“In your throat, I saw this image of you in a little house,” Amy says, and I instantly feel surprise tears line up along my bottom eyelids. “It was like an Alice in Wonderland house, with a little arched doorway,” she says, “and you were all curled up in there, right up against the edges.”
This is my energy healing.
I am in Queens, in a long gray linty winter, cross-legged on Amy’s couch. Amy told me what she does a week ago, and I thought it might be fun to see what happens. Now, here, I try to swallow the inconvenient threat of tears and wonder what exactly the etiquette of an energy healing might be.
“There was this warm glow shining out, like lamplight,” she continues, “but it seemed like, even though you were pretty happy in there, you were stuck.” As Amy talks, I try to see the little house she’s describing. I imagine myself in there, waving at her peeking in at the gate. I feel it: my head is turned sideways under the peaked roof. The roof beams press on my shoulder blades, and the cabinet handles dig into the side of my calf. I can see out the window with just one of my giant eyes. My nose is smushed up against the top window ledge, and I shut my other eye so the curtain rod doesn’t poke it out. I feel a knot in the base of my throat, right where she’s gesturing.
“I’m not sure what that means exactly,” says Amy, about my tiny prison. “It might have to do with your voice.”
That’s my house she’s talking about, my voice house lodged in my throat, somewhere between my vocal chords and the esophagus, I guess. I haven’t studied the anatomy of the neck yet.
For a second, I forget the fact that I asked for this, that I wanted to try being skeptical of my skepticism, and wonder briefly if Amy could be faking it, even though I’m not sure what “it” is. In a breath, I decide to trust her, or trust her enough. It may be nonsense, but this nonsense makes sense.
I shake my head yes, thinking of the family stories whose slow reach for the surface I’ve arrested like bubbles in amber, lest they find their prickly way back to the people I love. I remember the serrated edge of my mother’s voice when she told me how my brother used to love writing stories when he was little, until he wrote a made-up story full of too many synonyms about our dad getting mad and got in trouble. Loud trouble. I wonder what stories my brother didn’t make up after that. I wonder what true stories I am allowed to tell. I’ve never been good at causing trouble.
Also, Amy tells me, I might be watching too much TV. She’s done a body scan, reached in with her extra senses to see what’s up in my earthly vessel. Apparently, there’s a very excited guy with a machine gun hanging out in my head. He’s not threatening, she quickly adds, don’t worry—just real revved up and beckoning me along for the adventure. This is reassuringly less woo-woo than I expected: basically, I have to cool it with the Law and Order reruns before bed. I wonder if this is what people mean when they say things change as you get older.
Watching Amy peer into my soul with her eyes closed, waiting, leaning forward on her couch as her two cats wander in from the other room, I’m reminded of sitting in the stiff seats at my childhood synagogue twice a year. I always wanted to feel magic in the air and in the music like my mom did. Instead, I’d just end up hungry and exhausted, like I’d chewed bubble gum past its flavor. I’m not hungry now, but I do have that same chewing gum feeling in my back teeth.
I picture my hobbit house, nestled in the space between my collarbones. Amy is right; it does feel cozy in there. It has walls the color of a flower pot, built-in seating by the little windows. Knitted blankets, or maybe crocheted, which I guess I would learn to make. There’s a little domed door and a thatched roof, or what I imagine a thatched roof looks like. I’d have a lantern hanging at the gate and herbs hanging in pots from the low kitchen ceiling. I’ve read that some herbs prefer sunshine, so I’d have to find a spot for those by the windows. I wonder if I’d get better at keeping plants alive, less prone to over-watering. I draw out extra rooms for myself: a nook of a bedroom, a sunny spare room facing the garden where I could lay out my yoga mat.
Then I half laugh because instead of trying to break down the walls of my cozy jail house with my outsize limbs, I’m making plans to move in. To shrink, then move in.
I’d have swept wooden planks for a floor. I decide, not for the first time in planning a future, that I’d always have time to sweep.
Back in Amy’s perfumed apartment, she’s ready to move ahead. This gets tricky, because it appears I don’t exactly believe in energy healing. Determining this part is Step Two. Amy sets me up on a massage table facing the ceiling and tells me to place the tips of my thumb and index finger together, try to keep them touching, then repeat after her: “I believe instant healing is possible.” I say it, making a face and hoping she’s focused enough on my hands to miss it. She pulls my fingers apart, and they open with no resistance at all. “That’s a no!” she says cheerfully. I’m a little embarrassed; I am, after all, lying on her operating table asking her to instant-heal me. But I’m not that surprised.
“Okay, try this,” she says. “I believe instant healing can work for me.”
I repeat. She pulls, but my fingers remain stuck.
Evidently, my firm conviction of my uniqueness transcends boundaries of science, faith and miracle: I hardly believe it can work at all, but it sure as hell is going to work on me.
There’s more of this, a lot more. It feels like it goes on for ages, though the only thing suggesting the passage of time is the number of times I have to get up to pee. She asks me about an encyclopedia of topics I’d usually only discuss with myself (ad nauseam) or with a therapist (if I’d ever get my act together and see a therapist). I don’t feel shy when I answer, even though my voice shakes every time.
Finally, what feels like hours later and might be, Amy asks me if I’d like her to replace all the negativity she’s uncovered with positivity and light instead. This still sounds kind of nuts to me, but my body, exhausted, wants to believe her. She’s also discovered a curse, she tells me, and she can get it lifted, but at each step she needs my verbal permission, my stated acquiescence to whatever forces she’s calling upon. I have to pee, again, as badly as if I’d just swallowed a thermos of bad decaf. I think about my little house in my throat, which probably has an outhouse with weathered plank walls in the back, with a bucket of cedar shavings and a composting toilet full of sawdust. I wonder how I pee if I’m stuck in that little house, all bent over.
My voice is still shaking with a force I can’t control when I answer, and I’m half expecting to see sparks fly from Amy’s fingers, but I don’t—just the end of a stick of incense smoking as it smolders.
“Yes,” I tell her. “Please.”
Many weeks later, in a corner of Brooklyn next to a clothing donation bin that has been set on fire (and, later, extinguished) and down the street from a tiny cafe with dense and expensive coffee, I enter another friend’s building. I am just as jittery and skeptical as I was at Amy’s front door, but less cold—it is spring now, and the sunshine has gained weight.
The light in Abby’s apartment is juicy and blurred at the edges, the sun sliding in obliquely through the open curtains. We walk single-file through her narrow hallway. Dust sparkles drift around the small studio, giving the day a veil of the fantastic, like we are on a break from real life. Well, at least I am: I’m here for my first singing lesson, something I can hardly admit with a straight face after years of hollering off-key but which sends tiny explosions of anticipation through my belly. I sit on a red velvet chair next to a big amplifier and set my glass of water on it before being quickly corrected. Clearly, I’ve never been this close to real music equipment before. The whole wall to my right is hung with guitars ranging in size and color, and I wonder if each one is really so different before thinking of my unreasonable pen stash (just as extravagant, though several hundred times cheaper and mostly procured at Staples).
While I fidget, Abby coaches me through a warm-up before we launch into singing oh’s and ah’s. I’m trying to follow her lead and am sure I’m screwing up. I am not good at being bad at things. It’s part of why I’m here: I’m thinking of this blow to my ego as salutary, like a bruising and astringent trip to the banya. After Abby reminds me that my self-deprecation is useless—by repeatedly not laughing at my jokes, which is useful, if sobering—I calm down and fix my gaze on a door hinge. I’m trying to let go of my need to please the teacher, and it’s hard. I feel like my voice is a roommate who’s been living in my house all along, and I’m embarrassed for not knowing her better. And also, if I’m honest, I’m scared. Getting louder is dangerous when you’re not sure what it is that might get heard.
I can feel the tension travel through my body as Abby guides me to drop my chin, unclench my fists, use my belly to push the sound out instead of my throat. I leap into each next note wondering where I’ll land, trying to plan where I’m going. Again and again, I leap and fall short, or overshoot. It’s like walking on ice: not one foothold. I laugh in frustration, which Abby gracefully ignores. I think of my little voice house, shaking with the effort of making things sound nice.
They do not sound nice. I sound like I’m swallowing seawater, and I want to cringe down to my toes.
Instead, I close my eyes, take a breath, take a sip of water. Almost put the glass back on the amplifier but remember in time and set it back in its sweaty circle on the sunny hardwood floor.
As I exhale, the stuffy air in the room settles and warms up my insides like melting Jell-o. The sweat dries between my shoulder blades, a piece of summer caught in the room already even though there’s a breeze still wandering outside. This room feels like a greenhouse, and I try hard to forget that I get claustrophobic in the heat. I think of summer, of still air full of vapor, of opening my pores to breathe with my whole skin, and decide: if this is a greenhouse, the very air must be friendly to small new buds doing the work of bursting slowly forth. I settle in the heft of my body, the nap of the velvet against my denim legs, the border my skin makes with the heavy air, and as the golden light catches the room like a snow globe, I imagine that my grasp on my insistent human form has been briefly released, and I’m free to enjoy the next hour as a plant, unwilted in the sun.
It is in this imagined haze that I start to sense whatever wind it is that stirs my breath while leaving the still air untroubled. I let the usual swarm of thoughts hover and dissipate somewhere behind my ears, steering with force around the familiar path inside my head. My voice crackles and shakes as my electricity turns to sound, the bold, imprecise tones landing where they may. I don’t know where I am, but it’s okay. I am not lost; just wandering. Note by messy note, each moment slows into a drop so rich and dense and golden that I know: I am experiencing a treasure, like a lucky spider who can crawl through liquid amber and remain itself.
These weekly hours in Abby’s greenhouse—which somehow does feel green, smell green, despite its city roots and shelves packed full with books and photo frames—feel like a lucid dream run together, a rare playground I get to explore untethered. It is not easy to endure another person’s gaze while singing badly, but it is possible. At every attempt, the warm golden room and Abby’s steady gaze leach some of the tense fear from my belly. Until, one day, I imagine the end of a cliff, imagine my whole body airborne, and land exactly where I mean to, without thinking but with a determined trust that solid ground will find me. My voice soars, loudly (the subtle points of vocal finesse still elude me), and this time I laugh in surprise.
With some hearing deeper than my ears can go, I know where I am, what’s coming next. Outside my lungs, my revelation might be useless. I have no idea what I really sound like. But I feel like I’ve just learned to balance upside-down: the same taut effort, just behind the breath as light as—wouldn’t you believe it—air.
I wonder, as the notes tumble out and pop like soap bubbles in the sunlight, how it’s possible that a sound passing through me can take up my whole body, can feel like dancing, or stretching—and then suddenly I feel an itch in my limbs, the limbs of that other body of mine that’s crouching, cramped in my throat, coiled. And my miniature self, without waiting even one second longer, with an effort no bigger than standing with a cat on a lap and the cat tumbling soft to the ground, with a yawn and a stretch my giant small self throws the roof from herself, steps outside of the house with its warm rounded corners, smooth floors, its arched doorway, emerges and lets the door swing shut behind her and raises her arms to the sky, elbows crackling, and stands to her full height and then some, uncursed. And I feel what she feels, the ache in her bones and the yawn of my joints decompressing, the pull of my muscles, the ache and the exhale, and the reach of my wingspan—the house that confined me so suddenly tiny—while I unfold my angles, and my heart funnels blood by the gallon, and I draw in a breath that’s the size of a canyon, and the house lies in splinters.
I leap. I open my eyes, and I sing and get huge.
OLGA KREIMER is a writer and editor currently based in the Bay Area. She is interested in almost everything, but especially in local food systems, women’s health, immigrant nostalgia, walkable history, and facilitating self-expression. She is a 2016 Fellow at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and New York University. @kreimero