I have had a rough time lately. Consequently, my shoulders have been resting pretty much at my earlobes twenty-four seven. So on my way home today, I decided to treat myself to a massage. It turned out to be more than the soothing Swedish touch I was expecting.

Shortly after it began I did that thing where I worry the massage won’t be as hard as I need it to be, and will feel like someone kind of making sure my skin got stroked instead of my muscles worked. “You can go a little harder,” I said.

She chuckled. “First five minutes, warm-up,” she said. You guys, she wasn’t kidding.

Five minutes later, I’m sweating. “Yo,” I involuntarily say as she’s got her elbow jammed under my scapula. “That is intense.”

“Yes,” she says, not letting up. “Yes, um-hmm.”

I’ve had a couple of deep tissue massages before, but I stopped after someone told me the only reason they feel good is because when someone hurts you, it feels good when they stop. Endorphins kick in, and you’re so grateful not to have someone digging into your fleshy parts that you feel sweet relief.

This massage had gone well past Swedish. Sweating, breathing like I’m in labor, using everything I ever learned about relaxation from theatre class, back when we were forced to get “manipulated” with the Alexander Technique, I try to keep my eyeballs from shooting out of my skull. I could power boats with the wind I’m blowing out of me. I focus on the pain, let it take over, let it control my heartbeat, my nasal passages. At one point, I feel I might start to drool from my tongue swelling. I see colors of pain. My fingers twitch involuntarily, as if trying to let me know they’ll form a fist of retaliation as soon as I give the signal.

She stops. I relax.

And then she gets on top of me.

So this is Thai massage, which I wasn’t expecting, which I’ve never had before. And she’s pretty much laying on me, jamming her bony parts into my tender parts, and I can actually envision the stringy ends of my nerves, because they are en fuego. She’s breathing and I’m breathing and there’s this tiny lady on top of me and I’m naked under this sheet and she is tenderizing me like a cube steak.

It was like a giant, female Cal, kneading me with a silent intensity that blocked out any signal I was giving of being in unbearable pain. In fact, the sound of me in what might be considered prayer seemed only to encourage her.

She used one of my legs to massage my other leg. She sat me up and put both of my hands behind my head and bent me backward over her knee. A slight change in background music, and we could have done a quick, nudie rendition of “And Then We Both Reached For the Gun.”

But.

I must say, my shoulders are so far away from my ears now I have to glance down to see them. My shoulder blades are sore, but I’m drowning myself in water, and I’m feeling so much better than I did just a few hours ago. I haven’t caught myself holding all of the muscles in my face taut — something that’s been happening quite often lately. She must have spent ten minutes on this one stubborn knot, enough to make me want to beg her to stop, and I’m only now starting to be able to feel grateful for what she put me through.

I forgot to ask for her name, but the next time I’m there, I’m pretty sure I’ll recognize her voice, because at one point it whispered in my ear, “Will you be okay?” just before she jammed her thumbs into the base of my skull and lifted me up like she’s finishing me at the end of a game of Mortal Kombat.

I didn’t even have to unlock my door when I got home. I just slid right under the frame.