The skies were a looming steel grey, thunderstorms threatening all around us. I expected New Mexico to be warm and dry, even sunny. Instead, I watched the mountain tops in hopes of catching the lightning as it struck down from the smothering cloud formations. The drive from Albuquerque to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, took over two hours. The weather changed on a dime. One minute the beams of sunlight cracking through the clouds like headlights on a desolate highway would turn into a spring shower, and then turn to a pelting down pour. At one point snow blanketed the terrain with white soft crystals.
My hotel was not quite what I had expected either. My efficiency was called The Turquoise Suite. That was an understatement. The color screamed at you. Its rustic appearance was charming, but not comforting or soothing. The floors were your basic tan concrete. The corrugated metal walls that were not flat a silver grey color were splashed with layers upon layers of the loudest turquoise.
The furniture was completely retro, as was the town. It was certainly a 50’s throwback. The curtains looked home made or bought from the second hand store, and didn’t cover one or both sides of the windows. There were two window units in the suite, I guess for heat or AC. It was basically two rooms and a bath.
The main attraction was the hot springs. There were 3 rectangular concrete tubs that were very deep and a bit larger than a normal bath tub, and another tub about twice their size. The hot springs filled the tubs with hot mineral water that was about 104 to 111 degrees. As hot as the water got was about as cold as the rooms that held them. Everything was cold concrete and corrugated metal. The towels were as rough as coarse sand paper and stiff enough to stand up on their own.
I asked the front desk clerk if she could set up a massage for me for the following day. She told me that she would try to get a hold of someone, and asked what time I was interested in. I asked if I could get something later in the day. She stared at me as though I were an alien, which gave me the feeling that this massage was not going to happen.
After a fairly decent night’s sleep, I went out for an exercise walk. It was sweatshirt-cool outside. To walk from one end of town to the other took thirty minutes or less. As I was coming back to my suite, I noticed a pink house advertising massage therapy. I then saw the hotel clerk walking back toward our hotel. I asked her if she had set up a massage for me; she said “No”. I told her to forget about it. She then pointed to the very house I was planning to investigate and suggested I check it out.
I walked up to the small, pink concrete house and tapped on the old glass and metal storm door. An older Hispanic woman invited me in. The front room, a waiting area, was dark and sparsely decorated. Directly in front of me was a glass counter, like one you might see in a jewelry store. On top was a picture frame of a massage license. In the case were certifications of the massage therapist. I asked the woman if I could get a massage today. She asked me what time, and I told her. “Wait one minute,” she said, holding up a finger to me. She exited through the closed door to my right and I heard her speak to a man. When she returned, she asked me if 1:00 PM would be okay. “Perfect,” I replied.
I went back to my suite, which was no more than 60 feet from the massage house. I got a change of clothes and went to the office building where the hot spring tubs were located. I soaked in one of the tubs, I showered, pulled back my hair, and walked over to my massage appointment.
I arrived 3 minutes late for my massage, a total no-no for me. A different Hispanic woman greeted me this time. I told her my name, and that I was there for my 1 o’clock appointment. She went in the back room, just behind the jewelry case and got the first woman I spoke with earlier that day. She led me into the room on the right, where she had disappeared that afternoon. It was a fair-sized room for a massage room, but was a bit on the small size with all the furniture that was in it. The massage table was in the center of the right side of the room. The woman walked around the far side of the table and began to straighten the towel on the lower quarter of the table, where I guessed my feet would go. She spread out a sheet that was so worn it was see-through. The sheet was paper thin, tissue paper thin. “Is that supposed to cover me?” I thought in horror.
“Take off your pants and shirt, but leave on you under wear.” She said, as though she had read my mind. She left the room and closed the door behind her. The door fit loosely in its jam, but it was closed. “Was it locked?” I thought. I felt so vulnerable. I whipped my clothes off quickly and hopped on to the table. I covered my body over with the sheet. I felt as though I could blow through it and never see it move from my breath.
I heard the woman tell the man that I was ready and heard him answer her. I could hear him breathing a labored breath. I listened to his shuffling around in the other room, heard his feet sliding along the floor as came closer. I felt my body tighten. “Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?” He finally made his way into the room where I awaited him.
I didn’t want to open my eyes, but when did, I saw an older Hispanic man come in the room. He walked in slowly with his head tilted down, perhaps looking at the floor to see where he was walking. The room was dimly lit and vague shadows of his body cast on the walls. He had a gentle voice and began speaking to me. He never made eye contact. He asked me questions about myself beginning with any health issues I may have, and my age. He then began to explain how he worked and why. He said he used a vibrating apparatus to get deeper into the muscles and that he practiced what is called Osteo-Symmetry. I was beginning to think that this massage was a bad idea; I did not like all the negative thoughts that were in my head. How could a vibrating tool get to where it needed to be, and how effective could it be anyway? Was he too old to work my muscles? Did he need this tool to do the job? I didn’t like what I was feeling and knew that I was setting myself up for total disappointment. I took a deep breath and I told myself to let go. I just had to allow myself to experience the treatment without judgments. I took another deep breath and opened my mind and my body to the experience.
He began to press his thumbs and fingers into my feet and legs. He told me how he used reflexology to read the needs of my body. He told me what he read in my body and what he needed to work on. I agreed with what he had told me. His touch was very connected, and the pressure was good enough. He used the vibrating tool on my feet and I had to resist the urge to pull away from the ticklishness. He used the tool on my legs, back and shoulders. It felt good as he directed the tool with his fingers. His fingers and the massage tool worked like instruments in a band, coming together to make beautiful music. My muscles softened like jello; my brain was like a boat on smooth seas.
Ramon was my therapist’s name. He asked me about my job, and again how old I was. I think my mother was channeling through him when he began to tell me how important it was for me to masticate my food properly. I liked him. He told me he started working on people when he was 13 years old, and that he got his license in 1980. I then asked him how old he was. (Well, after all, he asked me first. It only seemed fitting to ask him, especially after all these numbers he was throwing at me.) He told me he was 89 years old. I couldn’t believe it – eighty nine years old and still doing this kind of work. My God, what an amazing man. The woman outside who took care of me was his wife. I asked him his secret. He said the digestive system. He said it is 65% of our health and that it begins with the mouth. He repeated the importance of masticating our food properly. (I thought to myself, “Okay Mom, I got the message.”)
When he finished the massage, he helped me off the table, and asked me how I was feeling. I didn’t tell him how uncomfortable I was that he helped me off the table, or that he continued to stand there talking to me as I was wrapped in this see through sheet, in my skivvies. Even if he was looking down at the floor the whole while, it was quite awkward.
He continued to speak to me, not noticing how I clung to my practically invisible sheet. “At least I still had on my bra and panties,” I kept telling myself, “Try to act cool, pretend you are not so modest.”Before my appointment, I contemplated not wearing a bra under my sweats. After all, I was just going for a massage. I’m so grateful that I listened to my gut-instincts.
I asked what his fee was, and he told me that he charged $40.00 – forty dollars flat, no matter how long he worked on you. He worked on me for about 70 minutes. He said that was the fee that he felt most comfortable with. He never looked up at me, he turned and shuffled into the back room.
I got dressed and went back out in to the waiting room. I confirmed the price of the massage with his wife, and wrote him a check for $60.00. I spoke with his wife briefly about his certifications and told her that I would like to write about her husband in an article or perhaps a book. I took his cards and made sure I had all my facts right and asked if he would let me take a picture of him and one of the two of us. Ramon came from the back room behind the massage room. He shuffled out still looking down at the floor with a tiny tilt upward of his head. The couple seemed to get a kick out of my desire to take his picture and possibly write a story about the massage and him. Even the other woman came out from the back to be a part of the hoopla. He obliged me and told me another story from 1980 and how he ended up in the local newspaper, also having to do with him being a massage therapist.
I took a picture of him alone. He still never raised his head, not even for the photo. I stood next to him in front of the massage table and took a picture of the two of us together. I thanked them both for everything and told them that I hope to see them again one day. I turned to pick up his business cards off the jewelry case and gather my belongings to leave when I heard Ramon say, “Is she gone? Has she left?”
Ramon was blind. I thought perhaps that he may have been blind, but his massage gave no signs of it.
As I sit out here in the courtyard of my suite writing this story I realize that I got a whole lot more from Ramon than just a massage. I was touched by an amazing man, who has lived an amazing life. He not only shared his life with me, but he shared a much deeper part of himself, his gentle kind nature.
This massage was a blessing to me and I am grateful that I decided to release my prejudices, because he not only opened my mind, but he opened my heart as well.