I sat on a plush sofa in a room dimly lit with electric candles and fussed over the gap in my robe with one hand while balancing a mango-papaya mimosa in the other. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this,” I said to my friend Anika. She was seated beside me, looking casual and composed in a recumbent position among the cushions.
I was fresh out of a 60-day workweek: meetings running into deadlines running into events running into projects running into meetings. In the midst of the frenetic period, I managed to schedule the spa day. Anytime I felt like buckling from the pressure, I pictured the cushiony chaise lounge at the end of my monotonous marathon and pushed on. I sipped my mimosa and shook my head at myself; I’d been so busy for so long, I’d forgotten how to just sit.
I’ve received a handful of professional massages in my life, but I’d never experienced a “spa day,” which I define as more than one service on the same visit. I’d chosen a package comprising a body scrub, massage, and facial. I’d wanted to try a new service, and a “scrub” was the least disconcerting of all the non-massage options on the spa’s menu. Words like “mud,” “peel,” and “abrasion” don’t inspire in me thoughts of luxury and comfort. I wanted to bask in sweet smells and undergo soothing strokes, not get dirty, blanched, or sandblasted.
Anika and I were led into separate rooms by our respective scrubbers. “If you’re wearing underwear, you’ll want to take them off,” said J-the-Masseuse once we were alone in our small dark chamber. When I looked at her in question, she elaborated: “Unless you want to be miserable in wet underwear for the rest of the day.” That was enough to convince me. She stepped outside so I could secret my panties into a pocket of my robe and climb onto the cushy cot.
One limb at a time was brought forth from beneath the towel, drenched in warm water, slathered in brown sugar (which was then rubbed around to softly exfoliate the skin), and finally rinsed by another cascade of warm water. It was like being bathed, only I was not in a bath, I was on a bed. “This feels wrong somehow, like I peed myself,” I said as the soaked sheet began to cool beneath me. “I mean, spilled a drink on my bed or something, because I wouldn’t know what it’s like to... So, where’s all the water going, anyway? Is there a drain in the corner?”
“It’s okay, this is a wet room,” said J-the-Masseuse, obviously unaware of the images such a phrase might conjure in the mind of a die-hard Dexter fan.
Though I enjoyed the sensation of warm water running down my back during the final rinse, I was relieved when the wet bedding was removed (in the slick manner a magician might yank the tablecloth from under a dinner setting) and I found myself on soft, dry sheets again. This meant it was time to begin the massage, and I could finally relax. At least, so I thought.
My sister Jane has been known to fall asleep during massages. I’m a bit too neurotic for that. The moment I feel myself giving into relaxation is the moment I perceive awkwardness. Because I’d hate to think I’m the one being awkward, I project my discomfort onto the other person in the room and then set about “diffusing the tension.” An ironic endeavor, seeing as the reason I’m in this particular room is to seek professional help from a trained and practiced tension diffuser.
“Watch out for that weird crooked triangle on my chest,” I said, “I have one on my forehead, too. Apparently, I don’t know how to apply sunscreen evenly,” I laughed. Certainly, I reasoned, incessant babbling would put the woman at ease. Somewhere between detailing the events of my week and making sure I understood and appreciated every personal tidbit I got her to share, I managed to achieve some semblance of relaxation. This was confirmed when, on my way to meet up with Anika back in the womb-like waiting room, I walked into a wall and then giggled like a happy drunk.
As we sipped our second mimosas of the day, I bitched about how they almost didn’t give them to us: “It shouldn’t be one per customer, it should be one per treatment — seriously, your average corner nail salon is way more liberal with the bevvies.” Anika was nodding along to my rant when a couple came in (a man and a woman, who appeared to be about 15 months pregnant) and sat on the sofa across from us. In another testament to my massage-muddled mind, I forgot to use my inside voice when I interrupted my mimosa tirade to announce, “They’re gonna massage that baby right out of her.”
“You just said that out loud,” Anika said. I nodded and stole a glance at the couple; I decided they probably hadn’t heard me and continued chatting with Anika until our names were called again.
One of my favorite things about facials is that they hinder my lips; a towel, a tingly lip balm, hands on my face — there’s always something that makes it okay for me to just be there. Unfortunately, L-the-Aesthetician was gabby enough for the both of us. She buzzed with energy and shot a fusillade of questions at me. In order to make her feel comfortable, I shot ’em right back, forcing myself to meet her anxious energy.
L-the-Aesthetician made painful, not-relaxing pokes at my face, even though I’d requested “no extractions,” which basically means, “stop trying to pop pimples I can’t see.” My time in the facial room (so dry it seemed to vibrate with static electricity), helpless beneath hands with too-long-and-sharp nails, served as a reboot — it brought me back to being just as tense and stressed as I’d been when I arrived.