When I was a newly minted massage therapist in San Francisco, my friend called me to book a massage for clients of her’s whose baby had just died. He was a twin and while I remember next to no detail, I do believe he was only weeks old, was mistakenly dropped and was fine and then all the sudden wasn’t and died.
I wasn’t yet thirty and I drove my table and supplies to their house and hauled it up a million stairs, as one does in San Francisco. I remember the husband sitting on the couch, the living twin being rocked in an infant car seat by his dad’s foot and a second, empty car seat sitting where the living room wall met the hallway.
I went into the bedroom and set my table up. The mom sat at the end of her bed and stared down at nothing. I did my best to match the somber, quiet, heavy tone of the apartment but I imagine I asked the questions I always asked of my clients, none of which would have applied here. I didn’t know this yet but this woman needed me to shut the fuck up and let her lay face down on the table and feel something else for an hour or so. I cringe at the thought that I might have asked them to fill out intake forms, that I might have asked if anything in their body was hurting, was there something they wanted to focus on.
In a response that was unrelated to whatever my question was, the mom said, without lifting her eyes, “The worst thing has happened.” It was spoken as her truth, one that she didn’t quite believe and was trying out for size but that was ultimately and unforgivingly true nonetheless. A truth she hadn’t caught up to yet but also knew in her bones. I thought inside my head, and by the grace of god or some other small miracle, I didn’t say “well, it’s not the worst thing that could happen. You still have another baby.” (I now endearingly call this the “goldfish mentality”: the “at least you still have your other children” and the “you can always have another baby” comments that essentially equate another human, born from your very body to a flushed, forgotten and replaced goldfish.)
I got in my car after I gave them each a massage and charged them full price (cringe again) and I cried. I cried for them and for their baby and for their baby’s brother. I cried for myself because it was hard to be around them, in their apartment, touching their mourning bodies. I callled my mom and told her all about it and what a hard job it was for me and what a crazy life this is when terrible things like that can happen. And then we talked about other things as I drove across town to my own, as yet, dead-baby free apartment.
As far as I can remember, Kira just showed up at our back door and set up her table in our basement and gave us both massages in the early weeks after you died. (She did not ask us to fill out forms or what we might want to focus on in ourbodies or even to pay. She cried with us and talked with us and was quiet with us and gave us 90 minutes or probably more of whatever “respite” is to the newly bereaved parent.) The first time she came, I remember walking down into the basement and realizing that I was now that mother. I was now that mother. I was the mother who sat at the end of the bed in numbed shock and grief and told a twenty-nothing my truth that I couldn’t even begin comprehend and whose sacredness she certainly couldn’t be trusted with. I hadn’t thought of her in ages but every step I took down those stairs, the table coming into view from behind the angle of the stairwell wall, that whole afternoon she in the Mission district of San Francisco came back to me. I relived it and cringed and hoped I hadn’t made it worse for them and sent a silent message to her through the ether that I had now joined her tribe. As my heavy feet, body heart and mind descended, I thought: how could this be? How could it be me now? Why did I have to learn that the worst has, in fact, happened?
I miss you like crazy,