One of my first clients at the dungeon was Arthur, a doctor from Seattle who always arrived in an elegant suit with a pink or purple shirt underneath, carrying his duffle bag stuffed to the brim with secrets. He gave off a sexual, slightly dangerous air even as his beard and hint of a paunch made him seem like a kind father figure. In the Venus room, he began pulling items from that bag and laying them out on the bondage bed, grinning over them like a mad scientist surveying his equipment. There were the toys I recognized, though most of Arthur’s had some twist to them: a paddle with studs that appeared capable of creating a permanent pattern in your flesh, a long flogger made of the same material as a Koosh ball. There were also more ordinary items: a pack of pencils, clothespins, rubber bands. And elegant-looking boxes that might have come from some jewelry store, although I was sure they didn’t hold rings or bracelets inside.
Arthur gripped my hair in one hand, my nipple in the other—I was still wearing my maid’s costume, he’d pulled my breast right out of it—and yanked my head up to face his. I tried to keep my eyes cast downward, my instinct, my default, but Arthur insisted:
“Look at me. You’ve got beautiful eyes. What I’m doing to you is not so important—it’s your reaction I want to see.”
That was the hard part. Not the pain, which I could have easily taken with no external reaction at all, but looking straight into the eyes of a dominant man. And Arthur was dominant, even if he smiled and laughed at the pain he inflicted.
I found out what the pencils were for: he laid them out on the floor and made me kneel on them, the wood pushing into my flesh, poking into the gaps of my fishnet stockings. I found out what the rubber bands were for: he slipped them around my wrists and snapped.
He gripped my nipples, hard, and twisted; I gritted my teeth and gasped. Then he picked up one of those mysterious boxes, baby blue, made of some expensive-looking material with gold lettering embossed on top. It could almost have come from Tiffany’s, but instead it made me think of Belle de Jour, the scene where one of Severine’s clients brings in a strange buzzing box. All the viewer learns about the contents is that whatever’s inside, it leaves her breathless on the bed, half-naked, half-destroyed—but smiling.
Arthur’s box didn’t buzz. He opened it and showed me the contents: four tiny, innocuous-looking metal balls. “These are extremely painful,” he said, still grinning, and met my eyes again. I tried my best to hold his gaze, but I couldn’t keep myself from looking down to the safer parts of him, to his beard with a few elegant sprinkles of gray, to the similar hair escaping his now partially unbuttoned shirt. “But I think you can take it.”
Maybe that comment should have spurred me to wrap some invisible armor around myself, to steel my outsides so that my insides wouldn’t be touched by the trial to come. But instead, I opened, softening all the tightness inside me, relinquishing all my defenses. That was how you welcomed pain.
He placed one ball on each side of my left nipple, and let go.
The little balls were magnets, and the force of their attraction caught my nipple in a vice. Their slight size was deceptive: a smaller surface created a more intense pinch. I would learn this lesson, as I spent more time at Medusa’s. Hairbrushes were crueler than paddles, floggers with thin strands more intense than thick. Concentration was the key to sadism. Reducing an entire body and mind to one point of pain.
I wanted the balls off me, of course I did, but at the same time, I didn’t. I believed that enduring this would, somehow, prove my worth. I stopped gritting my teeth—that would only make it worse—and I thought: Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. When Arthur asked if I was ready to add the balls to my opposite nipple, I nodded.
I breathed in, I breathed out. I was a body, experiencing pain, giving in to it, submitting to it, witnessed by a man to whom I’d given the power to decide. And all these things made me alive.