At work, I got the pain again. This dull but sharp stabbing pain in my right shoulder, getting worse when I inhale deeply. I reach around to try to find the spot where I can stop it, but I can't. I spent all day picking up breakfast and lunch for a class our office is hosting, then out to get stamps to mail off 300 newsletters. After a few hours I take a few Advil and pain goes away. I call Clay anyway.

Clay is a student seeking certification for massage therapy. He had worked on me once before and told me then that there were so many knots in my shoulders that he would not be able to get them all out. I called Sheri who had his cell and arranged to meet me after work, at Sheri's place, since I don't have a place yet and he already knows where it is.

I tell him about the pain and ask that instead of a full body massage I would like to focus on my back. He told me that he is now certified and finding a few new clients. He found the knots with little effort, two large ones between my shoulder and shoulder blade. He also found what he calls "bands," smaller points of tension that are much easier to work out. He told me that he has worked on Saints players and they didn't have the knots that I did. When he applied pressure and rolled his fingers, elbows and forearms, the knots moved like bubbles of air trapped inside a waterbed. Even though it hurt, I knew he was helping.

Then he spread tiger balm over my shoulders, rubbing it with the cap of the tiny jar the tiger balm came in. He said he could see already the toxins coming out of the skin and muscle like a blood blister. He told me to keep the shirt on for the rest of the night and to not shower until morning. As I said, he was able to get most of the knots out, but not all. I need to see him weekly, I think. When Sheri got home (I have a key, since she's storing all my stuff until I move), he showed her a portfolio he was working on, with all his cerificates and different techniques. He said he had a neighbor with intense kidney pain and was soon going in for surgery. He did some reflexology on her feet in the region devoted to the kidneys, and she said it was like bolts of electricity going through her body. She did not have to have the surgery, nor did she see Clay after that. Another person, mention in one of Clay's textbooks, was helped with her diabetes through reflexology. It got me thinking about our bodies and all the awkward little pockets of it where we store toxins, stress, and debris from daily life. I mean, had I not met Clay through Sheri, I would likely just have tolerated the pain. Now I could understand why, I could be taught to help it, even prevent it.

Sheri met Clay when he was just a student, but even now he will only charge us $20 for an hour. He said he would preferred that we not tell our friends about the discounted rate, and I understood that. He is very good, and he is kind. He will help anyone even if he makes no profit. He told us about his injury on the job at the post office where he worked. A steel crate fell on him and crushed two vertebrae. He was told to finish his shift and take the next few days off, and he actually finished his shift. Later on he had steel rods inserted into his spine and with bone from his leg, had the vertebrae fused together. We talked about how unfairly some businesses treat people with on-site injuries and that just because some people aren't telling the truth doesn't give license to turn a blind eye to obvious problems. I like Clay, and I tip him $9, which brought my session almost to full price.

I know where this tension is coming from: everywhere. I will need to be taught how to stretch, how to work out the stress. Tiger balm at least once a week and epsom salt baths whenever I want. He says I will wake up in the morning tomorrow and feel better, now that he's pounced on my knots and bands and ligaments and beaten them back like a gang of dogs threatening my sleep.

It really helps me to know how to help myself in matters like this. It helps to know that I don't have to take the pain if I know what to do, if someone is kind enough to just tell me what I need to do.