HOW’S THE PRESSURE?
There’s a word for it now; does that mean it’s a brand new phenomenon? Ghosting. I try to come up with examples in classic tales or myths and fail. Maybe ghosting is an emanation, a byproduct of cyber connectiveness. I don’t know. All I can say it feels real enough when it happens to you, when you are ghosted.
I was looking for a masseur. At the co-op I copied Derek’s information from a card on the bulletin board. On his website the comments were a harvest of high praise, mostly from women. Some guys chimed in, not as effusive but guys never are. LGBT-friendly, the website said.
I rang the bell at his address and the garage door went up and there he was in shorts and tank top, the corn god himself. His massage studio was a tidy room at the back of the garage smelling of lavender with undertones of motor oil. I asked if he’d open the window a crack, which he did. The fresh air was sweet.
Massages, like everything else, hinge on timing, a reciprocal flow of energy. Giver and recipient need to be in synch. When it happens there’s nothing better. The massage was 10+++Stars. From when it began until I wrote him a check, neither of us said more than five words.
How’s the pressure?
I held my horses for a week before I made another appointment. In the meantime I submitted my review to his website, superlative without gushing.
When the garage door came up for the second appearance he was wearing a long-sleeved tee and baggy khakis. What happened to the shorts and tank top? My brain was hot-wired for interpretation and wouldn’t shut down. Lying on the table I kept patching phrases together, some questions that would lead to personal disclosure. Where’d you grow up? What brought you to this neck of the woods? Derek’s fingers seemed to both relieve and provoke tension as he moved them over my body. Part of me, a ridiculous part, felt like I should apologize for being uptight. The point of getting a massage was to relieve tension. If the masseur was worth his salt, he would find a way.
Derek was just going through the motions. The galaxy of ten-plus-plus-plus stars was dimming down to intermittent flickers. Disillusioned, I was able to relax and then, paradoxically, the massage took flight. Later I would interpret that transformation to mean it was more my fault than his that the massage was mediocre. I wasn’t truly receptive.
I reviewed the review I’d written. Maybe it was gushy. I had the urge to edit it a little, but I didn’t know if that was possible once it was out there. Of course it didn’t matter one way or another. Reviews always should be read with skepticism. I wondered, though, given my over-the-top praise, whether Derek might have felt pressure to live up to that standard.
When the garage door went up the third time he was barefoot wearing a plaid shirt and jeans—a backwoods-buddy look that seemed like an invitation. I spilled out some of my rehearsed questions. “My partner and I came here from Michigan. We hated the winters there” was as much as I got. What gender? Business partner? Life partner? I didn’t have the nerve to pry. I resigned myself to nothing happening. Nothing ventured, and all that. But then he said, “The next massage is on me. I’d like to do it for the pleasure of it.”
This altered the gravitational field. A few days later I emailed him expressing my deep appreciation for his offer, asking what times he might be available. No response. Three days later, I emailed again and again, no response. There were of course a hundred and one reasonable explanations: a trip, a family crisis, an internet snafu, but I found it irritating nonetheless. I calculated what might be a decent interval to send a third email, but called instead. There was no answer, and I left a message. Three days later I left another message saying, I hope you’re okay. I actually hoped he had broken his neck.
Such anger. How unseemly. Gradually I let go of it, concluding that some life-changing event had happened to account for Derek’s disappearance. I had almost erased the memory of his existence when one day I was walking down the aisle at the co-op and there he was. If you were an observer you would have thought we were complete strangers the way he passed me without any recognition, but you would have been wrong. I caught how he looked away to the shelf of condiments, as if the varieties of mustard and ketchup were of special fascination.
I ask myself, why do I take this personally? It’s more about him than it is about me. But that is not much balm. I see that there are new reviews on his website, all glowing, all from women. I know I should let go of this. Instead there’s a pressure building up inside me. One day it will demand release.