I thought I could avoid it forever. I was so careful. Until this week- one simple misstep and I found myself face to face with him. The awkward encounter with the Ex.
It all started on Tuesday, when I went on Zoe’s field trip. Dozens of children were crammed three to a seat in a school bus. All the windows were up, and I could barely catch my breath. Finally, when I could take it no more, I began to remove my jacket.
That’s when it happened.
As I twisted in the narrow seat to take my arm out of my sleeve, I felt a twinge in my neck. Twinge is such an innocuous word for the cramping, searing pain that shot all the way down my arm.
My birthday is this weekend, and if I ever needed an indication that I’m getting old, having my neck seize up while trying to take off an item of clothing will definitely suffice.
Luckily for me, I have a massage membership, and several prepaid massages awaiting my use. The next morning I sat, barely able to turn my head, with a searing headache. I was desperate for relief. I called the massage place, and the woman said, “if you can be here in 20 minutes, I can get you in.”
I jumped at the chance.
I raced over there, got checked in, slung a warm neck pillow around my neck and sat in the waiting room. I was looking down at my phone when I heard my name called.
I looked up.
It was him.
“Oh. Hey. How’s it going?”
“Good. Follow me.”
He said very little as we made our way back to the room.
I took a seat on the chair and he looked directly at me.
“So, what can I help you with today?”
“Well, I tweaked my neck yesterday, and my middle back is pretty tight.”
“Ok, well, normally on a 90 minute massage I would start at your feet, but it sounds like you need me to start with your neck.”
He looks at me for a minute and then says, “It’s unusual to have an appointment start at 11:15.”
“When I called she told me to come down at 11, but then decided I couldn’t make it here that quickly, so she said 11:15.”
“Normally a 90 minute massage is 80 minutes hands on, and 5 minutes prep. I’m going to have to figure out the math.”
“Get undressed, lie face up. I’ll be back in… I don’t know. A few minutes.”
He didn’t recognize me. I think I’m in the clear.
I get up on the table and wait for him to return. I always wonder what the deal is with other people. Does it really take them so long to strip down that they need a full 5 minutes to undress?
Finally he comes in, and I keep my eyes closed. I figure the less eye contact the better.
I sense him dimming the lights and he moves to sit on the stool behind me. He begins to rub my neck and I’m starting to relax. It’s quiet for a moment, except for the music playing overhead which reminds me of the type of music played during the saddest scenes of foreign films.
Where’s the tranquil Asian music? The pan flutes and the mandolins? This depressing piano music is making me think of the Holocaust and children on their deathbed with the Spanish Influenza.
“So,” He says. “You seem really familiar.”
“Have I worked on you before?”
“Didn’t I work on you a lot?”
Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say it.
“When I worked on you before… Did I do a good job?”
He said it.
What am I supposed to say? Your breath smelled like cigarettes and you constantly talked about the two LEAST relaxing subjects, religion and politics? I often left my massages more stressed out than when I came in? I was thoroughly relieved when I found out you were leaving so I didn’t have to officially break up with you as my therapist?
“You moved, didn’t you?”
“So then I started seeing, um, who’s the big muscly guy who works at the GNC when he’s not here?” Who likes to talk about conspiracy theories and tried telling me he traced his genealogy back to King David. You know, David and Goliath- David.
“Oh. Keith.” He said this like the words were distasteful in his mouth.
“Yes. Is he still here?”
“Well then I had my car accident and I was in physical therapy for a year and a half. I just came back in the spring.”
“So… who are you seeing now?”
“Dustin.” He has a breathy voice that makes my skin crawl, but he does a good job and doesn’t crush my spine with his forearms… like you’re doing now. Ouch!
“How’s the pressure?”
“A little hard.” I grunt out.
“Tell me again what you do for work.”
“I am a mom. And I work for my husband. I also write a blog no one reads.”
At the end of my massage he says, “Well, we’ve unfortunately come to the end of our time together. I hope I made you feel better.”
“Mmm Hmm,” I say with my mouth muffled by the headrest into which my face is squashed down.
“Get dressed and I’ll go get you some water.”
I quickly pull my clothes on and head for the front desk. I hear the door open behind me and I turn to face him. He looks like a sad puppy dog.
“Listen, I know you’ve got a thing going with Dustin, but if you ever need to come in and he’s not available, I’m going to give you my hours.”
He fills out a card and hands it to me.
“It was really good seeing you again. I hope you give me the opportunity to work on you another time.”
It’s never easy running into an ex. Occasionally I see one of my former hair colorists or stylists at the salon. They look at me with that expression of betrayal and I hold my head up in defiance- I’m happy with Naomi and Marques. You can’t make me feel bad about moving on to someone better.
I’m still Facebook friends with my beauty bark guys, even though I was unhappy with their service.
My neighbor owns a nail salon I have been to infrequently. I pray as I pass by her house that she doesn’t notice my fresh, gleaming French manicure.
I walked by another neighbor’s and saw her house cleaner that I had interviewed but decided against hiring. I pulled my hat down over my face.
I’m terrible with break ups. I’m an avoider who hopes they will forget about me and move on without me ever having to say the words:
“This isn’t working out.”
As for my massage situation, I’ll just have to be more careful next time. The last thing I need right now is to be in a three-way massage triangle.
That didn’t sound right.
You know what I mean.