Twenty-five years of terrorising my whiny body into submission through my sport of choice, powerlifting, combined with ten years of bed-hopping onto the wafer-thin mattresses of my night-walking children has overlapped thirty years of writing at desks and tables and with laptops on my knees to leave me with a left shoulder about as functional as a crab without its exoskeleton.
I’m still able to reach for things and squat with a bar on my back and write at the desk for hours and sleep on my side while getting repetitively kicked in the kidneys but for the past three months there’s been this constant high level of pain, which I’ve only managed to will myself through by thinking of people worse off than me, like Lindsay Lohan and Tasmanians.
Some people may find my ongoing injury a little bizarre considering that I’m personal love slave to one of Australia’s most renowned physiotherapists, Reservoir Mum, but the truth of the matter is that I knock back her attempts to heal me because I feel guilty bothering her with my self-inflicted injuries and also because I’d like to avoid bringing her attention to my physical failings for as long as possible.
RM is flat out with multiple projects and works on broken bodies all day so when she comes home to me I want to direct her attention to a sexy, healthy male body – the v-taper of a strong muscular back, the pair of pert buttocks, the sexy-ridge-like muscles that line the hips and point towards the groin, the charismatic smile and boyish eyes – and that’s why I keep myself hidden in a loose tracksuit and encourage her to watch Channing Tatum movies.
For me, maintaining the passion in a busy life filled with kids and work and empty packets of Cheesels means actively avoiding the thirty minute physio treatments that could relieve me of my agony, so that RM and I can use that time to gaze into each others eyeballs and go straight for the couple-focussed happy ending.
So that’s why I leap straight into refusing treatment again when RM comes into the kitchen to see me sitting at the kitchen table, writing.
‘It’ll just take thirty minutes,’ she says.
‘Don’t you have some work to do before you head to the clinic?’ I say
‘No, I never have work to do,’ she says, sarcastically. ‘I was just going to play Minecraft with the pool boy.’
‘Well go do your work then. I have to finish this story anyway and my shoulder’s fine,’ I lie. ‘It really hasn’t bothered me for…’
My vocal chords collapse when the simple act of moving my finger to the delete button causes me to contract in pain. I’m hoping RM didn’t notice but she’s down the hall and back in a jiffy with the portable massage table and I’m arguing that she shouldn’t waste time on me, that she should be writing up case notes and focussing on her stats and numbers and wing-dings, even as I’m taking off my jumper and t-shirt and laying down under her professional, experienced gaze.
‘What are you writing about?’ she asks as she lifts my arm and presses her fingers gently into he flesh around my shoulder joint.
‘My shoulder pain,’ I say. ‘But I also wanted to say something about those few commenters on my Facebook Page recently who said I was a sell-out because I accepted a year of free Netflix… OH SHIT!’
The shit that just escaped me was involuntary and the direct result of RM pressing a skilled thumb into a muscle deep under the skin of my neck. The squeaky guinea-pig-like squeal I’m emitting at this very moment is because she’s actually pressing deeper and I’m in so much pain that I’ve lost all muscular control.
‘You shouldn’t worry about those comments,’ she says. ‘Those people have no idea about your motivations or the work you put into your writing.’
‘Oh Lord Jesus…’ I say, after she removes her finger. I’m breathing fast paced and shallow, in shock, eyes locked on her thumb like it’s a severed electrical chord flicking and whipping it’s way towards me. ‘What was that muscle in my neck! Why is it so sore! How did you know it was there!’
‘I think that’s where you’re shoulder pain’s coming from,’ she says. ‘Probably because you’re sleeping on the boys’ pillows so much and because of the way you hunch over when you write.’
Her thumbs enters my neck again, just a little further down, and this time – because I know what’s coming – I’m better prepared and able to breathe-talk just enough to scream-whisper, ‘I think… I’m having… a stroke.’
‘You’re not having a stroke,’ she laughs, removing her thumb again. ‘You’re just a wus.’
‘You do have to buffer yourself against those kinds of criticisms, you know,’ I say, after a few breaths. ‘These people come at you like witch-hunters and assume all these untruths without having any idea that you’ve been writing like this since you were a teenager, way before you knew what a blog was, and without knowing that you’ve knocked back thousands and thousands of dollars in earnings just because it made you feel… icky… and had the potential to change the way you wrote… and then they make a comment about how you post photos of your kids as if to imply that you’re exploiting them for personal gain which, really, cuts pretty deep, even though it’s not true in any way…’
‘Who’s you? Who are we talking about here?’ RM says, just as she probes my neck muscle again and smiles down at me, pressing her teeth together like a sexy Satan.
‘Meeeeeeee….’ I wail, as she presses and presses and eeeeeee when she asks me if the pain is radiating into my shoulder I eeeeeeeee nod somehow and eeeeeeee there’s a light off in the distance and I can see my Dad and my teenage self sitting on the porch back home and when I tell him in a huffy fashion that I’m never going to work for somebody else, that I’m going to live in the bush and write stories and trap marmots, Dad sips at his port and surprises me by saying, ‘If you can manage to do that and stay healthy and happy your Mother and I will be happy for you’ and then, after I follow that up by telling him I can’t ever see myself feeling satisfied with getting up and going to work every morning – that I could never like it the way he does – he flips my perspective over like I’m a hard-backed beetle and says, ‘I don’t like work. I just work because I have to’ and when I hear RM laughing I eeeeeee open my eyes and even though I can’t say exactly why that memory is relevant to the story I’m writing I am eeeee determined to include it.
When RM releases me again I feel like warm putty on the massage table, long stringy lines of me are trailing over the sides to the floor. ‘Most people, you know, would see my blog as just… I don’t know… a blog. They don’t see that it’s just the medium I’m using for now. They don’t get what writing means to me, that I write out of compulsion, that it may even be part of self-medicating myself through undiagnosed bipolar or… epilepsy… or narcissism… or that it gives me a sense of being connected to something much bigger than what’s out the front door…. they don’t understand that I’d never risk losing it to make some money or establish a business… that if needed I’ll go back to the factories for cash, when the kids are all in school, so I can keep the writing unpolluted, just for me. It’s my art… it’s that big a deal… but I can’t say any of that out loud, ever – to anyone outside my family – without sounding like a pretentious self-absorbed arse-clown.’
RM instructs me to roll over and starts kneading her palm into my upper back which is painful but – unlike that band of muscle running down my neck – has nowhere near the potential to reduce me to a single-celled orgasm of eeeeee agony.
‘You’ve got to keep it in perspective,’ RM says, in a tone that tells me she knows me, accepts me and loves me all at the same time. ‘Someone calls you a sell out for saving twelve dollars a month on a Netflix membership while there are others out there murdering thousands and… Gina Rhineheart’s ripping off the whole of Australia to the tune of billions… do you think she’s losing any sleep? You know you’re doing things for the right reasons. You don’t have to explain your ethics to anyone. And anyway, you got Netflix for the kids. We hardly ever watch it.’
‘Well, I’d like to watch it more,’ I say.
‘Well, stop writing stories,’ she says.
An undisclosed amount of time passes by where RM massages and probes me in a much more pleasant way and which may or may not have finished with a couple-focussed happy ending.
‘Okay,’ RM says. ‘I better go do some work.’
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘I better finish writing this story.’
When I lean over to RM for a kiss and receive a full body hug I squeeze her back and become aware of the absence of two things 1) Pain in my shoulder and 2) angst burning in my stomach.
‘Thanks,’ I say, kissing the top of her head and inhaling a refreshing burst of her Palmolive shampoo (unsponsored reference). ‘Sometimes I think it would be satisfying to write a story directly to those keyboard sucking, otter-brained, know-it-alls to say “Hey you, the person that called me a sell out… the person who called me a walking advertisement… the person who implied I was exploiting my children…hey um… fuck you… hey eat shit…” but maybe in a more subtle, understated way…’
‘You can’t do that though,’ she says, laughing, shaking my buttocks up and down like they’re a pair of maracas.
‘No, I can’t,’ I say, stepping back, rolling my arm over a few times and nodding to confirm her genius. ‘But I can save the last few words of this story as a kind of up yours… by saying I LOVE NETFLIX.’