As a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was to spend the night at my aunt’s house. At bedtime, her husband, Joie, would sit down on the end of the bed and tell me and my cousins the most unbelievable tall tales.
His favorite theme was oceanic exploration. He had a scuba diving certificate that looked like a driver’s license that he would show all of us. This served as evidence that no matter how crazy these stories were, they were true.
Treasure hunts, booby traps, pirates, underwater skeletons… nothing was off limits.
After I’d come back home, I’d be brimming with the excitement of repeating the whole expedition to my parents, who obviously knew Joie was full of shit.
This love of stories carried over into my adult life.
Recently, a date asked me: “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?”
It was like trying to conjure my very first memory. I’ve always loved telling stories about the people I meet (through research or in person) and how they interact with my life.
There’s a story that’s been on my heart to share for several months now, but I haven’t written it because I was never sure how to tell it in a way that would do it justice.
For those of you who know me though, you know I became mildly obsessed with a 74-year-old Vietnamese woman named Linda back in November.
This is a long story, so I’m going to have to break it up into the meeting, the story she told me and what happened to her.
So, without further adieu, here is the best story I’ve personally ever heard: The Story of Linda.
Quality time is my love language. After not seeing my ex for awhile, I kept bugging him to take me on a one-on-one date. Since he was tired of listening to me complain, he booked us a couple’s massage.
We took off on his scooter and drove up to Wilton Manors for our date.
When we walked into the spa, we were greeted with hot teas and very friendly customer service. I instantly perked up.
“Your masseuses will be out in a moment—do you want the girl or the guy?”
Normally, I’d go for the guy, but for some reason, I chose the girl. And this was the second time I’d been asked this question.
When the two masseuses walked out, my eyes laser-beamed into Linda’s. I don’t know if you believe soul mates are a thing, but I do. Linda was meant to be in my life.
Linda was probably five feet tall, weighed around 85 pounds and had black hair with hot pink frosted tips. She was a tiny, quirky person who I instantly loved. She had this sparkling look in her eyes that told me she had something important to say to me, but she was keeping quiet for now.
We shook hands with our designated massage therapists, they asked us to undress and said they’d come back into the room after we were done. Standard massage stuff.
What could go wrong?
I took off my clothes and laid on the table, waiting for Linda to return.
The massage started off pretty normal, but about 1.3 minutes in, Linda put her mouth inside my eardrum and said, “Pretty mouth. Pretty mouth and pretty eyes. You look like a moooooovie star. Mouth like a movie star.”
I’m here for anyone who loves to compliment me, so I bashfully laughed and thanked her.
About a minute later, I was greeted with a finger pressed to my nostril. This was a new move I’d never had in a massage before.
“SMELL,” she demanded.
I smelled her finger. It smelled like lavender.
“U smell that? Special oil. I rub you with this. TELL NO ONE.”
A secret between us… I liked the idea of that.
She asked me where I was hurting and I told her my back was aching because of the horrible bed I’d been sleeping on.
“Back hurts. No sleeping. I know why,” she winked at me, while motioning to my ex. “I know men. All they do is want, want, want. No sleep for you. Mooovie star mouth. I rub you with a special medication. Nothing but the best for you, pretty. TELL NO ONE.”
Wait, were they beating her or something?
She was adamant that I tell no one about this massage or what kind of oils she was using on me. But, whatever. I’m a ride or die kind of friend, so I vowed to TELL NO ONE.
Linda sat me up as straight as a board and began slathering me in something that smelled like eucalyptus.
“My doctor client gave this to me. Very expensive and cannot buy it at a store. They don’t know I have this, so we have to be quiet. Very quiet. They will charge more, but this is not why I do massages. I do them to heal. I’m a healer. They call me angel.”
She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You know… angel recognize angel. You are angel. I can tell inside your eyes. You are special.”
Linda, the prophet masseuse. I was so into it.
She proceeded to tell me about every person she’d ever healed and how much money she made in tips because she was THAT good. She told me all about her work ethic, her grandchildren, how she made a fortune selling a hotel, how she moved to the U.S. because she married an American solider during the Vietnam War, how her daughter’s husband worked in the Secret Service for George H.W. Bush, and how she was 74, but didn’t look a day over 50 (which was true).
I felt like she had a lot to tell me, but that one hour could never suffice.
After the massage, I knew I couldn’t just let Linda walk out of my life forever, so I gave her my business card and asked her to go to lunch with me. I explained I was a writer and I’d love to interview her and tell her story.
She glowed with excitement.
“Remember… angel recognize angel,” she said.
I wasn’t sure if I’d hear from her, but that night, my ex’s phone buzzed around 9:45 p.m. She had stolen his number from the spa’s client book, even though I had given her mine.
The message was about 19 paragraphs long and said how much she enjoyed our business and our next massage was free. He didn’t want to deal with her, so he gave her my phone number.
“U r angel. I am angel. We know this. I want to send U early Christmas present. In Vietnam no gifts, except one very special 1. This year it will be U.”
A few minutes later, she had sent me an Apple Cash payment for $500.
I didn’t accept it, but the next day, she was worried, because she sent it twice and asked me to send back one of the $500 payments. I explained to her that I never accepted it.
I appreciated the offer, though, so I left her a long, nice review and tagged her on it on Facebook. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever made someone happier in their entire life. She was ecstatic and overjoyed and offered to come to our Airbnb that day and massage both of us for however long we wanted at no cost.
We texted back and forth and made a plan for her to come over and chat. And low and behold, she showed up with her massage table, armed and ready to tell me her story about how she hustled her way through the Vietnam War, saved a young woman from poverty, came to the U.S., ran a night club in New York, became a millionaire, lived in Germany for eight years with a man who owned a bread factory and arrived back in the States to start over as a masseuse.
This is the story I’ll be telling the next time I post, because if I’ve ever met a legend, it was her.