I know our pre-session ritual by heart; he'll offer me a drink, I'll nestle my body into his arms, he'll clutch my torso and brush his lips against my neck and ears in anticipation of a deep kiss, while I'll return passion with stilted wit to break tension and pull a smile from him. But that last part we skipped over today.
I turned 27 a few days before: too old to play coy and pretend I'm lost in sexual haze, but too young to have entirely let go of fantasies of love and slavery. At this moment, I am single, free to offer my intimacy to whomever I choose, and it's this imitation of love I offer to Josh.
A hand on my chest, flickering fingers at my nipple, and I feel the pull in my stomach as a rush of testosterone grapples with the yawing sadness that has sat there since day zero. Even with friends, the opening bars of a session would still leave me nervous, but today I am too exhausted from grief, too hungry for comfort, too enraptured by the suspension of belief and bodies to do anything but hold steady in the embrace, and whisper my submission into reality. I feel Josh's hand on my face, turning it towards his, his dark eyes fixated on mine. As our lips meet, mouth agape, tongues dancing, I wish so hard for him to take the wheel.
It happened in the early hours of Boxing Day. My father had found her on the sofa after sunrise prayer, thinking she was only asleep. He'd pulled me out of bed in grief-stricken horror, wailing incoherently, at total loss of how to respond. 999. CPR. Paramedics. Calling my sister. Calling my best friend. Aunts and Imams and cousins and food and me smashing up objects in the bathroom in incandescent rage.
I don't want to tell this story anymore.
Thirty days of reverence follow the death of a loved one in the community, so my father pulled himself further into prayer, pushing for more than the requisite five times a day, prostrating towards the Holy City. I turned instead towards submission before men, to the promise of rope and chain for serenity.
Josh had asked me if this is what I really wanted. At first I'd tagged a note in my profile description of suffering "the worst possible loss", that I'd be "taking a break to work things through", like I'd be fighting off attention in the abstinent space between Christmas and New Years' Day. But the endless parade of nondescript relations that filed through our home, each with their own story claiming how they were her real confidante, that she was their best friend, only for them to disappear from our lives as quickly as they had shown up, made it easier to answer Josh's question with an emphatic yes.
I stand in the playroom, my clothes in a mass around my feet, the overcast light flittering through the blinds. Through each passionate kiss, Josh's hands explore my body before firmly gripping my wrists behind my back, affirming his control with inch after beautiful inch of welcome rope. I close my eyes to an oncoming blindfold of stout leather, repeating to myself silently a simple mantra that has punctuated my submission before him: What he takes with one hand, he gives with the other. For the senses he deprives, others he will heighten. Feeling the last kiss give way to a rubber ball secured within my open mouth, I start to let go.
I spent the first few days holding everything in. I wanted to colIapse, to scream incoherently through the streets in unencumbered grief. I wanted to hurt myself, to let things fall apart, at one point shoving clothes and papers into a backpack in an immediately-aborted attempt to run away from everything I knew. But instead, I would meekly greet well-wishers, glass-eyed and numb to questions, living through each day on muted autopilot. "You've got to stay strong", said one uncle.
In the imposed darkness and silence, I submit to each cinch Josh tightens around my arms, legs, and torso, my quivering muscles tested through each new contortion as I start to lose sense of my own space and orientation. For the briefest of moments, I panic, only for hushed instructions and the network of bondage to hold me in place at the cost of pain. I cannot escape, but I remind myself that while in his hands, I cannot fall either.
I am safe.
With nothing to say, and nothing to see, the past, present, and future merge into indecipherable time, and it will be only with the violent lash of a flogger, or the tender eagerness of probing fingers, will I be brought halfway back to stark reality, dazzled by sensations of pain, pleasure, and the promise of final release.
I had no other promises. There were moments where I would scroll to her contact in my phone, press call, and wait. I would sift through text messages in a desperate attempt to find some final words, reading between the lines to parse out comforting thoughts buried under inoffensive grocery requests or daytime TV references. Losing someone so immediately, so completely, without any notion of what their final wishes, thoughts, or dreams were instantly transforms mundane into divine: The receipts from the last round of shopping she ever did. The excess bread dough from the Christmas dinner. The hastily filmed video on an iPad. We shared a small packet of spiced nuts together while watching a yuletide-themed panel show. And then I went to sleep.
One day, my Dad had caught me crying. I'd been sitting on my bed, face in hands, releasing only the tortured words "I want to go with her…". He wept and held me: "You can't, please, who will be left for me?"
Pain. My arms outstretched. My back alight with the sting of paddle and palm. Again, and again, my anguish silenced through excessive tape, the negative space between each hit leaving me trembling in horror and ravenous anticipation. Even when balanced with questing fingers and tongues, it's the pain that I focus on, and it's the pain that forces my eyes to water once more. The tears that fall here are nothing like those brought on before home, morgue, or mosque. I came here to cry tears from sweet violence, and I growl insatiably through the gag for Josh to hurt me again. And again. And again.
I couldn't scream at the funeral. Even as I sat in the front seat of a hearse carrying my mother on the near-silent journey from the mosque to the cemetery, the lone interval between crowds of distant men that had liltingly offered their prayers, I could only watch streets littered with childhood memories pass by, both mine and hers, my lips moving to whisper the lyrics from her favourite songs. I was almost smiling, as if the sheer weight of holding everything in had somehow quashed grief into delusional peace.
Josh isn't holding back. I'd told him not to on account of guilt or compassion. He knows I crave the use, the broad dehumanisation, the reduction of organs to orifices, internally chanting the refrain of "do as you please" as he pours forth a torrent of verbal humiliation. And I want it even more. I want Josh to prove that I don't have to be fully human today. I do not need to make sense of the pain within and beyond the playroom. In the symphony of moans between us, I feel him bring himself and I to the edge, launching the simultaneous pain and joy to a crescendo, tantalisingly close to the climax.
With the burial complete, I left behind the crowds, the sombre men in suits, the bureaucratic mess of securing death certificates in a holiday season, the myriad of wailing faces I would soon forget beyond hers, and arrived home. In silence, I walked to the lounge, gently knelt, and pressed my hands into the carpet, as if searching for the impressions that had been left from where my Dad had found her days before. I took a moment to inhale deeply, holding it in for no more than a second, before finally allowing the pace of my breathing to match my quickening pulse, for my chest to convulse in heaves of dry sorrow, until seemingly from the most primal of places in my wrenched body, I screamed.
Screams of horror. Screams of pain. And now screams of ecstasy. I am allowed to forget. I am allowed to be alive. I am alive.
I am brought back from the sky, each tightened knot delicately loosened until my body is returned to me. Lowered to the ground, I am cradled by gentle arms, with blood and oxygen returning to hitherto cinched extremities, alongside senses of a world beyond our room. My fingers are held between outstretched palms through reassuring kisses. She is not coming back. But I am still here.
Josh holds me for a few minutes, and I return home.
I sit in the shower. I cry.
And I pray again.
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