Friday, February 6, 2009

Paraffin Therapy


Sitting on a stool in the school infirmary, shoes off, I'd roll the right leg of my sweatpants up to the knee; I'd take up the tights on that leg, too, courtesy of a slit I always cut in the sole. I'd look down into the metal vat of hot liquid wax and plunge my foot in past the ankle, soak for 20 minutes or so. I'd do this several times a week, hoping that this "one size fits most" treatment would do the trick. (Soaking in paraffin wax was recommended frequently, for a variety of complaints that we just shrugged and called overuse, maybe tendinitis, not caring much what it really was, only needing to keep it at bay.) If the treatments did what I hoped, then maybe I'd have less discomfort to dance through, because that was what we all did with our aches, pains, and injuries: we danced through them, Ace-bandaged and ignored them—at least long enough to perfect the choreography in that day's class or rehearsal. The wax was clear-looking in the vat, and although hot, it didn't burn the skin; it was silky soft because of the paraffin oil, but not at all greasy. I would sit with a book and not read. I would look out the window, look at the clock, pull my foot up every so often and look at the wax shell growing in thickness around it. The gooey paraffin buildup made my foot look large, bloated, and shapeless. It was cozy and trapped the heat next to my skin. The warmth seeped through my pores, penetrated and soothed my uncooperative ankle. Whenever I lifted my foot, the air began immediately to cool the wax, and it would turn very white—the foot looked bloated and pale, like what I imagined the foot of a fat corpse would look like. When it was time to stop soaking, I'd take a wooden stick and loosen the wax, watch it fall back into the vat in a single, solid, soft piece. Were I now to soak in paraffin, it might be a hand or a rough-skinned foot, but only at the urging of a beautician in a spa (assuming I ever went to a spa), and only in preparation for one of the manicures or pedicures that I never have. I do, though, from time to time, push a finger into the soft wax of a recently extinguished candle and remember my former dancing life—a life also extinguished—and I remember, too, the comfort and desperate hope of ritual therapies, the healing properties of paraffin.

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