It’s Friday night, and my friend Katy and I are at a party. I’m nursing the second-worst glass of wine I’ve ever had in my life while we shore up the details for tomorrow’s Spa Day.
Katy, a consummate planner, has a big question. “So this Caribbean body treatment,” she says. “What is it, exactly? Do we know? The description doesn’t really explain.”
I shrug, choking on the horrible, horrible wine. “Don’t ask.” I say. “I didn’t start to really think about it until this morning. I’m sure it’s nothing crazy, but who knows?”
“So we could end up in a room full of women covered in nothing but seaweed and Saran Wrap.”
“Nooooo.” I laugh dismissively. And then a bit more timidly, “But maybe? We’ll be fine. It’ll probably be dark, right? If parental discretion is advised, we’ll just have to face it like big girls.”
So we laugh again. Nervously. I discretely pitch the unknown wine to seek out a better glass, and end up with an equally terrible Chardonnay.
The spa is dark, and thankfully no public nakedness is involved. Just a robe and soothing music, plus sheets and thick blankets pulled tightly across a massage table.
Massage table? Oh no, no, no, no.
Instantly, I’m very unhappy.
It’s not just by chance I’ve never had a massage. The whole idea of strangers + my skin makes me cagey. Who knows why. It’s a trust issue, I guess. Like flies in my face, I just start swatting.
If this Spa Day weren’t a 36×37 assignment, I’d walk away. Instead, I distract myself by focusing on the robe I’m supposed to wear. It’s not one of those fluffy white lovelies you see hanging on the heated towel racks at the W in downtown Chicago. Instead, it’s just a rectangle with snaps along one edge. I wrap it around me like a towel and hope for the best.
My masseuse, Elizabeth, enters the room.
“Is this right?” I say, motioning to the robe and smiling to hide my discomfort.
“Yes, that’s right,” she replies. She laughs then, and pauses like she’s trying to decide if she should explain herself. Then she whispers slightly, “I’ve seen people put them around their necks like a cape. That’s awkward. One woman even asked me what it was. I’m all, ‘it’s a robe?’”
Elizabeth laughs like crazy at her own story, so I do, too. Gawd, I’m so ridiculously embarrassed.
Even so, I hop up on the massage table and slide under the thick purple blankets. Then I settle in and will myself to relax.
“I’m going to take you on a sensory journey,” Elizabeth says. “I’ll introduce one fragrance, and then another, and another. Tell me which one you like best.”
She swipes a drop of oil upward from the bridge of my nose. It smells like juniper and mint. A hint of rosemary. “That’s #1,” she says.
#2 smells like coconut oil and Mai Tais. #3 smells thickly of vanilla cupcakes. I choose #1.
So she mixes the oils with some “essential minerals” to make a brown, juniper-scented compound. Then suddenly she pulls on a pair of exfoliating gloves. “Welcome to the Caribbean,” she jokes as she digs into the blades between my shoulders.
The gloves feel like sandpaper. Sandpaper. Sandpaper. It’s all I can think about, if you want to know the truth. Between the abrasive circular motion, the aroma therapy, the soothing Asian stylings of the pan flute, and my abnormal levels of ticklishness, I’m suddenly struck with the urge to start giggling. It’s a nervous habit I perfected during the Sunday Masses of my youth, and it’s one I can counter with sad, sad thoughts. The next thing you know, I’m mentally rehashing the final scenes of The Last Station, a great 2009 film about Leo Tolstoy and his complicated marriage to the Duchess Sofya Andreyevna Bers.
That does the trick.
So at least now I’m quiet. But I’m starting to itch. And I’m really not enjoying myself at all.
Elizabeth wraps my feet in damp, heated towels. Then she drops another towel across my back. “You may meditate now, if you’d like,” she whispers. “Think warm, soothing thoughts. Breathe cool and resting breaths. I’ll be back soon.”
Gasp! This sweet, sweet heaven! I think. Comfort, thy name is heated luxury! And five seconds later, I’m sleeping.
When all is said and done, I meet Katy in the relaxation room. She is smiling and flushed, her dewy, beautiful skin fully exfoliated and refreshed. “Do you think that’s how the stars wake up every morning?” she says. “With cleansing breaths and warm towels around their feet? Is that how Britney Spears wakes up from her hangovers?”
If it’s not, it should be. It absolutely should be.
Katy leaves for a bridal shower, and I opt for a simple pedicure. The nail tech isn’t much of a talker, so I settle happily into a book review from last week’s New Yorker.
I keep thinking about how this—my feet in a giant tub of scalding water—is probably more my speed. Warm feet, flawless, pretty toenails, and an hour to read whatever falls in my lap.
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