I lift our new soft/hard sided, half-full suitcase from the floor onto the sofa.
“Oooooo, heavy,” says my two-year-old.
“Yes,” I reply, “very heavy.”
You may be unaware, dear Reader, we leave our beloved New York City in less than a fortnight. We’re off to join my husband on a two-month tour of the United States. When we return in December, we’ll leave the UWS apartment we only acquired eight months ago. We’ll then continue on the road, together, for an unbeknownst amount of time.
If you think this would cause me stress, you would be absolutely wrong. I would never internalize my anxiety and cause it to reveal itself in other ways. I’m stoic in all situations that involve the upheaval of my life.
What? I swear.
Once the suitcase is on the sofa, I reach down to pick up an escaped sock and find myself on the floor. After this surprisingly graceful tuck and roll, I feel the slight twinge in my lower back.
No, I whisper, no. Absolutely not.
I roll to my hands and knees for a cat/cow.
“There we go,” I purr to my lower back as if she’s a child who’s skinned her knee, “everything’s going to be fine.”
My son looks at me for an explanation.
“Don’t worry sweetie. Mama’s back got stuck for a second. This helps unstick it.”
I rise to stand.
“See?” I say.
Without warning the room darkens-stars swirl in front of my eyes. Oh. My. God. I’m going to pass out-or worse, lose my lunch. I’m back on the floor as a searing pain jabs itself into the left side of my lower back.
“Wow!” I laugh as my eyes widen and my speech grows louder to mask my pain, “Wow! Ok! Well! Mama’s back is out!”
I’m basically shouting like Will Ferrel now, “Ha! Wow! Ho! This is new! I’m not sure what to do!”
My husband’s in auditions. My son’s Godmother is…yes. I can call her-if I can get to my phone, I can call her.
I scooch along my back like an inverted caterpillar, fresh pains accompany each movement until the phone is in my hand.
“Hi. I think my back went out…
“I don’t know, it’s never happened before…
“He’s here, on the floor with me, uh-huh, I’m trying to stay upbeat!
“Nope, no. No one else is here. He’s at work. Yes, well, if I didn’t feel like I’d faint or vomit when I stand, I would just wait until he gets home…
“It does sound like a Tennessee Williams’ play, doesn’t it? Great. Ok, thanks. Thanks so much.”
“Yay,” I say to my son, “Godmama’s on her way!”
She comes and goes, the ibuprofen comes and goes, the day turns into night, night turns into morning-I am still unable to stand.
It’s time to call Dr. Cai.
Dr. Cai? you may wonder if you’re still reading this, Who is this Dr. Cai?
We know three different people, who do not know each other, who’ve seen the mythical acupuncturist, Dr. Cai, when their backs went out. Each of them claims to have walked out of his office as good as new. One woman said in a brusque New York accent, “You don’t mess around with acupuncture. That sh&%’s ancient.”
I thought Kramer from Seinfeld would see Dr. Cai, then try in various, determined ways to convince Jerry that Dr. Cai was the man he needed to see.
Dr. Cai can fit me in at 3:30. I take enough ibuprofen to numb a small pony and drag myself into a cab at three. I lie on my side in the back of the cab and laugh. Of course this is happening right now. Of course it is. How could I have presumed to leave New York City without the experience of Dr. Cai for myself? Silly me.
I crawl out of the cab, into the elevator and into an office that looks as I expected. Efficient, no frills, old school New York. The receptionist immediately sends me to the back room. I lower myself onto the sofa next to the treatment table and stare at the ceiling. This will be awesome. I can feel it.
Dr. Cai-the man, myth & legend himself-walks into the room. He doesn’t look at me, but simply says, “Your back.”
I was told he was a man of few words.
“Yes,” I wince.
“Easy,” he says, “my specialty.”
“I’ve heard,” I reply.
“Tongue,” he commands. I stick out my tongue for his perusal.
“Good color,” he says, “table.”
He motions me to the examining table, but the only motion I can accomplish without his help is to roll over and drop face first to the floor like a sack of potatoes. To prevent this, Dr. Cai moves the table to me, slides his arms under my waist and flips me onto the table like a pancake. I do my best not to burst into laughter, or tears, or vomit.
“Spine crooked,” he says.
He grabs my left wrist and pulls my hand behind my back. He guides my thumb down the length of my spine-it’s a straight line until mid thoracic when it abruptly veers completely to the right. This, dear Reader, shocks me. The urge to laugh is gone as I stifle a deep feeling of nausea.
Dr. Cai senses my shift in mood and repeats, “Easy.”
How could it be easy? My spine is crooked.
He quickly, quietly places ten slender needles into my back. I don’t feel any of them.
“Feel needle?” he asks.
“No,” I respond.
“That’s right,” he says, “lift head-look.”
I lift my head-I look. He stands next to me with an anatomy book. He shows me various renderings of the spine as it’s supposed to look, versus how mine looks. He shows me how the sciatic nerve runs all the way down my leg, so I’m lucky I only experience pain in my back. He’s kind and confident.
“Right now,” he says, “pain midtown. I fix before pain move downtown.”
Then a picture of he and Mike Tyson falls out of the book.
“Ah. Look. Mike Tyson. Same problem, crooked spine. I fix. Now, very good friend. He get me ticket to his broadway show. Very good. Sing, act, dance, box. Very talented. Spike Lee directs. He says to Mike Tyson, ‘you see Dr. Cai before you do show.'”
“Jerry! I’m telling you, you’ve got to go see Dr. Cai. He fixed Mike Tyson’s crooked spine, Jerry. Did you hear that? Mike Tyson, Jerry! Have you ever thought about the size of Mike Tyson’s spine? Think about it. Dr. Cai’s the man. Oh, he’s the man, alright. You don’t mess around with acupuncture, Jerry. That sh&%’s ancient.”
Dr. Cai abruptly turns to leave the room. Just before he shuts the door he pops his head back in and says, “Think of ocean.”
I don’t know how long I think of ocean before Dr. Cai comes back. He doesn’t speak. He takes out the needles, puts his hands on my back and rolls me out like bread dough. He doesn’t massage my back, he rocks it back and forth, then presses up and down on my lower spine with both hands-in the way you were taught to never do CPR. He grabs my left wrist again and traces my thumb down my back. My spine is perfectly straight.
PER. FECT. LY. STRAIGHT.
“See Jerry, what did I tell you?”
I walk out of Dr. Cai’s office good as new, just as I had been told. In the cab on the way home, I am informed my cabbie drove John Lennon to the Dakota the night he was killed. He insists in a way only a fervent New Yorker would, he was the last person to see John Lennon alive. Many cabbies may tell this same story, but I choose to believe him.
The next morning, back still open and perfect, I get on the subway and sit across from a woman heading home from Fashion Week or design school or a hazing process at Vogue.
She gets off at my stop and has to pick up that mannequin by her tushie to carry her off the train. Many people offer their help because that’s what New Yorkers do-they offer to help you carry your naked mannequin up the subway stairs.
After this string of events over the last twenty-four hours, I can’t help but think-
Thank you, New York. I’ll miss you too.