee. With me on all my travels is either a pour-over plastic coffee maker, or a traditional electric coffee maker with all the necessary accoutrements.
Usually, I brought coffee to class every day. But, upon arrival to school that day, I left my coffee bar in the car, so I could sign into class on time. If any day was a day for a good coffee…today was mostly definitely that day. As I walked back into class carrying my bulky coffee bin, those without coffee looked at me with a hopeful plea. “Yes, please!” nodded Ahmed. “(GASP!) YESSsss,” said another.
As the coffee brewed, Nikki returned to class with an armful of handouts, one of which was a quiz on the previous material and which she handed out after finishing the lecture prematurely ended by my exclamation mark of slumber.
After we submitted our completed quizzes, she announced that we were going to give our tortured minds a rest and practice the art of ‘palpation’ and marked Horch as the pretend client. None of us were exactly sure of the purpose of ‘palpation’ and which prompted Ahmed to ask, “like a kitten nurses milk from its mother?” Nikki explained that we were going to learn how to assess various parts of the body without applying deep pressure.
A massage table was retrieved, sanitized and draped. The lights were turned off, the blinds closed, and a YouTube recording of Tibetan monks playing with their bowls filled the room. Horch lie on the table prone (face down) under a sheet upon which lie a heavy red blanket. Nikki pulled us to the exact spot where she wanted us to stand and directed our fingers to the areas she wanted us to palpate.
At last, we were all in our strategic positions and she directed us to apply sustained slight pressure to specific areas of Horch’s body. She questioned each of us to describe the specifics of the area we were touching. Sometimes she would ask what we felt if we pressed in a slightly different direction one half inch of the original location. My classmates and I sunk deep into our own thoughts as we stood motionless.
Ten to fifteen minutes into this exercise, Nikki broke our spell of concentration and spoke above the Monks playing with their bowls to ask Horch if he had a brother who had died. None of us really noticed how out of the ordinary that question was at first. We were palpating! A very long pause filled the space. He was face down which led some of us to glance towards him questioning if he was asleep. But, finally, we saw his back expand which activated his diaphragm. Horch’s booming bass voice filled the darkened space with “NO.”
A second or two passed when Nikki replied with, “Huh!! That’s odd.” There was a conflicted look on her face. She paused with intention before she spoke again. “There’s a spirit here who says he’s your dead brother.”
We all froze in our movement. All of our eyes slowly rose from Horch’s body to meet each other’s eyes. Some of us could be heard whispering, “what the fuck?!?!” in high pitched tones. Ahmed turned to look behind him to ensure a poltergeist was not in his vicinity. I glanced toward the under-side of the table to make sure nothing odd was present. I’d seen enough sci-fi in my life to imagine anything was about to happen. I glanced toward the corners of the room to look for hidden cameras. Then I looked toward Nikki. She was oblivious to our expressions.
Horch waited a long time before answering her and we wondered if he heard her. Then, finally, “OH!” he said in that booming voice. “You must be talking about my step bruh-thuh, Mahr-kus. He lived in New ‘Yoke’.” Almost immediately, Nikki sighed out loud. “Ahhhh.” She paused a bit before continuing. Then she added, “Well, he just wants you to know that he’s here. There’s no specific message, only, that he has always considered you brother.” Everyone remained quiet and looked downward as if they were working while listening to a radio program. Another very pregnant pause filled the space. Horch awkwardly blurted “thank yuh.”
Through the rest of the day, the excitement of the spirit’s visit may have slowly drifted away for everyone else, but, it has stayed with me ever since. That we were in a spirit’s presence, or, if you prefer, that the spirit was in our presence was, to me, holy. That space was sacred, and we stood on the border of the land of those who had gone before us.
Another question remained with me. Why was it that it was Horch’s brother’s spirit that visited? Why did it choose that moment to speak through Nikki? Could it be because Horch was surrounded by his classmates and all of us were touching him with our energy? In the same way the movies portray a séance, could it be that we were unintentionally lifting him up in some sort of metaphysical prayer?
And, that Nikki could see or hear Marcus was, of itself, remarkable, but, that she could see beyond Horch’s objection – that he didn’t have a brother who was dead – was even more remarkable. I have always been fascinated with the after life of spirits and souls of the just – I’m not fascinated with spirits and souls of the unjust and I hope they keep their distance! But, I’ve always hoped that the world in which they live is one I could glimpse while still living in human flesh. And, even though, I am fascinated by this entire field of interacting with spirits and souls, it was a little jarring to be part of someone else’s reading without preparing for it. I’m not sure why I felt that way.
Soon after the excitement faded, I, once again, couldn’t hold it in anymore, and I quickly made my way toward the men’s room to pee. I was afraid I was going to miss something, so after leaving the men’s room, I walked quickly past the massage table and rounded the corner behind my classmates to return to my post. Almost sprinting back created a breeze in Horch’s direction. Startled, he hollered out, “I FEEL A ‘COHLD’ BREEEEEEZE!!” Our class valedictorian once again gave me ‘the goofball’ look with a grin, yet, no one admitted to Horch that I was the cause of that cold breeze. Everyone had already returned to their own mind space and continued with the palpation exercise.
After the visitation, nothing more was said about Marcus’s visit. We all digested the experience and moved on to other class work. But, I filed that experience with visitations I’ve had: three people who passed during my life. They were visits in my mind, not visits I could see or hear: my college accounting professor, my best friend’s father, and a very close acquaintance of someone very close to me. And, maybe that will be a future blog post.