Bob the Healer wore work boots and jeans. In memory, I always place a hardhat on his head.
There were amethysts and rose quartzes and some kind of smoky swirly white stones on my cousin’s dining room table. I still have them somewhere in a jewelry box, amidst tarnished rings of my youth. There were cups of coffee. Packs of cigarettes—Seneca brand— that had been bought on the cheap at the reservation an hour away.
The plan was to heal me. Cory, my boyfriend of about six months, was there; two weeks before he’d peeled me, as I wore nothing but a towel, off the hardwood floors of my grad school apartment. “I’m dying. Just leave me here,” I’d said, and then threw up for hours.
A week later, after the MRI, when they told me it wasn’t a brain tumor, but MS, I told Cory between sips of a martini to leave me before I was in a wheelchair. My aunt brought me a casserole and a book on the power of positive thinking and told me that she knew someone who could help. Another aunt bought me a French press teapot and green tea leaves. Cory stayed.
So here was Bob, on a humid, cloudy day that would lead to a thunderstorm that we would think was the consequence of healing energy—the kind that would remove the lesions from the part of my brain that controlled my balance. Though in reality, the most that would happen to fix my brain already had: an intravenous infusion of steroids that turned the fizz of the lesion to plaque, a scar that would make me wobbly as a toddler at inopportune moments. But at that time, every bolt of lightning was a prayer. My mom tapped her cigarette in the ashtray and told me to stop giggling. Bob reminded me to uncross my legs so I wouldn’t impede the energy. The smoke from my mother’s, my aunt’s, and my cousin’s Senecas ambled into the air. Somewhere amidst the three of them was a rosary.
As I type this, I begin to list the things left unmitigated by Bob the healer: my fingertips have gone numb, as has half my arm, making the typing of this both clumsy and frustrating. The vision in my right eye has smeared over, filmy, like Vaseline, so I have taken advantage of wearing a pirate’s eye-patch. I’ve been squeezed around my ribcage by the “MS Hug” as though I were prey, precious and necessary for survival, and thought I was having an anxiety or heart attack. My weakened immune system would sprout shingles around my midsection, keeping me from wearing a bra, making me feel like a burn victim. I would have no scars, though. My hands would quake coffee cups, leaving drips around my house. The big toe on my right foot would go so numb that I would remove the entire nail with clippers to resolve an ingrown toenail. In fact, over the past ten years, the worst I’ve felt was numb.
I sat in a chair (Legs uncrossed! Arms loosely by my side!). My mother and aunt were concerned and scolding in the gentle way Italians scold.
“Mingya, Sarah, do what he says.”
“Shh. Quit your joking. And I mean it.”
“Do you want this to work, or no?”
It was, after all, very serious. Cory was the ultimate spectator. His wholesome face and placid expression gave off an air of safety to my family. His hair, curly and thick, was charming in a hearty, protective way. And as a good boyfriend, he was expected to agree with whatever my mother and aunt said. My cousin would nod, too—her house was littered with whatever you would find in the home of someone who practiced Reiki. Aura charts. Crystals. Massage tables. Spirits.
I couldn’t help but giggle. Bob was wearing a flannel and smelled of sweat and dirty clothes. I liked him. He was funny, I remember writing in a journal that I cannot, now, remember where I’ve put. He was matter-of-fact discussing the healing, as if he were talking about patching drywall or measuring wainscoting—measure twice, cut once!
“Take these,” he said, plunking an amethyst and a rose-colored stone into my palm. “You ought to wash them every couple days. Soap and water.” I nodded. Apparently, we all leak energy like rusty spigots. I liked holding the stones in my hands. I was sentimental, and talismans were more about memories than spirituality. “They’re for protection,” he added, to which I nodded again, more vigorously.
He started at the crown of my head and swept his hand, about two inches away from my body, along my side. Something had happened to him to give him healing powers, and he told us about it—maybe it was a lightning strike? I imagine it now: Bob on a farm, changing tractor oil. Or shingling a roof. I picture him as the rest of us, handling business as usual until the moment that demanded transformation. What was his moment? A broken marriage, maybe? An ill daughter? The loss of a friend? And then, suddenly, he was ordained by a bolt from above.
Thunder rumbled. “Do you feel anything? How do you feel?” my mother asked. I didn’t feel anything, except for some warmth radiating from Bob’s hand.
“It’s warm,” I said, trying. I tried to do lots of things at that time: to have others know I would be okay. To keep my eyes closed so I could keep my face straight. I did open them, though, to see the thinning hair at the crest of Bob’s head, his freckles and crepe-y skin near his eyelids. The sheer curtains billowed like in the music video of a slow song. Rain dropped like timpani. One would expect to hear cicadas. That day, it seemed impossible that I would be healed, but equally impossible that I would not.
The lightning made my mother jump. “Whoa,” she said. My cousin dragged from her cigarette and nodded like This is proof you will be healed. I think I remember, at one point, lying on the dining room table as though at my wake, with Bob’s hand hovering over my third eye, but who knows. I wouldn’t be able to write about this moment for over ten years, and the memory of it now feels obscured by the fact that I appear as able today as I did then, though at the time, the moment of diagnosis came to my family as a death sentence.
Bob washed his hands after he healed me. My aura was yellow, he said.
I would discover over time that others needed me to heal more than I did. My mother’s family normally emoted as though we were living our last day, with constant Watch the cars! as you looked both ways from the curb or I love you with all my heart! when hanging up the phone, so to them, by having an unpredictable disease, I was balancing on the centerline of a highway I’d never meant to walk down. I remember family saying Cory is a saint so many times after my diagnosis. Everyone became aglow and obsessed with holiness. After my diagnosis, it would not be a strange occurrence at family picnics for an aunt to stroke my hair and call me their angel before I downed a third glass of boxed wine and karaoked Eminem. My mother’s family doesn’t leak energy, they throw it on you in buckets. Their love is fierce. I was too young to think about canes or wheelchairs. I drank green tea, took high-test vitamin D, injected chemicals into any fatty surface of my body, and avoided hot showers, resenting it all. I did keep the stones in my pockets for months after, moving them from jeans to jeans each morning. The only time they were washed was when I forgot to remove them from my pockets before my pants hit the laundry machine.
On that day, we all hoped. It was dramatic and anticlimactic. We talked about the dinners we’d have that night. Sauce. Burgers on the grill. Bob sat at the table, his large hands wrapped around a mug of coffee. Cory looked at me, dying to debrief over beer or vodka-cranberry, finally able to laugh out loud.
At some point, no matter how many lesions I accumulated, no matter how many exacerbations came and went, I lowered my expectations of what the disease would do to me. Sometimes, though, when I’m trying to get Cory to take a walk with me, I say, “Who knows how many more walks I have left?” It’s been so long since the thunderstorm and the belief that energy and rosaries could take disease away. None of us mentioned the fact that I continued to have MS after the healing—not even my mother and my aunt, who finished a pack of cigarettes at the table that day. The pastel stones nearly wore holes in my jean pockets, but now I would say I didn’t expect them to do much else. It’s been so long since I carried them that—if I were to rub them between my hands on the couch at night—Cory would ask where they’d come from.