by Linda C. Wisniewski
“I want that wall,” she says, and my back arches like a cat’s. I know exactly what she is talking about, and it’s not a Pink Floyd album. A leading Presidential candidate wants to erect a wall to keep out immigrants, and my petite blonde massage therapist likes the idea.
She leads the now-rankled me down a quiet hallway to a dimly lit room in the spa I visit every month. The soft music and floral scent are pleasant as always, but her words have unnerved me. She looks like the same woman who is so good at working the kinks out of my back and shoulders. We have shared opinions about many things: raising kids, her brush with breast cancer, my back pain. I like her. A lot. And I can hardly believe my ears.
“I want to be Donald Trump’s massage therapist,” she said. “I wrote to him.”
I sit on the chair to remove my shoes, and my words rush out, too fast.
“Are you kidding? He’s a racist bigot.” My friends have been saying it for months. In here it sounds like a knee-jerk liberal talking point.
The young woman shakes her head, her wiry curls bouncing. Her dark eye flash. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
My mind goes to his face on the TV news — every day, all day, angry, vitriolic, threatening.
“I’m just shocked,” I say, holding a sock in my lap. “I don’t know anybody who likes him. I’m 180 degrees from where you are on this.”
“Well, I’ve had it with Obama. I can’t afford my health insurance.” She taps a foot. “Anything going on with you today?”
I say no, just give me a regular tune-up. She knows my issues — side pain, my need for pillows under my knees and stomach, stiffness in the hand I broke years ago — and reads up on them to better help me.
“Okay, I’ll give you a minute to get comfortable.” She leaves the room, closing the door behind her.
Comfortable? How do I get comfortable with a woman I like voting for Donald Trump? I undress and lie face down under a blanket.
When she comes back, I imagine her touch is unfriendly. I tell myself nothing has changed but my attitude toward her. Which means everything has changed.
I can’t let it go. “You can’t afford your health insurance?”
“No, I’m just a lowly massage therapist.”
“That’s too bad,” I say. And that’s all. I’m not going to argue during my massage. Instead, I concentrate on my slowly relaxing muscles. We are silent for the next 50 minutes.
On the way out, I don’t reschedule as I usually do. I’m still shaken. I think I’ll quit and tell the manager it’s because of her inappropriate political remarks. But then I’d have to go somewhere else for my body work. Shall I give up my principles for convenience? Or do I try to convert her to the “good” side?
In no way do I want to add to the rancor all around us these days. I believe strongly that most people just want to be heard. I teach my students to write their personal stories, to express themselves on the page. But this is the first time someone I like has come out in favor of a candidate I abhor, and I don’t want to hear it.
My husband does not share my outrage. “He won’t win,” he says. But I’m not so sure. Now that I’ve heard from my young massage therapist, I wonder about all the others like her. As we progress toward the future, some people feel left behind. They want someone to blame for that. And they want what they perceive to be a strong leader, someone who says he will protect them.
My friends post anti-Trump messages online comparing him to Hitler, ridiculing his hair and other body parts. It’s way too easy on social media to get carried away with the vitriol. No one is standing right there, looking back at us. Someone we might know. And like.
Today I made another appointment for massage at the same spa with the same therapist. I don’t plan to bring up politics, but if she has something more to say, I plan to upgrade my listening practice. Maybe I’ll ask a few questions. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever support her choice. But I may learn something. And she may feel heard. We’ll take it from there.
Linda C. Wisniewski is a former librarian who shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband. She teaches memoir workshops throughout the Philadelphia area. Her essays have been published in places as diverse as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Massage, The Quilter and the Christian Science Monitor. Linda’s memoir, “Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother and Her Polish Heritage,” was published in 2008 by Pearlsong Press. Her unpublished novel based on the life of a 19th century ancestor was a finalist for the 2015 Eludia Award. Visit her on the web at www.lindawis.com.