“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” — Proverbs 27:6
The palms of my hands glide freely over their canvas of skin. From the hip, they move cranially, over rib and sinew and bellies of muscle until they wrap around the shoulder and return to me to start the trip again.
My friend lies on the table, arms hanging over each side. His right, however, he cradles closer to himself than his left. The tissues there feel tense, protective; their fibers tremble as my hands go over them. So I start gently, moving with particular attention, reminding them to trust me.
But all the while, my hands have another purpose: they are also searching. They take the arm inch by inch, inspecting known spaces as well as the spaces my friend’s own hands can’t reach by themselves.
And then they find it: at the top of the shoulder blade, in the very corner, something like a speck of sawdust has taken up residence. I touch it with the tip of my forefinger, pointing. Here it is. My friend agrees with a sharp intake of breath.
What put this intruder here? Only trauma — trauma sustained by the wounds of an outside force or trauma that my friend caused himself over time after using his arm in ways it was never meant to be used. Traces of both kinds no doubt contributed to this particular speck in unknown proportion, but my friend and I both know the most important thing with certainty: it doesn’t belong. I press on it, and hold.
“Breathe,” I say. He’d forgotten to.
But now, with a controlled effort, he exhales into the face rest and forces himself to draw another lungful, restfully raging in his own fight against the speck. Ten seconds pass, then ten more. And then at last, it dissolves. A ripple passes through the tissues around it and spreads down the arm as it lets go of its protective mechanisms. He sighs.
I flush those spaces out after that with kinder hands — something like an apology that always meets the reply, “no need.” My friend breathes freely. His arm hangs lower than before, restored for now to its truer function and range of motion. That may change in the future, of course, should the arm continue in its former schemes as all arms are prone to do. And the speck is sure to return quicker next time since the body has already allowed it room once. But no matter, in any case, I will invite him to my table again, and remind the tissue to trust me all over.