Tuesday, December 24, 2013

May the bridges I burn light my way

"you," he said, "are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world,
                                          and that, I believe is why you are in so much pain."

For all the times I have stumbled home from excessive hours at work, black with steel grease or the dust of the piers, not bothering to wash the black from my hands when I actually take the time to feed myself, when sleep is so much more valuable than showering regularly and even my sheets smell like steel... I sometimes desperately drag my broken body into the random Vietnamese nail salon, even though I have to face the looks of horror from the man or women handling my calloused and work stained flesh. Part of me is apologetic to them for how much harder they will have to work to make me even presentable, but some deep part of me is begging for strong hands to press into my sore muscles and strained tendons, so much I could cry.

I can't help but feel the sidelong looks from the skinny dyed blonds, old fussy women and haughty preteens around me, getting their long, feminine nails painted boring shades of pink or shimmery brown while they gossip - polluting the calm with unnecessary complaining noises I have to tune out, to catch the twang of Asian instruments adding a subtle glamour of the geisha to the odd practice all of us are indulging in, however removed most of american culture may have come from the origins of this particular feminine tradition. I am no less a woman than anyone else in the room, and so much more in need of their arts than most of the women sitting around me, but I still stick out like a bruise. I'm not there to be pampered and girly - I'm there asking these craftspeople to cut away the dead and bruised skin, like sanding weathered wood, to find the natural beauty and form hidden underneath. Sometimes I need help to find myself. I just can't allow myself to feel too deeply judged, because it is already so hard for me to ask at all.

Today, Christmas Eve, I went to one such place, near where I am apartment sitting in the Upper West Side, a part of town that always tickles me, because I feel my difference VERY strongly here. One of my secret favorite things is to have searingly colored toenails hiding inside my smelly, beaten work shoe. The woman working with me quickly erased the caution yellow remnants of polish still barely clinging to my toes, to replace it with a violent neon fuchsia... but could not hide that she paused in horror when she reached for my hands. I asked for a back massage afterwards, something I never do, but was so desperate for it I didn't care if it seemed selfish, I didn't care who saw or knew. Since she would struggle working under my shirt, I simply took it off, sitting in my sports bra, exposing my tattooed and heavily muscled shoulders - from doing a man's job for a living - and the sturdy, cheerful woman grunted and thwacked, pushed and pulled as she wrestled with the demons that had wrapped themselves into the grooves under my shoulder blades and stretched themselves down the column of my spine. The woman working on my back chatted to me about my tattoos in her heavy accent, the people who work in these places usually are extremely appreciative of them - which makes sense to me, Asian/pacific island tattooing being such a developing factor for our own culture to embrace the concept of body art that sailors brought back with them in the 18th century. To the snotty women in the room, the ink in my flesh always seem to cause a specific negative reaction, as if it were in fact filled with some sacrilegious quality, whispering anti traditional and rebellious thoughts, threatening the rules of their pink and white world.

She ended emphatically, with loud thumps of her balled up hands up and down the length of my back, filling the space with the sound of my naked skin connecting with them. As I pulled my shirt over my head, I noticed the room was silent. As I paid and stuffed my feet into my boots, I felt the difference in the room, though I don't know what it meant. Nor does it even matter.

I left at least 2 inches taller.