It was almost six when I finished for the day. I had three more clients after Tina, and each of them occupied my mind in different ways. Stewart—I called her by the last name stitched into her ACUs—was an Army medic who had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. She kept me busy talking about her next post, about how, with her job, she could be stationed almost anywhere in the world, so being posted to Hawaii was like hitting the jackpot. It was nice to see her so happy.
Some people love to move around in the military and Stewart was one of them. She was only a year older than me, but she'd already been deployed to Iraq—twice. And did she have stories. At twenty-one she'd had experiences most people couldn't dream of. But when those experiences turned into memories . . . well, they started playing through her mind on a constant loop. Never waning, never quiet, those memories became background noise that eventually took up residence in her head—tolerable, but always there. I knew all about it. My dad's brain was full of that clamor. With six tours between Iraq and Afghanistan, his background noise blared throughout our house. His house.
I thought about all of this while Stewart lay on my table. I was glad she could open up to me, that she could unburden herself by talking and releasing a bit of her background noise. I knew better than most that it's not just the physical aspect of massage that reduces stress, that helps a body come alive.
It was almost poetry the way Stewart talked about her life. I felt every word when she spoke. I thought about things I tried hard not to. She connected me to something and when she told me everything she had been through and everything she knew she opened me up to a different perspective.
For instance. Stewart talked a lot about how, in the United States, less than eight percent of living citizens have served in the military. That includes all the branches—every veteran who has ever served, even for one term. Out of over three hundred million people, less than eight percent. It was hard for me to realize that the way I grew up, moving from post to post, trying to make new friends, trying to adapt to strangers every few years, wasn't the reality for most people. For most Americans, anyway.
Less than eight percent? It seemed impossible to me, that small number. From my great grandfather to my dad, my uncles and cousins who were scattered across the country (except that loser uncle my brother was living with), everyone around me wore a uniform or lived with someone who did. The world had never felt so big until Stewart and her statistics.
She talked a lot during our sessions, like Tina. But unlike Tina, Stewart didn't expect me to share. I could hide behind her experiences, many of which forced me to bite back my tears. Maybe that's why her sessions went so fast.