Two years ago, I found myself locked in a shop with a tiny masseuse, two junkies and two hours until my brothers’ wedding. This was not on the schedule.
I arrive in the city way ahead of my hair appointment and have time to kill. Spotting a little massage place, I figure I’ll crank up the self-love dial and pop in.
There’s only one masseuse on duty. I prepay and she locks the front door before leading me to the therapy room. Soon enough I’m off in la-la land, the scent of lavender oil and her rhythmic touch lulling me into a stupor.
The bell rings. She excuses herself. A gravelly voice says, "This isn’t one of those sex places, is it? My wife wants a massage." Cringe. A minute passes and she’s back, but her movements are rigid. I can feel the stress flowing out of her and can hear it in her breathing. I ask her if she’s okay. "It’s just… difficult. I hate that," she says.
We finish up and she heads back to the front. I’m one arm in my bra when I hear her shriek, "Give it back!" All of my gooey relaxation evaporates. As I come out of the room I can see her, handbag open in her hands, shaking and looking accusingly at someone I can’t yet see.
As I reach the end of the hall I’m confronted by the owner of that gravelly voice and a woman -- they’re all weathered and wild eyed sporting unwashed hair and track marks. I’m wondering why they’re still here if they’ve robbed her, wondering if they have a weapon
The woman lurches toward me and I step back into the wall. She tears up and down the hall trying to unlock doors, pulling displays onto the floor: ‘This b—ch has locked us in!’ she yells to her husband.
Then it clicks. The therapist had locked the door when I went to get the massage. She must have done the same after admitting them.
I consider my options. The five-foot-nothing therapist is hysterical and doing herself no favours. Could I grab her and run to a therapy room? Do they lock from the inside?
I try to calm the tension -- I’m as locked in as they are. Somehow I get the masseuse to shut up. She keeps insisting they return her money. I tell her to take a breath and sit down. She does. I ask them to please do the same. They do. Then I do. And then we’re all sitting there, looking at each other.
It’s quiet. I breathe in deeply and try to talk slowly, pacing myself, trying to feign calmness. I was a lot of things in that moment -- calm wasn’t one of them.
I talk about myself. I tell them I had been a drug addict at 17 and stole my way through it. The man looks at me suspiciously from behind a fresh-looking black eye. I feel like he’s searching me to find a lie. As if I, all clean and chipper, couldn’t possibly understand, let alone have been an addict myself.
I tell them about how scared I was watching my best friend overdose and how it made me realise what I was doing to myself -– but that it didn’t make me stop. There’s just something about the glamour of watching someone almost die in a mall garden that just reels a girl back in, I guess.
I tell them how I dropped out of school twice and went to rehab. I had pinned my hopes on checking out of life and getting well but I actually ran away two days later, intent that I could do it on my own.
I stayed clean for two weeks, I explain to them. But then, my boyfriend had his birthday and I figured that just once wouldn’t hurt. I had self-control now, right? After taking a hit that night, I felt like I had climbed out of my body. I watched myself, formerly an intelligent and interesting person, become a gibbering, stoned wreck. I went home and scrubbed at myself in the shower, wishing the dope out of my system and longing to be more, or less, or anyone else but me.
RUTH HARRISON JAN 6, 2015
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