A Story of Two Massages

One was an employee benefit; the other was an unexpected gift.

Photo credit: smalljude, CC BY 2.0.

The first time I ever had a massage was around age thirty. I was working in a nice office, downtown Chicago, with a boss that gifted two per year, per employee. I worked there for three years before I made good on the offer.

Our boss gave us a check that would cover the whole operation. $115. A one-hour massage plus a 15 percent tip. It would cost us, quite literally, nothing but our time—and the spa was a mere three blocks away from our office, so one could go during their lunch hour with little overlap.

I used every massage I was granted, after that first one. I even begged to get the massages I’d foregone credited to me (no dice). I told everyone I met about massages — what they were, how they made you feel, that they weren’t scary, etc. I sang their praises in a voice so loud it traveled from the Chicago streets to the heavens.

Two hours of utter relaxation per year, for a grand total of $230.

When I left that job, my massages stopped. It would be easy to say that without my salary, I couldn’t afford a massage. I couldn’t, really. God knows I have occasionally dropped a hundred dollars into an hour’s worth of enjoyment, but those are usually spur of the moment financial “mistakes.” I could never premeditate a $100 expense that didn’t get me something tangible I could hold in my hands: a new coat, or two bags of groceries.

I also couldn’t justify the expense when I needed so many other things. Food and housing, mainly. How do you write a good rubdown into the budget when the budget is at max capacity? You don’t.

Wants and needs are different things. Often, they butt heads so close that we confuse them. Sometimes, a want will become a need, just for a time. It crosses over when the want sits still, yearning, for so long that it becomes a desire that HAS to be fulfilled.

After nearly ten years of office work, I am back on my feet again. I waitressed through a pregnancy and now work at Starbucks, standing in the early morning hours with my headset strapped on. I stand — run — scramble — for eight hours at a time, and when I head home, there is no napping. I walk the dog and then pick up our toddler, whom I chase for the next six hours. Life is heavy; my body hurts. I would kill for a massage. But at just over $9 an hour, I’d have to work multiple shifts to earn one massage with tip. (I’m living in a cheaper city now, putting an hour-long massage closer to seventy dollars than one hundred, but still — we need that money for the car payment.)

A couple weeks ago, I stood at the drive-through window, handing out five and six and seven-dollar coffees, smiling and saluting and spreading cheer. A woman pulled up, paid, and held her left hand out for her coffee, while extending to me her right.

I’d never seen this woman before. I will never know how she knew. She handed me an envelope, filled with a card and a tiny little phrase. Small acts of kindness, when multiplied, can change the world. Inside, I found a gift certificate for a massage.

I went home and made an appointment. Thirty minutes, valued at $40, for free. I scheduled it for a day that my baby would already be in daycare, accruing no additional cost. I contemplated what I should leave for a tip, a little nervous. I wanted to be generous, but I didn’t want this small act of kindness to feel heavy.

I shouldn’t have worried. The massage therapist who gifted me the massage didn’t want to weigh me down with gifting back to her. After the massage, she offered me coffee, and I sat in the lounge, contemplating the price of feeling cared for. When I approached the front desk to leave my tip, the receptionist waved me away. ‘I’ve been told that I am not allowed to let you leave a tip today.’

I walked out, tears of gratitude stinging my eyes.

Kelly Green is a writer living in Iowa. She loves dogs easily, humans with some effort. She can be found at kellygrain.wordpress.com and on Twitter @kellygreeeeeen. (That’s six e’s, because her name is anything but unique.)

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