My physical therapist told me I should do isometric exercises daily.
Sporting exclusively tracksuits, she—solid build, saccharine voice—seemed to dedicate little time to her looks aside from a long carefully woven auburn braid.
Masturbation is a type of isometric exercise, she told me. She also said things like the heart is an organ of perception and just do it, with your hand while I watch. Her remarks often ranged from soft to sporty seasoned with sexual innuendo.
Weekly I would leave my shoes at the door before she led me to a sponge-floored room. There I would lie on a blue mat with my vision fixed on a large coral reef scene pasted in the place one might expect a lamp. My socks were pulled off with clinical affection. Amulets adorned her desk in a tidy row; a copper coin, four glass beads, a horseshoe. Most of her equipment was baby to royal blue, in line with an intentional aquatic theme. Foam rollers, balls, weights, and bars were kept in a corner alongside a small stack of books with titles related to bodywork amongst battered oceanography textbooks purchased for an online hobby course. Superstitious and studious are qualities I love in a therapist.
During my intake, she sat cross-legged by my side as I detailed my injury: wind, rain, breaks, bandages. With my pant leg slowly rolled up and crescent moon scar lightly traced, she began her odd interrogation, wanting to know if I’ve ever had a fungus or mite infection? Allergies? Idols? What am I afraid of, death? What are my favorite drugs? Do I believe in destiny? Tell me about your last heartbreak.
I asked her if a heartbreak can slow the healing of a broken bone. We talked about cats, control, and my grandmother as she positioned for a single knee to chest stretch. Securing my foot on her breastbone, she pressed forward: a sensation like stepping between rolls of puffy dough. Her face hung above mine, braid tail brushing my cheek, I told her how soft her fabric felt, that I wish I had a velvet jumpsuit like hers. She laughed, defining the high plum cheeks that gave her an easy cheerful look. Close-up a gloomy green gaze tempered her animated air. She had low-battery electric bunny energy. Jumping-on-the-small-trampoline-while-alone-silent-crying energy.
Searching for my pedal pulse took her full focus—a blend of such intense attention and concern that it felt like love. Naturally the soma has a seasonality, she told me, a winter and summer pulse, the veins are sunken during cold months like these. A slightly open window let in a sharp occasional breeze, spinning splashes of color from a hanging crystal onto the walls. Too much insulation becomes isolation, alienation from a wide interdependent system. The window would only remain open momentarily, she worried about city air pollutants. Did I know that trees died not of old age but from the accumulated wear of environmental stressors? She swiftly sealed the window closed.
In the drafty, unevenly lit room of this generically renovated building, I began to crave her thermal touch, strong pressure and resulting dizzy dopamine high. My initial attachment was owed to her electric hands, the way she melted my brittle body into a buzzing stream. Every week felt like she was planting the seeds for a soon to blossom violet bruise. Once she dug into an especially sore spot and my vision cracked open to a bright white, for a second I forgot where I was, the day of the week, the name of the president of the united states. Then she closed her eyes and pressed her hand tight around my hip until the pain subsided. I learned that my externally rotated hips mean I’m highly attuned to others, open and receptive. Rocking forward onto her knees she crawled across my body to plant her wide palms on either side of my head, make close eye contact, and model deep breathing. Breathe so deep the walls of my lungs kiss. I blew cool air onto her neck and she smiled. Severity and certainty.
I filled our sessions with many why's and how’s. Stuck under her pressure point placating thumb I absorbed her anatomical ramblings. Once she firmly held my elbow and shook it, asking me to feel the slushing little pool of fluid lubing my joint, synovial fluid, egg-white-like fluid, could I hear it? No, I heard only the airy silence of a rapidly rocked cotton-limbed doll, but I nodded, watching her listen to the sound of my gurgling blood guts and bile.
We built a visceral relationship over my twelve insurance-covered sessions. In her company, I enjoyed a fantastically heightened mode of perception, saturated colors, potent smells, access to intricate details in the world around me. My blue mat emitted a mellow hum. The initially static studio walls rolled in iridescent waves.
Perhaps she’d healed me, moulded me into my ideal form. But then, as she said, we were seeking no perfected shape. Her gentle adjustments were meant to be detached from some hope for a normal state. She asked me to just sit a bit with my tense knots and pains.
Two months in, we began to confide our secrets to each other. Her early brush with benzos. My peer-pressure-prone passivity. Her period dating older folks. My incriminating lies. Her possessive passions, my weary doubts. Little rituals. Sage and salt. Hobbies and tastes. Cardio and spice. Our many similarities. She liked tai chi, I liked tai chi.
Since our sessions were limited, she offered to teach me some PT basics, so that I could build on a therapy practice independently after my insurance was exhausted. She showed me how to knead knots, I pressed her with my firmest fine motor focus. You’re a quick learner, she said, and I told her she was a good patient. We ironically laughed at our easy conventional patient-therapist role reversal.
She gifted me a tracksuit of hers so I could better embody her unique therapist mentality. The legs fell an inch or so lower on me. When the jacket was fully zipped the neck fit tight around my throat like a collar. Supposedly the deep aubergine hue brought out the amber in my eyes. It smelt of her, I smelt of her, rose and black pepper.
A few times she tucked loose strands of my hair behind an ear, an intimate practicality, until she decided it would be best if my hair was tied back in a rope like hers. She licked her finger to wet-slick down my flyaways, I licked my finger to wet-stick catch a fallen eyelash on her cheek. We matched perfectly in style and mood, purple velour.
She requested that I carve a small crescent scar on her calf to match my own. To do this I used dry needling pins kept in her desk drawer, slowly making a curved stick and poke path on her leg, then one small prick to my finger before smudging together our blood in a Rorschach red splotch. Our pain tolerance was okay, in two weeks our scars bore an identical resemblance.
After our barrier blur, we became profoundly permeable to each other. Once she inaccurately described herself as a simple creature of reflex that just wanted to wear soft clothes, be flexible, and have fun. If I couldn’t feel her thoughts as my own, this declaration might have been convincing. I silently smiled and we continued moving through synchronized stretches while watching our identical reflection in the mirrored-wall. I imagined massaging her neck, she rolled her shoulders in response.
At the end of our last session, we hugged for close to a minute before I parted with a written list of exercise routines and a small blue tincture she'd made custom for me. I usually did the first of my exercises in the morning while brushing my teeth. Now, with no future sessions booked, doing my little bends and stretches felt like waving in the dark. My body felt stiff, like a solitary drip of once hot wax dripped in snow, easy to break.
I told my friends I’d maybe fallen in love with my physiotherapist. Same, many said. One credited their infatuation to a type of transference, transference as treatment they called it. Another said it was the sexy power dynamic, an experience to which I couldn’t relate my enmeshment. To cope with the withdrawal, I was recommended a youtube channel, new physiotherapy routines uploaded weekly suited for a wide variety of complaints. The PT Youtuber’s mechanical movements made me miss my therapist more. I wanted her to wedge her hand in the sweaty crease below my knee, stretch me, call me. Even if just a quick video chat for an alignment check. All of my friends agreed that was beyond her pay grade.
So I made my environment increasingly blue. A lamp shade washed my room in an oceanic light. To make myself a bit more malleable I took daily drops of her minty tincture, a pale turquoise. Reclined on my blue matt, I pulled a knee to my chest. Eyes closed, I exhaled bits of my insides into a cloud above my head. Breath held, I let a long impenetrable pause to shock my system into something that felt like a hug.