Photo credit—Audrey Hepburn in *Roman Holiday*, diligently going back to her regularly-scheduled life.
Names changed to protect the humans
Once Upon His Time
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away….
There was a kid who was not good at school. He wouldn’t work. He was not well suited for the regimented structure and priorities of school.
Many are not.
Eventually he was expelled from high school, for not working. So he went south and sold ice cream and beignets to tourists on the beach for a summer. There, he met a man and his gringa wife, touring and selling their handmade jewellry. They befriended the kid and told him, “hey, some day you should come visit us in Florida!”
So one day he did.
Except he had already spent his last thousand francs on the plane ticket before asking them, and they said no, it was not a good time for him to come. He felt that if they were going to extend an invitation they had better go through with it. So he went anyway.
The kid showed up empty-handed on their doorstep in Tampa. The wife was furious. The man was amused. “That is so French of you, kid!” he said. The couple had a fight, and eventually let the kid stay. “But what are you going to do?” they asked.
“Well I’m going to hitchhike to New York,” he said. The man laughed again. “You don’t do that kind of shit here in America,” he explained.
The kid had a lot to learn.
One day the couple went to a party. They took the kid along with them. At the party there was a woman who looked like a bombshell out of a David Lynch movie, an überfrau, a Jessica Rabbit. She had the blood-red lips and the pale white skin, all the drama. The kid gibbered.
He flirted with this older woman. Eventually he said, “can I kiss you?”
She laughed. This young kid, what did he know? He was only eighteen! “Sure, kid, you can kiss me,” she said.
That was how Julien met his wife.
They were together for seven years. They moved to San Francisco because they felt it was the most European city in the US, and they got a nice rent-controlled flat. He still lives there.
When he was twenty-two he walked into an aikido dojo and took someone’s arm and knew he wanted to do this. But he didn’t want to hurt people. He wanted to heal them. Aikido, unlike other martial arts, had love and harmony at its root. He focussed on that. And practiced every day.
After two and a half decades of daily focussed study and practice, he was pretty good….
Aikido is about coming from the center out, and rooting with the ground. It deals with circles radiating from the center, and lines shooting out of it. The kind of divine geometry that teaches everyone what we need to know.
Julien brought the same focus to yoga, the science of union, of compassion, and of letting go of ego and suffering. By now he was pretty good at that too. Right away you could see the practices in his eyes.
He saw suffering in the world. He wanted to heal. He became a bodyworker, in the same way he became an aikidoka and a yogi and a mime; it was all part of the same package of becoming present in order to release pain and bring peace to the universe.
So, not your average spa worker.
Once Upon Her Time
Once upon a time I was an unhappy anorexic married person, a miserable moulting Phoenix trapped in a gilded cage partially of my own devising.
I had never in my life gotten a professional massage. That was the kind of overindulgent self-pampering nobody deserved, especially not women. Such a waste of money! Only Bad People who wanted to hate themselves for profligacy and feel guilty about the needless expense got massages. Especially if they were women. Or at least, this is what society had trained me to think!
But I was miserable.
One day I went to the Zazen Spa. A friend had told me about their Japanese baths. Japanese baths were an almost-justifiable expense because they were cultural, and not too expensive, so, ok, I could try one once, as a special treat.
If I promised myself to feel really guilty about it afterward. For a long time.
I am sad that society taught me, like most women, to think this way.
The baths...the big warm one you could swim in...the icy cold one...the salts...the teas...the candles...the teak reclining chairs, the icy towels, the steamy steam room, the sauna where you could pretend you were a dumpling in a Chinese dumpling basket because that's how the cedar slats smelled...the smiling Buddha with flower offerings...the naked women padding softly about looking like Renoir paintings...and all for the bargain price of $20.
I was saving a ton of money by never eating, so I thought, well Hell, nobody will know if I go back...and maybe even get a massage...I've never done such a thing in my life, why not find out what it's all about?
And that was how our stories first overlapped....
After the gateway drug of bathing luxuriously in abundant warm water with other naked women, lolling around soaking up the ambiance, and discovering I was the kind of person who liked saunas, one day I bravely and expensively combined the experience with a massage. In my head I kept hearing my stepmother's voice saying, “what am I, chopped liver?” Chopped Liver women were the kind who got their nails done, who shopped, who did foolish expensive things like get massages. Chopped Liver women were to be looked down upon. But I did it anyway.
I brought my emaciated Bombay Street Waif body with huge eyes and starved pinched ribs to Julien's table. I sat down on the edge of the table for the Initial Chat and was struck by how he listened to me. That alone was worth the price of admission. In a world where nobody listened to anyone, here was someone absolutely absorbed in every gem that dropped from my lips. He was listening with his whole body and all his chakras, although I didn't have the vocabulary for that at the time. I was still a Muggle back then.
I noticed his bright piercing eyes. Yogi eyes, martial artist eyes, meditator eyes. Also the eyes of someone very smart and very eccentric. At the time my limited mental shorthand referred to it as “wisdom.”
I lay down and put myself in his hands.
This profoundly simple process.... He was like an artisanal baker who came from thousands of years of bakers before him. He was like that August afternoon in Provence when you wandered into the kitchen of your 600-year-old stone farmhouse under the gnarly olive branches because you smelled that your eccentric but lovable Aunt Berthe had just finished baking her famous pain au levain and the round heavy loaf was now sitting on the butcher block, fresh from the oven, crusty and golden and hearty and toothsome and life-sustaining, the fruit off a tree of thousands of years of cultural heritage of learning how to bake, the fruit off a tree of a thousand human stories of love and loss, whose genetic memories were all baked into that one present loaf.
These were hands that loved their work, and had a reverence for humanity and centuries of internalized wisdom about people and bodies in them. So simple. So human. So real.
So French, I thought. Because at the time I hadn't yet learned anything about bodies or dance, but I had spent many years studying French things and people. Those were clearly French hands. They were earthily and elegantly absorbed in the all-consuming process of enjoying the sensual delights and philosophical journeys of being human. Nobody does that like the French.
These were protective and concerned hands. They knew I was not happy. If hands could make Concerned Mother Eyebrows, these hands would have been doing that. —They were appreciative hands, that knew that they had a human being under them. They were respectful hands. And they were the hands of someone who had been doing something so long, technique had disappeared and all that was left was the essence.
I'm a sucker for mastery, of anything.
I was entranced by the rich voluptuosity and innocent depth of the experience. I felt safe. I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt like I could set down the carapace I put on to make it through the world. He saw my real self and earned my trust and I didn't have to “be” anything at all, I could just be my human self.
So this is massage, I thought. Well, if this is massage, then I want to do this!
So I left his table and became a massage therapist.
And a dancer.
And a yogi.
And a Reiki Master.
And in the process found out that he was not representative of the field. He was unfortunately unique.
I did not go back to Julien for a few years.
I did not think I was “supposed” to—because now I was in bodywork school (the same one he went to, although I didn't know it at the time), and every day was about giving and receiving student massages, or if one was lucky, being the demo model for one of the teachers. And then later I was a teaching assistant in bodywork school and desperately trying to assemble a private practice, and if I wanted bodywork, the only kosher thing was to trade with one of my friends. We did not pay for work. Especially not work done at a spa, no matter how good it was, perish the thought!
But as time went by and I received my fair share of terrible bodywork, I came to realize that he was a great artisan and a genius philosopher. Just because I happened to stumble upon him at the beginning of my journey did not change that fact. As time went by I also realized that I was not going back because I liked his touch too much. It would never do to have a crush on a bodyworker of whom I was a client. Besides being trite and embarrassing, it was a recipe for frustration. The bodyworker's code of ethics forbade fraternizing. You can't date your clients (no matter how cute their butts are). This knowledge makes everyone feel safe in what is otherwise a sensitive situation.
Multiple years went by. Then I was packing up my San Francisco apartment and getting ready to move to Seattle, and in my dance I couldn't find the part of my body between my hips and my diaphragm, I felt blind, and homeless, and scared. And I knew it was Time.
I went to Julien, still at the spa part-time, a little greyer, more piercingly perceptive than ever. We sat down exactly as we had before, as if those years had not gone by, on the edge of a massage table, except now I was in his world, I was of his tribe.
I told him about everything, and not being able to feel my middle in my dance, and I brought him a word: Home. That was what I wanted.
He thought this was interesting, that I was feeling homeless at the same time as not being able to feel my middle—because that's where the body understands is Home.
I was by now all about dealing with the physical body as a way of dealing with the energetic body, and I stole a page from Zero Balancing: I knew that if I articulated what I wanted to get out of a session before having a session, then, whatever happened in the session would be a magic spell that would somehow work toward that desire. It's neat how that works.
And that was exactly what did happen. Although in God's most typical of ways, it sure did not work out as I thought it would. I thought I would go to Seattle and move into this nice apartment and it would be Home and everything would be fixed and settled forever and I would never have to search or question again. What actually happened is I went to Seattle and school kept throwing questions about "what is home" in my face and I kept answering and answering that home was inside me in my dance, and after I said it enough times I realized I was telling the truth. And I let go of my nice apartment (and my claw foot tub) and didn't miss it, and later I came back to San Francisco and I sat down on the steps of the old adobe church in the Mission, where years ago when I was getting divorced I had prayed to keep my home. I sat there and I thought, "God, what happened? I prayed to you that I would keep my home. And I know you heard me. But then it got sold anyway and I had to move and now I'm here and I am sleeping on couches and I did not keep my home." And God said to me, "Jordana, you did keep your home. And now no one can ever take it away from you. Because now it is inside you. You turned your apartment into money that in part helped you go on your journey and become a better dancer. You put your home inside yourself. You have a home. You are your home." And I thought, "ok God. You are right."
But I get ahead of myself.
Back in February, I was visiting San Francisco and my son for a weekend. I was miserable up in Seattle at school, I hated that I was throwing away my life, I had panic attacks all the time, I loathed watching my life force slowly ebb away one day at a time, precious time I would never get back, my life draining away in one chained-up but socially-approved living prison day after day. I was doing what everyone else thought was the right thing for me to do, and it didn't suck, it was the best possible option for me at that time, but still, I hated it and I was miserable and I mourned and grieved and pined every day for my lost life. One life to live, and instead of dancing and growing and learning and exploring and creating and expressing and connecting and communing, I was stuck in front of a computer in a soulless and meaningless world where I was all alone. And this demanded all my time. But everyone was proud of me because they believed I was doing the right thing. Personal happiness didn't matter. In fact if you asked some people, personal happiness was a sure-fire sign that you were doing the wrong thing....
I wanted to see a new life for myself. But I couldn't. I felt blind. I wanted to see the next step, but all I could see was how stuck I felt in a pattern that wasn't working for me. I wanted Vision.
I came to Julien one evening and asked him for Vision. I explained unnecessarily that my body always understood everything first, and then it took me a long time for my brain to figure out what my body knew, but eventually it caught up. But I had to understand in my body first.
He was the same as always, piercingly attentive, benevolent, massively appreciative of a fellow member of the human race, self-inhabited, and rooted a thousand miles deep into the earth. As always, I felt like even one second of sitting and having him listen to me talk was as useful for forward evolution as a full month of someone else's time.
The evening stretched languorously into night but we could not possibly be rushed. We were on a mission of vital importance. It may have taken much longer than anyone had initially planned. I'm not telling.
I am all in favour of incorporating the whole body and the whole energetic experience into magic spells; why leave something out that would more simply be included. When you're at a public bath and everyone is naked, the person who shows up in a bikini sticks out like a sore thumb. So when I showed up and asked for Vision, we had by that time established oodles of rapport and trust. Also a respectful and deliberate hand that behaves in a simple, natural, and logical way is a hand that can go places. Plus, he was a champion Checker Inner, are you ok, how are you doing, etc. So yes...it was just fine with me that he briefly put his hand on the middle of my butt, and it was equally just fine when he did a medial-to-lateral sweeping stroke that went over the breast instead of around.
There are not words for how just fine with me it was. Afterward he sat me down and asked me point-blank if I had been ok with the sensuality, and while what I wanted to say was, “God yes, more please, you are a unicorn, a man who knows how to touch a woman, you are in a club of probably five men on the planet and that's being generous, touch me, touch me, touch me.” Instead I said, “yes, I have a thousand planets in Taurus and a Scorpio Ascendant. I live in this world.” Which is true.
I always say the real work happens after you leave the mat / table / studio. And it's true. I was surprised though how fast his magic worked. I left his house and pretty much immediately after, bam, I got exactly what I had asked for. (And yes, I'm sure he's directly related to Pére Noël.) I had Vision like nobody's business, and it was clear and incontrovertible and right.
As in Home, it was not others' definition of the word, but it was my definition, and it was true for me. Others were not happy with my Vision and told me it was wrong. Let's just say, it would have been wrong for them. As soon as my plane landed at SeaTac and I had phone service, I dropped out of school, despite knowing this would mean everyone would believe I was a Quitter and a fool. An hour later my grandma died and put her spirit inside my body and I learned that she literally had not gotten to dance enough when alive and had missed out by giving up teaching dance in order to become a farm wife and mother. I committed to dance, which was relieved not to be given short shrift any more. I went to Russia and fell in love with the culture, I lost most of my friends, my parents gave up on me, I packed up house and moved out and started to live out of suitcases, I felt Finally Free, I was happy, I was scared, I was poor, I was light, I came back to California and slept on couches, I was living my own life on my own terms. Finally.
After such an evening I had to wrestle with my conscience before seeing him again, because if I came again, he would probably suspect that I, you know, liked him or something, and since I am emotionally stuck at twelve years old, the notion of letting a boy know I like him (or something) sticks in my craw. In the end, though, I went.
I kept thinking, I know I just got a session in February and here it is only May and that's tons of money to spend on frivolity (old mental habits die so hard), but...I really want some help rewriting Story.
I had to have a legitimate reason for going, that was more important to me than any frisson. In fact, feeling protective of my poor heart, I preferred to avoid him if at all possible. I had suffered enough romantic bumps and scrapes for one lifetime and did not want to get hurt again.
But when I arrived at Julien's I knew I would be safe there, as I always had been.
There were golden rose petals scattered across the floor. The thing about this kind of person is, I legitimately don’t know if they were for me or if they were just there. But they were nice.
I told him about everything in as few words as possible. I was like, Dude, I brought you a request for Home and I got Home. I brought you a request for Vision and I got Vision. Now I'm bringing you a request for Story. 'Cause everyone else is putting their Story on me and their stories are toxic, and I am trying to release myself from my old Story and it's proving difficult. But I know that I have all the skills and experiences necessary for a new life, but without a new Story...well, rewriting the Story is the hardest and most essential part of everything. Without Story you got nothing, and no amount of hard work matters.
He told me it's not about rewriting the story; the story is there, inside me; it’s not going away. It’s a question of coming to peace with the story and allowing a new one.
He congratulated me wholeheartedly on choosing to listen to myself, live in the present, and live in alignment with my own truth (I'm paraphrasing the last clause because I forget the exact words). He was tremendously proud of me, I could tell. When I told him the process had lost me most of my friends and the few remaining loved ones who hadn't yet given up on me, he nodded in a recognizing kind of way and said, "yes, that often happens when you do that. It's because it puts people outside of their comfort zone, and they don't know how to handle it. So then they freak out."
That definitely sounded like what almost everyone had been doing.
"You quickly learn who your real friends are," he said. That had been true too. I thought of the wonderful dinner I'd had with a dear friend whom I rarely saw, but who had always been Real. I had told them about how there had been a time in my life when I had had to learn, through painful experience, to write a mental note-to-self that read, "do not be friends with people who make you want to kill yourself," and now I was having multiple opportunities to consult that mental note-to-self all over again. And it was a game-changer. For so long I had hung on to friends who were destructive and toxic, and I did so because I knew they were acting out of love, and that this was how they showed love...perhaps because this was how people had shown it to them...as evidenced by the one friend who said she was just "treating me like family." —When my Real Friend pointed out that destructiveness and toxicity were not even a love *language*, everything unfurled in a new shape in front of me and I felt light. Like I had a lot fewer friends now, but light. And right. And like I had somehow been given a free pass not to ever have to subject myself to counterproductive relationships ever again, no matter how well-intentioned the other parties may have considered themselves. Thank you, Real Friend.
Julien lived in the same camp as the Real Friend. I liked this new camp. I wanted to live in this new camp myself. It was the right camp for me.
I remembered what Baz Luhrmann said in the credits of all his movies: a life lived in fear is a life half lived.
As always, he was a master of not leaking energy through his respectful and stunningly clearly-boundaried hands. My outside self always admired that skill of his, in a craftsman-to-craftsman way. I had had to learn how not to leak or suck energy through my hands, so I particularly noticed it in others. And the issue was particularly on my mind because I had recently given a short massage to a dear friend of mine, by which I mean, to a guy I really liked whom I had to pretend was a dear friend, and the only way I could possibly do it was by throwing 99% of my attention into creating the most deliberate, solid, clinical hands I possibly could...because otherwise I would have done the whole massage with my tongue! ….Anyway, with that experience fresh in mind, I was paying careful attention, listening for a similar double-blind. And indeed, those hands were so scrupulously professional, so nonleaky, and so clear and solid...I knew for sure he must Like me!
He had, as always, a Frenchman’s appreciation for the entire body as a whole. Each part was the most beautiful part. And yet there was something philosophically worshipful about a new stroke that made a heart out of my butt. I have always thought that butt-preferring countries were more realistic about life than breast-preferring ones.
I felt that I was either overconditioning myself to an expected pattern or was a terrible judge of time. Because I found myself thinking, “hm, that was a shorter than expected amount of time lying back-up, I don't usually get turned so soon.” And then I found myself thinking, “I must really be a poor judge of time, because that felt like a shorter than expected amount of time for my left side too,” and then I thought the same thing again for my right side....
His hands were soft and calm down the insides of my thighs, brushing through the intersection of leg and body in a gentle way. I knew it was not a mistake, because Julien did not make mistakes. It felt more like a way of saying, "this is part of you too. This is good too." I felt my body thinking, "oh yes, I *am* a part of me too! Nobody ever notices or touches this part of me and I feel so ostracized and needlessly shamed down here! Thank you for noticing!" Oh, shameless body who did not know social mores. I felt a flush rising up and prickling all over my face. “Thank God my eyes are closed,” I thought. “This means he can’t see me blushing. I know I blush bright red all over my face and neck and probably chest too, so it’s a good thing he can’t see it. Because that would blow my cover. I know *he’s* totally chill about it, so I will pretend to be totally chill about it too, but...um...I wouldn't mind one bit if that happened again….”
He grounded a stroke on my pubic bone. His hand had been there briefly before, or almost there, although he had never *left* it there before. But it was a quiet hand, and directed toward calming energy. So I was calm. I wore my body version of a poker face. I have had a lot of time to learn to pretend that I am not a sensitive human being with erogenous zones and feelings. I have had plenty of chances to fake nonchalance.
Nerd that I am, what I truly thought was, “oh, that makes so much sense, this is such a first and second chakra issue, this is all about creation and stoking the fires of the inner world so they can come out.”
Nerd that he is, this is what the hand truly thought too, as it quietly progressed downward….
Nerds have more fun.
And there's a first time for everything.
I managed to keep my body’s poker face for about five seconds, pretending that I was not actually attached to that part of me, or if I was, that it would not elicit Feelings in me. Because even though I trusted him, if I didn’t keep my body poker face, he would find out that I was a woman! How could I trust him with the secret that I was a woman? It was such a vulnerable truth, and if he knew that, I would be in his power.
And yet as his hand slid softly and surely up into a part of me that had officially never been discussed on a bodywork table before...my poker face disintegrated. I could not fight it any more. So he would find out that I was a woman. So what. He had probably already figured that out. Just because *my* eyes were closed did not mean *he* could not see me.
I could not lie still any longer. My spine swayed toward him and I heard myself say a soft little private sound. It was embarrassingly feminine. Now he would know for *sure* that I was a woman. Oh well.
Just before I realized that was just what I wanted, he did another thing….
I found myself thinking, “isn't this a porn scenario?” Except it wasn't like that.
He was the leader you always hope you will get to dance with. He knew what I wanted a split second before I did, and wore his in-charginess with the gentleness and ease of someone whose roots are so entrenched and whose mastery of physical and energetic arts is so ground-in, they don't have to exert force. He touched me like the aikido triple-black-belt he was, subtly creating pathways for me to go where I was already going but didn't know yet, creating an imperceptibly but clearly boundaried world that made freedom possible.
I do get a kick out of a guy being unquestionably in charge. Although I knew he was actually the one following me, just, following me that before I knew.
He was extremely French. He was intently focussed on process, not destination. Be here now. We have all the time in the world. Love what is. Destination was merely a spine off of which to hang process. He touched me much better than I touch me. There was suspense, and breathing room, and a sense of all the time in the world to enjoy. His touch was gentle without being dainty, and deliberate without being hard. It was perfectly calibrated to whatever the moment called for. He was Present and Listening all the time, and I felt it was fine to be whatever I was in that moment.
It was also interesting what it wasn't. There was no sense of anything dirty, crude, dramatic, lurid, charged, naughty. Neither was anything limp, boring, hesitant, creepy, sleazy, or anything. It was...human. This must be how humans touch. But people get in the way of their own humanity so often! ….Him not getting in his own way allowed me to not get in my own way. There was no need to Perform. I didn't have to assume the hard-working, hard-trying-to-please Persona of Jordana Being Touched By A Man. I didn't have to make noise or be quiet, I didn't have to move or lie still, I didn't have to put on a Role. I could just...enjoy.
Real dominance is not having to do anything hard. And benevolence is real power.
And like the good little yogini that I am, my three remaining brain cells kept thinking, “I have one important job here: my job is to breathe.” Genius me! It made the whole experience quite different, in a good way!
I rewrote all kinds of files under his touch. The Nipple File, for instance, had to be totally rewritten. I was used to not really being a nipple person. They were just there, annoying things that made wearing a bra a public necessity (that I have taken to leaving off all too much, because I’m sick of living my life to please other people and just want to please myself). They were sources of embarrassment, primitive and large and nipple-colored and not dainty or cute or girlish at all. They were mammalian leftovers from having been a nursing mother, that, when I looked down at them, reminded me of exhausted nonstop breastfeeding with the stomach flu and allergic reactions and a reopened wound and postpartum psychosis all at once. They were also charged sources of anxiety, from too many men who didn't understand that these were parts of my body and attached to me, and would clamp onto them and hurt them, I have no idea why...I remember having to actually smack the hands of the baseball player and also yell at him to make him stop hurting me...my poor nipples, purple for a whole day afterwards…. So there were years of nervous guarding and antierotic programming ground into them that melted away when he claimed them and gave them to me as they were, and not as I had seen them. I finally learned the interesting game of Telephone, where you touch the nipple and the sensation shows up deep inside the vagina. I have no idea how that works or why we’re wired that way but it’s clever and will help keep the world overpopulated for years to come.
I discovered that I was guarded about my butt, too. It (she?) had had to deal with too many gringos who felt icky and dainty and squeamish about even mentioning butts in their lovemaking conversations, and on the other hand, too many Argentinians and Spaniards and Indians violently attacking it and making me scream in pain and fear...I remembered the Indian who seemed not even to realize that he was date-raping me because hey, wasn’t that what women were for? ...I remembered my shrill screams of pain and terror as my head hit the headboard in my attempts to escape and wishing he would get his fist out of me so I could go call the police, but also being terrified to do so because if I did, maybe he would attack me for real, and maybe if I just put up with him for the nonce, he would get his violence out of his system and I could move on with my life...I was afraid that if I upset him he might destroy my paintings that I had worked so hard on...Yes, one Indian was more than enough…. So yes: I was kind of guarded about my butt, which remembered all these things. I was also guarded about it because it (she?) also remembered good things, things that she *liked*, that had been memorable in a worthwhile way, and she was kind of embarrassed because she knew that these hands could feel her story and her voice embedded in her and would know, and then they would know that she was not a Nice Girl Next Door whom one could take out for a Woolworth’s ice-cream soda and then take home to Mom. ….She would be caught, found out for the mammal she was, uncivilized, driven by basic instincts that were the opposite of polite society. And if she were caught, *I* would be caught, and he would *know* that I was a human being. --And yet, with unhesitant and loving respect, he neutralized all that drama. All that body back there was part of me, it was beautiful, it was good, it was right, it was no big deal, and at the same time, it was of total importance, because *I* was of total importance. ….So this was what it was like to have that part of me touched in a way that was loving and harmonizing, not out of the excitement of the taboo, not out of misguided Thanatos, and not out of frustratingly hesitant and skimpy timid curiosity. Peace is such a simple thing. And so easy.
It all took a deliciously long time, but that was because he made it take a long time. Beautifully paced. And the idea of leaving the issue for a moment and then coming back to it. Genius.
There’s only one catch. We did not actually have sex. (At least not in Bill Clinton’s definition of the word.)
While it was interesting to be with a guy who needed me to be the one being focussed on, instead of the other way around, when we were done, half of me was relaxed and happy, but the other half of me was cross-eyed with lust and hunger and need.
When he was done (or perhaps more appropriately I should say, “when I was finished”) he kissed me beautifully on the abdomen. It was as if he had heard my thoughts, as I was just starting to think, “I need to know you want this too, I need to know this was important for you too. I need to know this was not just a philosophy lesson, potent though it was. Show me there is an us.” His lips on mine were warm and sweet and slow. And they were the lips of a man, not of a philosopher.
I curled myself around him and...I tried to kiss his neck but what actually happened was I licked it and then tried to eat him up one bite of neck at a time. What can I say.
Come here, I thought. He looked into my eyes exactly as if I had spoken the thought aloud. His ice-blue eyes had become flames that burned straight into me. He came here and we feasted on each other like panthers. Until his everpresent mental candy thermometer told him to stop.
“That was unexpected,” I purred. “It’s all about creation,” he said, the King of the Nerd Tribe, and I loved him for it. “Your center is *right next* to your sexuality. That’s where the energy was.” So much a guy, calling a spade a spade. “Yes, but you could have politely ignored the fact,” I said. We both knew that he absolutely could not have ignored the fact. It would have been unethical, it would have been sloppy philosophy, it would have been downright un-French. “....It’s very grounding,” he said somewhat later, underscoring the point with both hands. Point officially made.
We kissed. I wanted to kiss forever (and then have sex forever). But I could feel him measuring the kiss; allowing it to go Just So Far and no farther. It was like his window had a child lock on it. I did not know why, but he had always been like that; he had always decided how we would greet each other, exactly how we would hug goodbye, how huggy our hugs could be. It made sense he would be the same way but moreso about kisses. Forthwith he curtailed the kissing in a gentle-yet-firm way, pinning me to the table with a kiss written in underlined letters and then extracting himself and leaving me to dress.
Somehow I managed, woozy with luxurious fullness and crazed hunger. When I was ready he saw me on my way with a hug and a kiss.
And then I had to live through the next few days....
He had awoken a Sleeping Dragon. Miss “Art is the only lover worth my libido” had suddenly become a 13-year-old boy, I felt like a fire-breathing dragon made out of fire was living in my second chakra, I literally could not sleep because I was so parched with lust, I woke up every night in the middle of the night desperately needing to have sex with this guy. My whole pelvis felt like it was full of sparkly flames on the inside and they needed to get out, and the only way they could possibly get out was to hunt down this guy and have my wicked way with him. Truly, it was getting ridiculous. I was starting to give myself tendinitis, and still, I’d have damp knickers in the middle of the day. I couldn't concentrate on anything because my whole body was so charged with this new and ferocious famine for sex.
I missed how I had been before! I had been good before. I had been *so* good before. I was getting old, my hormones were going away, I could finally focus on interesting things, sex was boring and prosaic and men were shit in bed anyway, and finally I was directing my Chi at art, not boys. I got my kicks out of artistic growth and developing the fulfillment of my creative potential. That was what got me excited and that was what sated me. I was happily and safely autosexual, a self-completing cycle, my Brain and Me, so happy together.
And now I felt so...human! So basic. So disappointingly nonintellectual. What kind of genius artist was I, if all I wanted to do was to spend my creative seed doing something that *anybody*, even not-very-smart people, even not-very-interesting people, could do. My ego took a blow. But that didn't bother me. What bothered me was that now I was incomplete all over again, and I needed, I craved, every cell in my body had to have this man, right now, all day long, and all night long. I remembered with my last lover how there had been the agonizing anxiety about having to rapidly produce enough moisture so that sex wouldn't hurt, and there never was enough, and then he would get frustrated with me and throw a tantrum, so then the next time I would be even more worried and try to work even harder to produce the right ungovernable physical response fast enough...well, that particular problem would certainly not have been a problem this time around. Even if we had retired to bed and not come out for three days and three nights and had all our meals airmailed to us by stork.
So I did what any self-respecting genius artist who is cool and collected and objective and not at all pervious to feelings or rejection would do. I bearded him in his lair.
And yes, I had every intention of doing a lot more than just talking. Again with the double blind...nothing says, “I am going to try very hard to seduce you” like boring old yoga clothes you have already worn and not even washed yet.
I did actually want to tell him about how suddenly the universe had come unstuck after I had seen him. Because I am a nerd. I did actually want to tell him about how my dance had grown and changed and improved in this new Woke Dragon Body.
But I also wanted to tell him that this dragon was more specifically woken up *for him* and for no one else, and that it needed to consume him in great fire-breathing gulps, licking its dragon chops and engulfing him in flames. I wasn't sure if we would get to that part but I felt it was the top priority of issues to address.
That is not what happened.
I went to his house, and since I had been awake with erotically-produced insomnia for nights and nights beforehand, I had been too tired for most of the day to feel appropriately nauseated in anticipation. But Tradition insisted on being followed at least a bit, so I spent the twenty minutes beforehand wanting to throw up. Then I got on my bike and marched over there. If I stalled and refused to actually pedal for five whole blocks, I’m not telling.
He greeted me with the same affable cheery calm he always did, almost as if what had happened had not happened. Or as if what had happened had not had the same meaning for him as it had for me, I thought, anxiously.
This was the first time I had ever seen him in civilian clothes.
He led me inside, took me in his arms, and kissed me, softly, tenderly, and thoroughly. I felt myself melting and starting to allow my desire to show, all the while acutely aware of how he was listening to himself and to me with the kiss equivalent of a mental candy thermometer, constantly eyeing it and ready to take the sugar off the flame the instant it reached the hard-boiling stage. My body softened to him and I felt him humour me, kissing me back, present, real, warm, and yet somehow reserved.
“One more,” I...er...begged...when he extracted himself. Yes, Gentle Reader, that is what I did.
He led me into the most perfect man’s kitchen I have ever seen. It was my ideal combination of warm and cozy and spacious and airy, casually clean without being offensively so, a kitchen in progress, with all kinds of interesting Asian things and handmade things and plants and fresh ingredients here and there, but not cluttered, but not spare either. It was masculine without being boxy or bland or stark, and had bits of exotic beauty and homey friendliness all over. It was a kitchen I could live in quite happily. And I could tell he was probably a better cook than I. I suppose all those years of working in an excellent French restaurant will do that to you.
He sat me down and made peppermint tea in a green iron Japanese teapot and set out two jade green Japanese tea bowls. I told him about how the universe had come unstuck. Very much as if I had set up a bunch of dominoes but had been unable to tip them over myself and then he had just come along at the right moment and touched the lead domino just right and then they all toppled over in a chain reaction. All kinds of people and arrangements who had been dragging their heels suddenly worked out and committed. And it wasn't just me. People close to me who had been dealing with stuck issues, the issues suddenly unstuck themselves too. So much incredible positive change had happened all over the place in those few days while I was busy wishing I was having 'round the clock sex. Once again, that inexplicable correlation between doing what was right for me, plus a tiny bit of just the right kind of outside help, and then...everything comes out better all around. If it didn't keep happening that way in my own life, I would not believe it, but there it was.
"Yes, that is what happens when you choose to live in the present in accordance with your true self," he said.
"And most people do not do it," he continued. "Which is why they get so scared when someone does. And this is why it is so beautiful when I see someone like you who is opening up to their inner truth."
He told me about things I already knew about. When the student is ready the teacher appears, he said, almost as if I haven’t been saying this myself for years because it’s such a great truism. He told me about yoga and Jesus Christ, our joint favourite Reiki Master. He told me about sacred circles and rooting into the ground and peace and love and harmony and healing. And all that stuff that has been the water in which I swim for so long now. I ate it up. Because sometimes, hearing it all again from just the right person at just the right time opens everything up in a whole new way.
I tried to kiss him. He let me a little, and then he pushed me away.
I gave him a few chances, just to be sure. Gentle Reader, I am not proud of my behavior, but this is what I did.
He decided when we were done talking and when it was time for me to leave.
I kissed him goodbye in that perfect kitchen, kissing him as the rare, wonderful being he was, so full of the good stuff, I cradled his face unconsciously in my hands as we kissed and when I realized I was doing it I was embarrassed but could not stop. I did not realize I had driven my hips into him until I felt him take them in both hands and quietly push them away.
He put me next to my shoes and I put them on. We kissed again, thoroughly enough to get my hopes up, until once again his mind’s egg timer went off. “Give me a hug,” he said. “Goodbye, and farewell,” he said, and in his voice I heard exactly, *but exactly*, the same soft, warm, hugely apologetic tender tones I had heard in the voice of the German who turned me down at Valentango. Six men in a row all doing variations of the same thing, I thought to myself--I’d say by now this is a pattern. What, what, *what* is it.
So I left, and felt horrible, and rejected, and humiliated, and wondered if the zit on my cheek had been that off-putting, and knew that whatever it was, it was not the zit. That was so me, I told myself, throwing myself at men who didn't want me.
But he did want me, I heard myself say. I knew it. It was not disinterest but some kind of self-control that I had tasted in his kisses. Why, I had no idea. And I had difficulty believing in self-control, especially in men. I mean, either they wanted something, or they didn’t, right? What man is ever too busy for sex?
But I had tasted and felt a window that was designed to open all the way, that someone had put a child lock on. The window would open X far and no farther, because of the lock. But what that lock was, or why it was there...I had no idea.
I knew that it wasn't about me. But that was not much consolation, especially since he was, as stated, the sixth man in a row.
Oh God. Did he...think I was an interesting person and a valued and respected colleague? A fate worse than death! Say it wasn’t so! I could not bear to be one more man's good friend!
No...I remembered the reverence in his hands, his heartfelt appreciation of the feminine form in all its glory. He knew I was a woman. And he was old enough to understand that women, even interesting women who would make great valued and respected colleagues, have feelings.
It was like he was a bona fide gourmet and I was an especially dark, rich, moist, bittersweet piece of warm homemade chocolate cake with ganache and raspberry coulis and a side dollop of creme anglaise, and he was capable of taking three bites, enjoying them, and then stopping and putting the cake down.
Fucking French and their capacity for moderation.
Why did I keep running into men who were on diets? Were they terrified I would ruin their boyish figures?
Would my feelings have been less hurt if he had told me what was stopping him?
What if I could have rounded them all up and asked all six, “ok guys, so, what the fuck? Why did you all hunt me down at great energetic expense, lead me on, and then turn me down?”
And is it terrible of me that after the initial pain subsided, my first thought was, “exactly how many months or years do I have to wait before I can see him again, so that I won’t look like I’m begging all over again?”
The thing about guys is, they're not women, so women brains are not the right tools for figuring out what the fuck happened back there. Although I did have fun obsessing over his behavior. What kind of guy needs so much to make it be all about the other person? One who doesn’t want it to be about themselves. Why not? Fear of being seen, of sharing?
And what he had said in the kitchen. “Ego is the voice in your head that says, for example, I’m not good enough--”
That seemingly random example feels like something that we have both felt on occasion, I thought.
“--that I’m a bad mother--”
Yelp, ok, that would clearly be something *I* have felt on many occasions, I thought.
“--that I’m a bad lover--”
WHOA! Fascinating bright red flag! Because that’s not me, that’s not my thing. That’s...HIS thing! I thought, extremely surprised. How in the world could this pinnacle of mature philosophical sensuality, genius erotic artistry, and grounded physical mastery, with a delicious French accent to boot, have ever considered himself a bad lover at any point in the past, ever? How could there ever have been any doubt at all in that particular field? And yet I knew that whenever one trait dominated a personality, its shadow side was also a dominant force. So anyone who was clearly incredible in bed...could well be the exact person who could express that particular doubt. But how, or why, or when that had ever passed through his mind….
We may never know. I have been around enough black belts to know that it takes a certain kind of eccentric person to go far enough in any martial art to get even a first degree black belt, and the more stripes one has on one’s black belt, the more definite there is Something Odd about how the mind works.
So, you know, right up my alley, I have a whole stable full of ex-lovers who have Something Odd about them. I tried to date a normal person once back in college and nearly gave myself a hernia.
And what if the window lock was not something odd at all, but something quite normal but unvoiced? What would that be? Fear? Of what? I never understood fear. Another woman? Possible, but that was not the impression I was getting from the shape of his energy, it felt like something else. But what do I know, hell, I could be wrong. This underlying current of feeling like for him it was simultaneously completely personal and completely impersonal, I didn't know how to parse it, it was like he was totally there for me, but had to keep himself out of the equation...who knows why….
I thought of one of the first things I had ever known about him, one of those fundamental character-defining things. I knew that he needed to be of service to the world, that his identity was wrapped up in that. Because every time I had ever seen him, since the beginning, afterward he always asked how I was feeling, and I could always feel every fiber of his being really needing to know, hanging in suspense, awaiting my answer. And then when I told him, and the answer was always positive, he would light up like a happy puppy, pink sparkles radiating off of him in every direction, his whole being transformed. That’s the kind of guy you want taking care of your amorous needs. So he of all people could not possibly have been a bad lover.
Am I so frightening of a beast after all? I am not so big. I am not even 5’4”.
And if I ever saw him again, how would it be? Would I even want to do that to myself, or would it be horribly humiliating? Or would it be wonderful and reassuring and educational? Or all of the above?
Sometimes all one can do is recite, a thousand times, “it’s not about you.”
I recited it a thousand times, and then a thousand more for good measure. But I couldn't let the puzzle go. What was it. What was it.
Since I had already exhibited plenty of behavior that I was not proud of, I figured, why stop now, and allowed myself to inspect his Facebook page. We were “friends” already, so theoretically I should not have felt like I was snooping. But I was snooping. I thought maybe I might learn something about the outside man that might help explain what had happened.
One post from him had showed up in my news feed in the past. Because pretty directly after I had seen him and asked for Vision, he had written one mighty long post--I had seen the block of text and thought, "oh, one of those people who use Facebook for sharing long personal essays." It was an eloquent revelation about a time seven years ago when something terrible happened and he, in his words, went insane for almost a year. He healed himself with aikido and yoga and ignored the doctors who had diagnosed him as manic-depressive. (And yes, sometimes people do kindly wave their own great big red flags under your nose just in case you might miss them otherwise. But the thing is, I saw that diagnosis and thought, "well you'll fit right in with the rest of my crowd then.") I assumed this chattiness was a normal modus operandi for him. But it turned out it was the only such post he had ever posted.
I learned that in Facebook parlance he was an absolute recluse, an e-hermit. The bulk of me found it rather grownup of him not to stoop to the junior-high-ishness of Facebook. He was connected with just a couple hundred people, and 90% of the posts on his page were other friends of his wondering where the hell he was, what the hell he was doing, how the fuck he was doing, complaining that he was mighty tight-lipped with personal news even to old friends, and so on. Posts that went unanswered and unacknowledged. Happy birthday wishes from friends that also went unremarked. His friends were split between normal French people and stunningly gorgeous, annoyingly somatically and spiritually well-practiced Californian women who were yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, and so annoyingly on and so forth. A few friends posted old photos of adolescence but there were no “here I am at the pub with Joe” pictures. One or two extremely well-disguised selfies of him hiding behind silly faces, hiding behind silly glasses. Pictures of him hiding behind being a mime in white-face, a caricature of humanity. One riveting picture taken by his brother, rather wearily captioned in French, Here by popular request is Julien, forced not to act like an idiot for four minutes, looking like an album cover, trust me you’ll thank me for this later you dipshit. The only picture on his whole page that actually showed the man, and it wouldn't be on there if his brother hadn't tagged him.
In this age of self-obsessed digital oversharing, in some ways it was refereshing, but in other ways it made him seem extremely shy, private, introspective, reserved, guarded, and like he was working hard at hiding from the world. What he was hiding, and from whom, who knew.
And then in 2014 there she was.
Nothing before, and nothing after, but right there, for one brief moment. A picture of him happy and not hiding, on the beach, snuggled up next to a dramatically beautiful age-appropriate woman who looked like she bit, who looked like she knew about sorrow and life and hardship, a woman with long dark hair and the eyes of a cat. I chuckled. The next post, one of those infamous Facebook “in a relationship” announcements, which considering the utterly tight-lipped and nondivulgatory nature of everything before and everything after was tantamount to him stripping naked and running through the streets yelling his love at the top of his lungs. A photo of a birthday dinner for two at some coastal getaway shortly after, with hearts.
And then nothing about her or that story ever again.
Gentle Reader, I did what you would have done too. I looked at her page. Facebook protected her privacy, since we were not friends, but I saw a couple photos. One of those annoying people whose cover photo is of them and their perfect body doing a perfect King Dancer pose on the beach at sunset...but hey. I prefer that to a cover photo of someone attached to a computer. The other photos made me chuckle again. A single mother, about my age, with a kid about my son’s age, who sometimes wore glasses just like mine and sometimes didn't. She too had those two photos, the beach and the dinner visible, and then nothing about him ever again.
We will never know that particular story. But I did snicker a self-satisfied snicker. Got your number, I thought. We like what we like. If Johnny Depp can keep sleeping with the same woman in different bodies his entire adult life, so can the rest of us.
I set down my e-prying. I felt guilty but I also felt a bit more of a picture evolve, like when one is in the darkroom waiting for the photo to develop and slowly the image emerges on the page.
I thought of Pablo, with his hyperfluent body language, who had made a whole career out of physical eloquence, saying, “I was never able to talk about myself. Even when I was little, my mom would pick me up from school and say, ‘what did you do in school today Pablo?’ And I would clam up, I would look like a fish, the words would not come out of my mouth.”
I thought of the other Pablo, who so badly wanted to seduce me but whose primary language was Body, and who had all the command of verbal language of a Golden Retriever, and who was therefore at a disadvantage when we were in different countries, because what came out of his body with mellifluous and irresistible clarity could not come out of his mouth.
If men could talk, here’s what they'd say….
In the days that followed I eventually dropped from exhaustion, because there's only so long one can go without sleeping. I wondered if he thought of me at all or if he was so busy being in the present moment that there was no room for that. I wondered if I had meant anything to him or if his motives had been purely educational and desirous of showing a fellow philosopher the way. I tried to stop beating myself up and telling myself I had made a fool out of myself. I failed, and tried again.
I tried to make peace with what I did not understand. I failed at that too, and tried again.
I tried to avoid making "always" statements about myself to myself, even though they were tempting to make. I failed at that too, and tried again.
I tried not to overanalyze him. I failed at that too, and tried again.
One thing at which I actually succeeded was I noticed that life was doing its damnedest to teach me the same idea in as many ways as I needed to hear it until I cottoned on, and that I was currently abiding in the centre of a clusterfuck of one idea from many angles. Julien was merely the most concentrated and richest of the voices that had come to teach me. From him and Gyrotonics, I heard God saying, "hey great job finally grabbing your center! Now that you have one, here's how to radiate out from it! And when you allow yourself to be in harmony with your chi, everything flows!" From him and Feldenkrais, I heard God saying, "right action and being one with the way of the Tao is a much more effective path to enlightenment and harmony than overwork and conflict—and energetic bodies don't learn useful things from abrupt harshness, but they sure learn a lot from seduction." From him and two of my visiting dance teachers, I heard God saying, "rigid gripping, anxious overthinking, and jumping ahead instead of going through the journey are not useful nor are they enjoyable, and the way to actually get where you are going is to enjoy the experience, to take the time to be in the present moment, to slow down and let others help you, and to correctly allocate some responsibility to others instead of assuming you have to do everything all alone." From all of them I heard, "the way to get to the next step is to change your mindset from one of hard work and anxious clutching to one of the joy of right work and release."
My mind understands this. Doing it is another matter.
James Blunt. You’re Beautiful.