This is probably how I die — naked and staring at the ceiling.
Matthew slid his hands below my collar bones and straightened his arms, his weight rising above his shoulders. The crown of my head was now an inch away from his crotch. God, khakis are boring and, at the moment, more thin than I would prefer. Not that I can see anything phallic — that bulge is a khaki thing right, not a, uh … okay, back to looking at the ceiling. Should I still even have my eyes open? I think I’ll shut them, slowly (demurely?).
It was getting more difficult to breathe. Apparently I was supposed to stop talking now. I hadn’t done a great job taking the hint from his laconic responses to my expository questions. (So, when did you get into this line of work? Your calling? That’s cool. Costa Rica? That’s certainly a place to get a license.) His hands moved to my neck. Okay, I guess at least I get choked out before he touches my penis. That might be a preferable order of operations. Now he was pulling my ears. What the fuck is this? He sprayed my face with some floral-scented water. And on top of it all, I reek of weed. This is terrifying.
Matthew gives massages for a living, on the third floor of a tremendously creepy bed and breakfast that looks like a child of the hotel from The Shining and that one room in your grandmother’s house that reminds you how close she is to death. He uses products that have cannabis in them. This is Denver. This is why I’m here. Drugs are legal, or whatever. Let’s party.
Roughly 20 minutes ago, when I arrived at the bed and breakfast, Matthew was nowhere to be found. I knocked on the door to his massage room. Nothing. I opened the door. The lights were off, the room was a green just short of black, and cramped. David Lynch would have been jealous of the set design. The room held fear in its margins. I felt slightly light-headed and objects started to lose their significations. I shut the door. I sat on a tiger-print pillow, on a Victorian armchair, in a dim and narrow hall with thick floral wallpaper, and waited. I called Matthew. He had gotten our time mixed up. He would be there shortly.
To pass the time, I played an antique upright piano. A sunspot framed the music on the stand. I can’t play classical very well, so I just made shit up. My hands were trembling so I played rather bashfully. I tried to read the titles of books in a bookshelf but couldn’t focus. I heard feet on the stairs. I stood up.
At 11:30pm the previous night, I arrived in Denver to learn that my hotel had overbooked and I would not be getting a room. They had called all the other hotels in the area and nobody else had any free rooms. Apparently, this was the busiest wedding weekend of the year. Naturally, having nowhere to stay, and stimulated with indignation, I sprawled across a couch in the lobby and pulled up Tinder. I was going to swipe myself a place to stay for the night.
I wrote my editor an email pitching my Tinder search as a story, swiped for 30 minutes and then, good news! The classic New-Yorker-abroad hissy fit I had directed at the front desk had borne fruit in the form of a room. I should have been elated, though honestly, I was a bit disappointed. The Tinder idea had really started seeming appealing. Staying at a bunch of strange women’s houses all weekend — what could possibly be more fun?! What could possibly go wrong?
I did not want to go into Matthew’s strange massage room. He had preceded me through the door and was now waiting in the dark. Never having experienced a professional massage, nor that many amateur ones, I felt the normal apprehension associated with a new experience, compounded by a suspicion that had been been gaining assertiveness during my 15 minutes alone in this bed and breakfast nightmare-scape: that it might be more accurate to throw some quotes around “professional” in the case of this particular massage. This is absolutely where you go to get your dick touched. Or, this is where some stoner with giant hands — let’s just call him Matthew — sets up his holistic murder factory, luring tourists with the promise of a fancy, only-in-Denver “weed massage.”
I went into Matthew’s strange massage room. He shut the door. It was quiet. I sat on a low chair, which made my ass sink below my knees, and he sat down across from me, his chair higher. Our knees were almost touching.
Matthew asked me if my girlfriend had booked this for me. No, I responded, it was my editor; she is very interested in both massages and weed. Shit. This response was a mistake. He basically just asked if I was there to get my dick touched and I gave him the go-ahead. Double shit. I should have said it was my girlfriend.
Matthew told me to take my clothes off “to my comfort level” and that he would be back in a moment. I got completely naked. Why? For the story, that’s why! If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. And that’s the deepest I’m choosing to dive into my own psyche about that choice at the moment. I got under the sheet. At this point, I started arguing with myself — Progressive Jason vs. Conservative Jason.
The issue at hand was anxiety. I was feeling it. Progressive Jason was writing it off as vestigial fear of same-sex intimacy established while attending public schools in America. Conservative Jason was pretty sure I was about to get murdered.
I was in Matthew’s space. It smelled like weed. The colors were all wrong. There was some trance-y, new-wave, hippy dippy, “calming” music playing, with gongs and bell-tones and waves et. al. The room was too small, the bed-thing on which I was laying face-up was too stiff. Matthew was everywhere in this room and I was nowhere, even though he was still outside. Once I’d crossed the threshold, I’d made my choice (once I’d taken off my boxers, I’d made a different choice, but again … not going there), and my life was very much in Matthew’s hands.
Matthew’s hands were now on me.
Holy shit, he is strong. He is pressing on my knees and I can’t move. His hands are moving up my leg. There is no way I will ever be able to get away. If he tries anything, I think I’ll just give in. This man can kill me. Why did I let myself enter his room?
Matthew’s hands moved from my thighs to my arms.
Okay. Everything is okay. Dick untouched.
Matthew moved behind my head, rubbing lotion/butter/something into his hands. This was the weed stuff. This was why I was here. Drugs are legal, or whatever. Let’s party. Did I say that already? Holy shit, I am paranoid and I’m not even high yet.
Matthew slid his hands below my collar bones and straightened his arms, his weight rising above his shoulders. It was getting more difficult to breathe. His hands moved to my neck. The edges of my vision contracted. This is fear.
Just one day ago, I was planning to convince strange women to let me into their homes. Through powers of physiognomy, I would figure out whom to trust and I would enter their space, their rooms arranged to provide comfort and stability, to establish sense of self and continuity as quickly as possible each morning on waking. After entering their space, I would voluntarily lose consciousness, present myself in my most unprotected form, head lolled to the side, neck exposed. This did not concern me for a moment.
Matthew concerned me a great deal. I had to trust Matthew in a way which was unfamiliar — trust, plus intimacy, plus the expectation of pain, pleasure and weed stuff, plus the real, unavoidable possibility of death. The last item was all I could focus on. When dating, how does a woman ever muster up the courage to enter a man’s home? What clues do they pick up in the face, the voice, the demeanor? What tells them it will be okay? Is there still a frisson of terror crossing every threshold? What on earth can possibly be considered consent? Consent is one hell of a word to use. I’ve never before understood the word’s fullness. I’ve been so cavalier when given so much trust, let into homes, played host, slept next to strangers who have to know, somewhere, consciously or not, that their lives are in my hands.
I shut my eyes and consented. What would happen would happen. This weed stuff didn’t feel half bad. I’m tingly. Is that the cannabis or just what happens during massages? I could get used to th—holy shit, that is the worst pain I’ve ever felt … and it’s better now. Whoa, much better. I wonder wh—oh God, why the fuck do you go right back to the same spot, you monster. Okay, that’s kind of amazing. I think I like this guy.
The next day, I sent an email to my editor:
My body was not massage-ready and is destroyed. I was told I was a “real deep-tissue trooper” which makes me feel great about spending today limping and keeping my arms at my side.
I’m going to write about going into the homes and space of others, and how I think I understand more what it’s like to date as a woman (terrifying). Also, themes of trust, relaxation, and a dusting of weed talk. Clear some mantel space for a Pulitzer.
The weed rub made me eat a lot of pizza.
I’m pretty sure I was still high.