My Mother’s Pain

Writings

Written by Cynthia Dewi Oka, and was originally published in Atlantic, The. Mar 26, 2021


In my Chinese Indonesian family, massage has been the sole consistent method to work through pain, to recover our sense of choice.

My massage training began when I was 4 years old. On Sundays after church, my father would lie belly-down, head hanging off the side of the bed, while my mother guided me, step by step, up and down his back. The first few times, her arm hovered beside me as a guardrail in case I slipped. Beneath the human skin are many valleys, mounds, crevasses, and knobs. Balance and concentration are required to read this landscape of aches. Because I was small, I needed to use my full body weight to apply pressure. When my father groaned from the pain, my mother instructed me to press down with the heel of my foot until I could feel the hard spot crack inside him.

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