Last summer, I woke up one morning to find my right hand couldn't grab the doorknob to turn it open. The next thing I knew was that no matter how many times I shook it, it remained numb. Soon, on a hot June night, a furtive pain traveled from my right elbow to my palm, back and forth, through and through, like a fractious child jumping between hopscotch courts with his full body gravity, determined and ferocious.
I am a Chinese woman. Two things I am good at are self-diagnosing and self-preservation. I went to a Chinese massage place the next morning. The lady there told me it was "tennis elbow." Which seemed funny and unfair to me: I had never played tennis in my life. When I was eighteen and dreamed about my future self wearing a short white tennis skirt, running in a blue court, I signed up for a tennis class—and quit after the first session. My skinny right arm was not capable of holding a 9.4-ounce tennis racquet against a spinning ball. The lady at the massage place first used her arm, then her feet to dissolve the knots on my forearm. A day later, small black and blue bruises on my right arm left a message—there was pain; there was suffering. I consciously wore long sleeves to cover it up, afraid of being misunderstood as a domestic violence victim. But I would roll my sleeve up when I met my friends for coffee. It was show and tell: my pain needed to be noticeable to others as well.