by Annie O'Shaughnessy (2000)
There is a one-inch scar on his neck – below his left ear. Six years ago an oncologist biopsied a lymph node there and discovered nonhodgkins lymphoma. Every night before we move towards sleep, my fingers gently rest there – I am drawn to this spot – the only physical reminder of the cancer now in remission, and he moans with pleasure when I touch it.
Nearly every night I am with him I give my man an hour-long massage – sometimes longer. We have been together over two years and he has probably given me two fifteen-minute “rubs” in that entire time. My strident feminist sisters would take me out back to be shot – a traitor to the cause of equality. If they knew. From the outside this looks like subordinate behavior. From where I stand it is religion. It feeds me.
Often I am tired, sleepy, stressed and want only to have it all assuaged somehow – “give me comfort” – is my internal refrain. But Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue stirs me in that sweet, soulful spot and I roll on top of his warm smooth body and lay my head in the middle of his back. I listen to his heart and let my breath go. I often slide to the side to smell him – smell to the uninitiated is the most powerful initiator. Smell trips your primal self – for some it is a rusty old synapse aching to be sparked. Breathe in deep the smell of your lover and if you have learned how to be a naked honest human you will feel it in your belly. For me, it jolts my big hands into action and I watch them move over his shoulders and down his arms. I let my hands become my eyes and the contours of his body expand. I began with my love for him, but now it is different. Now it is the sinews and the muscles, the intricate, complicated mix of trapezius, deltoid, rotator cuff.
I lay my head down again, feel the rush of blood. This human body – a work of genius and art – is under my hands. Its creation either Darwin’s way or the Bible’s humbles me – awes me. This is not my lover any more under my hands – it is blood rushing and sinews stretching and tendons, ligaments, tissue, fat. The nerves pumping those pleasure signals to his brain, bringing on the deep moans. And I open my eyes. I see my hands – the veins now stand up. Man, look at that, I think. Look at the blood moving towards the hands that are working those muscles, touching that flesh that moves with the same salty primal fluid.
Fluid. Fluidity. My hands lose track of their prescribed journey. The landscape of his body, so familiar – gets lost in the rhythms and waves of my movement. As my hands work, my head finds a warm nook to rest in; my legs cradle some soft flesh. It is a melting away. My breath comes deep and fine. And here my movements often cease and I sense the Opening. It is my soul alerted. My soul resides deep in my belly and in this pause it expands and I become all soul and that force I hesitate to name, pours through me to him – warm and sweet – and then back to me. The most accurate name I have heard for what I have become is “conduit.” And what I know – despite any name – is that I have, in that moment of stillness, tapped into something HUGE. I begin to move again, my hands surrounding the hamstring, or my fingers tracing the arch of the foot, or the palm of my hand pressing hard along his spine. And for a long time I dwell inside this place – feels at once like a womb and limitless space.
The end of his body arrives. I linger at his feet and somehow the thought of how this is his favorite part brings me back to my love for him. And I spend the last ten minutes focused on my man. Loving him deep– feeling warmth in my belly spread. It is in the final moments when I rest one hand on the small of his back and one between his shoulders that I feel that completion of some circle, and like syrup I fold into the crook of his arm, smelling him again. He turns over and there is the melting together – the one heart beating – the breathing of each other’s close breath.
This essay first appeared in issue 29 of the Heron Dance Journal.