My daughter’s grandfather, my father-in-law, died. A baker’s dozen of young people were massacred again, this time in Thousand Oaks, CA. California caught on fire 24 hours later, and is still burning. The Bay Area is cloaked in wretched, grimy smoke. We hide indoors, coughing. Traffic has been horrid. Thick lines of cars idle hideously on the bridges. I want to scream.
I had two dreams about my mom. In one, she said she loved me. In the other, I said I loved her. In the first, she was dying in her closet, slumped against her hanging clothes, dressed in a knit sweater set with broad horizontal red and white stripes. Dying as the blue ran out of her eyes, she said, “I love you.”
In the other, which took place last night, she was squatting in someone else’s house. I said, What is this house? I was impressed. For a second, I thought it was hers. I looked around and realized it wasn’t.
Then, she chopped off her fingers, in penance of some kind. She almost chopped of my ex’s fingers. I begged her not to. I picked up her fingers from the table top. They were turning black. I visualized her hands with no fingers, and my heart broke. I said, “I love you, Mom!” I was bursting with pain and sorrow for her.
She said, “Thank you.”
When I told Nina, she said, that’s what alcoholism is, Mom. It’s like chopping off your fingers.
And today, today, just a couple of hours ago, I learn Rachel is no more. That she took her own life. I saw the letter on Facebook. I thought, “What?” I thought, “Odd… she has the same name, but that can’t be MY Rachel…” Then, I looked again.
It is my Rachel. My massage therapist, referred to me by my tango teacher last year. I’d been seeing her every month or so. My last massage with her was Friday, October 26th, at 6:15 p.m. Three weeks ago tomorrow.
Three weeks ago tomorrow, she welcomed me into her home and laid her talented hands and feet on me. I never asked Rachel what her particular blend of massage therapies was, but it seemed to be a hybrid of deep tissue work, bodywork, and Thai massage. It was unique; I’d never experienced such powerful bodywork before.
Her feet were special. They were exceptionally sensitive. They probed along my spine, strong and precise. They kneaded my sacrum expertly. She wielded an exquisite balance of force and restraint. She was able to use her feet to great effect, going further than is possible with hands, yet maintaining a singular searching quality that seemed to sense just how far to go.
Rachel’s feet were like separate entities, like they were their own little animal selves.
I had no idea Rachel suffered from depression.
She always greeted me with warm brown eyes, a quiet smile, and a hug. Her home was clean and cared for, with tall, mature plants, a pot of succulents on her porch.
I admired her. She seemed to have it together. She seemed grounded. I had the feeling she had made more progress than I had toward self-love, self-acceptance. She has a quiet, settled energy. She had a regal carriage.
Once, she expressed frustration with dating to me. We laughed about it, commiserated. I remember saying I thought we’d have better luck abroad, in almost any other country. She never rushed me out, always let me lie on her floor as long as I needed to. She brought me water, sat on the couch. We’d chit chat.
It was a relatively professional relationship. We never conversed about our inner lives. We shared this and that about tango, growing older, about nutrition, about menopause, cooking, lotions infused with cannabis.
She played beautiful music in the house when she worked on my body.
Rachel was also a tanguera, like me, only more advanced. She was an exquisite dancer. She was picky about who she danced with, but for good reason. She explained she suffered from a foot ailment of some kind — now I don’t remember it’s name, plantar fascitis, possibly. She loved dance, but her feet hurt. When she accepted a dance, she chose carefully.
Over the last few weeks, the thought of her sensitive feet had risen to my mind several times. I imagined how expressive they must be when she danced. I thought of the way her feet probed and sought, and knew her dance must be inspired. I remembered some men near me admiring her skill at a milonga. One was miffed she wouldn’t give him the time of day.
On the landings in the stairwell at work, I practiced dance moves and imagined Rachel’s feet. How would Rachel’s feet caress the floor?
The last time I saw Rachel at tango, she was coming off the floor after a dance. Her hair was down and wild about her shoulders. It looked darker than usual, and her eyes flashed. Her face flushed attractively. She looked sexy and happy. I was struck by how free she looked compared to her demeanor at our massage sessions, when she tied her hair back and wore sweats or something simple and stretchy that she could move in.
I sent her a text message this evening. Just in case.
I said, Rachel, I need you, where are you? My body is longing for your touch.
I said, Rachel, I’m sorry. I had no idea you suffered. I wish I had known.
I thought to myself, did I miss any signs, any overtures, any moments of connection?
I thought, I wish I had told Rachel more vociferously how much her work meant to me.
I miss you, Rachel.