Up in Arms

Arlene! Oh Arlene. Arlene of the locked knees, protracted scapula, stiff fingers and unyielding arm. Some clients flop. This one juts.

When I first started seeing her 10 years ago, I would drape her left arm and she would shoot it out at me from up off the table, in virtual salute. Each finger would get extended, stiff as PVC pipe, as I attempted to massage her claw-like hand.

“I’ve got it,” i would remonstrate softly. “You don’t have to help.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, and the fingers remained unrepentant.

Arlene* is, in a word, crusty: old (will NOT tell me how, but I would guess late 60s for sure). In another word: classy. Well dressed, well spoken, well traveled. (She has flown the world in quest of the perfect fishing hole.)

Loves to dish the gossip on her road (we have mutual acquaintances), appreciates the bad luck of others, and finishes most phrases with “Isn’t that awful?” but under her handsaw exterior has one of the most warm, generous hearts.

I’ve never received so many thoughtful presents from someone: “Hope you like it!” she says and hands me a gift bag, nowhere near holidays or my birthday. She and her husband, transplants to Maine from the Pittsburgh area (another place we intersect: both from PA), spend every Christmas working with a local charity providing gifts to low-income families. When she goes on her lengthy shopping sprees, most of the time it’s for those kids.

It has taken ten years, but now she knows how to let go of her hands…sort-of lets me into her upper back…and almost unlocks her knees, I can only traction her legs once. Twice is a no-go, it’s like trying to lift twin jet skis without a forklift. I have gradually worked it down to just her left arm.

This left arm: this left arm. It is like trying to train a cat to fetch, is getting her to give me her arm.

I’ve tried everything: I’ve ignored it, I’ve tried to ply it, I’ve not massaged her arms, I’ve spent 10 minutes per arm. Nope. I’ve given her imagery:

“Pretend your arm is a great big overcooked noodle!”
“Drop your wrist into my hand.”
“Give me the full weight of your arm?”
“Relax your whollllle arm, from shoulder joint through elbow…through wrist…”
“Let go of your arm, Arlene.”
“Just…let go…”

None of this works, of course, because she was perfectly fine until I started fussing. She rouses from her somnolence, and, in attempting to make me happy, becomes self-conscious and the arm seizes up even further. I know: it’s my fault. I tried to make a difference, and I knew it wouldn’t work. But, I had to try. Right?

I had to make her arm let go. I WILL get that arm to let go.

One of my previous clients to Arlene told me of a saying that she learned from her yoga teacher: “1) Observe 2) Accept 3) Let Go.” She and I giggled ourselves purple over our own interpretations, as they are enacted in our lives: “1) Observe 2) Point Out 3) Point Out Again” and “1) Observe 2) Judge 3) Fume.”

Truth is funny.

There are two people in the room for Arlene’s massage session: Arlene, and me. Who is tenser? Who, actually, needs to let go?

I consider Arlene, and what I know of her life. Adopted. Raised Baptist. One of her daughters has become a man. Another wants to find a man to marry, but can’t. Arlene’s husband served in the Vietnam War, came home and attacked her in the middle of the night, thinking she was VietCong. He became a workaholic, consumed by his pediatric practice: she raised the family.

“I used to have my own life, before,” she told me once. “He would do his thing, and I would do mine. Now he’s with me all the time, and he can’t remember a thing, from one moment to the next. Not a damn thing.”

Her husband has PTSD.

“I just want to kill him,” she says to me, in a low whisper. “Isn’t that awful?”

I look into her face, expecting a laugh on lips, which I get. What I didn’t expect is the tears in her eyes, plain as day.

She doesn’t cry. Not for nuthin’.

“My daughter thinks I should be on anti-depressants,” she told me once, “This is my therapy.”

I consider that our arms are the extension of our heart: that what we do with them is an expression of our love, or how much love we can give…or take in. I also consider that, for her to relinquish any part of herself to another – even someone who she’s known for over ten years – is huge.

I observe this. And I accept it, whole thing, left arm and all. And, I let it go.

At least until next week. When I get to practice, all over again! Oh Arlene…

*name has been changed

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #21. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

9 thoughts on “Up in Arms

  1. Kristen, this resonates so much with me. I’ve had those same thoughts with clients. True, it is really our lesson. Thank you for your honest words.

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