25 min read
The trip to the police department at 850 Bryant Avenue from Juan’s apartment at 1347 South Van Ness Avenue takes about twenty seven minutes. With a few dollars and some change you can ride the bus all the way along Cesar Chavez, jumping on the Number 27 bus from Van Ness and 26th St. to Bryant and 7th St. and walk the half block to the right towards the stairs of the monolithic, gray building. The concrete cube can immediately be seen from the bus, looming tall and colorless on the corner of the street where the bus stops and lets its passengers out at Bryant and 7th St. It is devoid of individuality, a perfect government establishment that seems more likely the product of an architect from post-war, communist Poland than the contrasting old buildings that favor forest greens or pale pinks, or even the newer, start-up tech-culture styled storefronts that favor shiny chrome and steel with open windows, and bold yellows, oranges and reds. The building is an almost perfect rectangle, no artwork or graffiti, no balconies or stairwells. It is a fortress of sorts, keeping criminals in or criminals out, and hosting the armed and badged police affiliates within. From the outside, you would not be able to guess where a holding cell or temporary jail could be; there is no form to indicate function beyond the obvious. This is a structure meant to be taken seriously, grimly. Devoid of frills, the symmetrical rows of small windows seem almost an afterthought, as if someone had said, half-way through construction, “They might need some natural light.” A humane gesture, one that didn’t diminish the fact that even cages have openings, neat and falsely impenetrable.
Juan had dressed himself in grays and blues. He wore black jeans with a muted blue t-shirt the color of the sea before a storm, a gray jacket and black leather boots. On his right wrist was a bulky red bangle and a yellow beaded bracelet. On his left wrist was a red beaded rosary that wrapped around a wooden bracelet with pictures of the Virgin Maria on them, like little picture-frames. Juan drew on some light, black eyeliner and brushed on some mascara. He slicked some gel into his heavy black curls. His hair was only a little more than an inch long, but his curls caused his hair to lay heavy and curved in pronounced waves, even with the gel. He wrapped a black shemagh scarf around his neck, tucking his keys into his leather shoulder bag, and stepped outside.
It had begun to to sprinkle outside. The light misting of rain hit his cheeks and threatened to make his eyeliner bleed, so he pulled sunglasses out of his bag and pulled up the hood of his jacket as he waited for the bus. He could wait for Number 12 or Number 27, but the latter rolled up sooner. He climbed up, paid with his Clipper transit card, and sat down across from an elderly El Salvadorean woman. There were lots of Latin Americans in the Mission district and surrounding neighborhoods. There were never a lack of places to get a pupusa or burrito. Some people only spoke their native language; there were health centers and other outreach programs that catered to this population, and getting a job as a bilingual Spanish speaker was easier than if you only spoke English.
Juan had been raised by his grandmother, a devout Catholic from Cuba. She had made him go to Catholic mass every week, sometimes twice. His father had disappeared when he was four years old and his mother always needed to work two jobs to get them by. So, his grandmother -his father’s mother- had lived with him and his mother, and it was from her that he got his faith. He knew that his family would never accept his lifestyle, however. He knew the church condemned his sexuality, and so he left when he was seventeen.
First, he moved to Portland, Oregon. Then, he spent some time in Los Angeles with a lover. After he realized that he had been cheated on repeatedly, he knew that his emotions were being toyed with and left. He got a job at a restaurant in San Francisco, lived in a shared apartment that was far too expensive, and settled in, drinking alone at night. After time, he made friends and eventually got a good job working at the fertility clinic. He moved out of the cramped apartment and into 1345 South Van Ness. It was the nicest place he could have afforded on his own, and though sometimes it attracted questionable people during the night -homeless and drug addicts- he had found somewhere he could call home.
He began to find out what kind of person he was, and realized that his time in Los Angeles was merely an experiment in playing the role other’s wanted him to play, pretending to be the type of gay man that they wanted him to be, the type of boyfriend he thought they found attractive. It took getting his heart broken to force him to leave, and it took him being alone to figure out who he was.
Late one night after work, Lisa had invited him to go out for drinks. They’d spent hours at the the Kava Lounge, drinking non-alcoholic coffee cocktails. He hadn’t expected to be drinking coffee when she said she’d wanted to buy him a drink, but it was refreshing to get to know someone without being tipsy. He felt strangely comfortable, even though alcohol, that inhibition-killer, was absent. They took a cab home to her place and had whiskey night caps. It wasn’t long before they became best friends. She was the wing-woman to his outings at clubs and bars. She rarely dated, and never seemed very interested. A year and a few months after meeting her, she had a birthday. She was quiet as she blew out her single candle on a cupcake Juan had brought her.
“What did you wish for?” he asked, sensing a tension in the air that hadn’t been there before.
Her eyes were gazing at where the flame had been, smoke making serpentine-spirals upward. Her face was placid as a lake at winter, and there was a sadness in her features making her look elegant and tired. She looked up at Juan slowly, regarding him. She was trying to find an answer in his face, or maybe it was the permission to give him the truth that nestled in her heart.
“Lisa..?” Juan put his hand gently on her shoulder. She bit her lip, and took a breath.
“I wished…” she paused, her breathing seemed more labored, heavy. “I wished for a child.”
Juan was stunned. He’d never seen her with anyone serious, and he had already asked her if she was a lesbian. That would’ve been easier to understand than what she’d confided in him, that she simply wasn’t attracted to anyone. She had some dalliances with a boy here or there, sometimes an androgynous woman. Nothing lasted and nothing mattered. She enjoyed her job, she enjoyed playing matchmaker for Juan, but she wasn’t interested in her own love-life. How was she going to have a child unless she adopted?
“I can’t adopt. It has to be mine.” She’d said, after many drinks and a lot of questions from Juan.
“But Lisa, where are you going to get the money to pay for that?” They both knew how expensive it was to get IVF, In Vitro Fertilization, and even adoption was difficult. There weren’t a lot of adoption agencies that would look favorably on a single mother who earned a middle-class wage. The easiest way, the cheapest way, was to just get knocked up via an old-fashioned one-night stand.
“I don’t want the father to be part of his life. At least, not officially. I don’t want anyone else having a claim on my child, and I can’t risk someone I don’t know making a deal with me and changing their mind last minute.” Her jaw was set firmly, her lips a thin line of certainty. “My child will not be dragged into a courtroom custody-battle… all because someone decided they want a claim on the outcome of the donation of their sperm.” She had thought a lot about this.
“But don’t you want help raising the baby, I mean a father-” A sharp look from Lisa shut him up. He realized the idiocy of what he said. He hadn’t had a father raising him. It was only the deep seated desire to have known his father that made him say that. He had had two mothers, and neither of them had the education or the job that Lisa had. She had graduated from nursing school and helped at the clinic tremendously.
“I have a good job, a place of my own, and savings.” She said, very business-like. She looked at him, her eyes suddenly showing nervousness that had never been there before. Her cheeks turned red. “I just need… the extra ingredients to make it happen. Maybe… from a friend.”
It took Juan a full sixty seconds to process what she meant. As soon as he did, his face turned red and his stomach tightened up. Oh my God, he thought, I can’t believe she’s asking me this! I’m gay!
“No. No, no, no way. Wow.” He pulled on his jacket and turned away. “You can’t ask me that. I am gay, Lisa. Fag. I like dick. You aren’t seriously…” He stormed out, slammed the door behind him, and as he reached the street, he muttered under his breath, “Fucking...puta!” but the words were without anger. They were sad. Mournful.
They didn’t talk for three days. That’s the longest they could go without seeing each other, however. They had to show up to the same shift eventually. At work things were tense. Lisa was quiet and withdrawn. It only took a day for Juan to start to feel guilty. After work, he stopped her and quietly said,
He told her that he didn’t want to lose her as a friend, that he was scared she had developed feelings for him, and he didn’t want to lose what they had. She laughed and said,
“No, Juan. I love you. I accept and love who you are and the way you are.” She sighed, tired. “I would never change that.”
“Then… why would you ask something so impossible from me? Why would you risk our friendship?” He had genuine fear and concern in his voice.
“I don’t want to.” She took his hand in hers. “But… you’re the only one I trust.”
Her fingers were small and dainty. She suddenly seemed fragile, and Juan noticed, for the first time, the difference in their size. He was taller than her, stronger, and could’ve lifted her if he’d wanted to. He had a fleeting moment, strange and alien, where he distinctly noticed the feminine in her and the masculine in himself. He was often the more gentle of his male partners. A strange heat rose in his chest, and he felt protective of her. He understood her longing, and thought of all the times she had been the best of friends to him, given him time and love and loyalty and sacrifice. He pulled her into a hug, and whispered into her ear.
“If we’re going to do this…I’m going to need a drink.” He heard her exhale and tension leave her body. “A lot of drinks. And you’re buying.”
She laughed and squeezed him. “Thank you! Thank you. Thank you.”
“And let’s be honest… I’m probably going to need some kind of dick around, also.” He laughed, but was semi-serious. “If you want this to work, you want this” he gestured toward his genitals in no uncertain way “to work, it’s gotta be a lot more gay.” Then he put his hand around her shoulders, and decided this would simply be another strange adventure.
Lisa and Juan both worked out a date to attempt conception. Being employees at a fertility clinic had the added benefit of Lisa knowing exactly when the highest chance of successful conception would be. Lisa marked it on a piece of paper and handed it to Juan during his shift. Juan knew it would be difficult to get in the mood, so he’d invited a bisexual lover to join them. After many drinks, they all headed to Lisa’s place and made love. It was the strangest sensation… as if he were moving outside of his body, watching a film on the bigscreen, immersed but not involved.
When it was over, Lisa was asleep in the bed. Juan had made love a few times to his male friend, Daniel, and then while sipping a night-cap, laid in bed next to Lisa, almost tenderly. The humid steam of sex and sweat hung in the air, warm and heavy as a blanket, and Juan felt that, despite his best efforts something had changed. He just hoped it was the status of Lisa’s fertility, not their friendship. He wrapped Lisa in a summer sheet, tucked her hair behind her ear, and left a cool glass of water by her bed. He and Daniel, the lover he’d invited, kissed goodnight at the doorway after Juan walked him out.
He could have left. He could have gone with him, but he had the strange feeling that he should stay, that he should watch over Lisa. In any case, he couldn’t sleep. His thoughts filled with fantasies of being a father, being someone he had wanted for himself growing up, and he imagined the possible life forming in her womb.
When one month passed and nothing happened, Lisa didn’t talk about it. She simply said, “It didn’t work.” but didn’t dare ask again for the ‘help’ Juan had given her. Juan was relieved, but at the same time a little saddened. This was better for him… but not for her. Something inside her had quieted, as if a light in a lonely room had suddenly dimmed and gone out.
The bus halted with a screech that caused Juan to stagger. He’d been standing, holding on to the safety rail above him. His height made it more difficult to balance after being thrown forward so abruptly. He looked up. He’d arrived at Bryant and 7th, just a few yards from the edge of the ominous building that housed a cold room for interrogation. In his reverie, he’d almost missed it. His mind was almost wholly on Lisa.
Lisa… He thought, moaning internally. Why did you have to die? His heart was tight, his footsteps heavy as he climbed the steps to the entrance of 850 Bryant St. He checked in at the front desk, and they called up to room #525, “Investigations”, was promptly told by a gruff fifty year old woman with stubble to “Wait over there” by the bolted-together steel chairs and an ancient water fountain.
Detective Belgrove and a young man with blonde hair and blue eyes whose nametag read Cook came down to collect him. They asked him to empty his pockets of any metal or weapons, and then was sent through a metal detector and searched. Juan thought they might cuff him, was glad that they didn’t. They simply sent him ahead of them, up the elevator to the 3rd floor and brought through an office, past several other officers at work, criminals or suspects cuffs chained to metal benches, and a cacophony of cursing and ringing phones. Juan could smell booze and vomit, as he was ushered forward away from the drunks, coffee and cigarettes as he almost ran into another officer. Finally, a door was opened for him, he was seated in a cool, steel chair. The door clicked shut. Silence.
Detective Belgrove sat opposite his suspect, eyeing him with a hawk’s fascination. He had a small file in front of him containing details from the night of the murder, pictures of Lisa’s body. He opened it, checked the date of the murder -November 10th, called in at approximately 4:52am- made a face of severe concern, looked up at Juan and closed the file, pushing it to his left.
Belgrove made a thin-lipped grin, faked but sincere enough to try and put his suspect at ease. He pushed the record button on the tape recorder in front of him.
“Juan Jesus Martinez, age 34, you live at 1345 South Van Ness. Is that correct?” Belgrove was opening with the facts. When someone listened the tape later, it was standard to know who was being interviewed.
“Yes, that’s correct.” answered Juan, feeling tense.
“Mr. Martinez, how long have you lived at apartment 1345?”
“About three years.”
“Where did you live before?”
“I lived in the Tenderloin with a few other people. It was a shared flat.” Juan made a face of displeasure. The Tenderloin’s human traffic included many drug addicts and homeless. During the night you could often hear the serenade of violent yelling and hysteria from outside a balcony window.
“Ah, yes. That’s always an interesting neighborhood.” Belgrove chuckled. “My first apartment was in the Tenderloin. I didn’t sleep a single night without earplugs and music playing. It used to be much worse than it is today, if you can believe it.” Juan settled in his seat. “Anywhere else?” Belgrove was giving him open ended questions. He just wanted to get him to talk himself into an unsuspecting calm, then he’d grill him on the murder.
“I used to live in Phoenix, Arizona as a kid. I lived with my mom. But I left when I was seventeen. Went to Portland for a while, then Los Angeles, and now I’m here.” Juan decided it was best to be straightforward, but he didn’t need to include his grandmother. He was born here, didn’t have a criminal record, he didn’t have to worry, he thought. His grandmother? Well, she taught him at a young age to avoid getting into trouble with the law. She had no citizenship to speak of, although she’d been there for over forty years, brought over by a son who later abandoned his family.
“How about your father?” Belgrove asked.
“Left us when I was young. Don’t remember him.” Juan said, stiffly.
“What a shame. My dad wasn’t around much, either.” Belgrove frowned, his demeaner serious and sympathizing. “My mother, though, she was a saint. I bet your mom was one strong woman to raise you on her own.”
“Yes, she is.” Juan didn’t agree with his mother, but she had always worked hard and protected him.
“No, just me.”
“I see. And what about work?” Belgrove continued, casually. “I’m sure you’ve had a lot of jobs since you were seventeen.” It was just Juan and Belgrove in the room. Juan and Belgrove, and his young partner, Cook, listening from behind the two-way glass wall.
“A few. I was in the service industry for a while, before I took night-classes at school and got the job I have now.”
“And what are you doing now?”
“I work at a fertility clinic.”
“Oh really? Tell me about it.” Belgrove feigned interest. “My wife and I have been considering that.”
Juan felt surprise at the sudden personal comment from the detective, but a part of his brain that fell back on the comfort of a familiar role made him start to tell Belgrove about the services that the fertility clinic offered, the types of people they helped.
“I don’t do the actual medical services,” Juan added. He’d had no training for that and he didn’t want to get the detective suspicious that he was operating without a license. “I just help with the tests and assist the new mothers-to-be with our counseling and consulting options.”
“How long have you worked there?”
“Almost five years.”
“And how did you know the deceased?” The question was abrupt, and nearly threw Juan off course. He’d gotten comfortable talking about something he considered to be his professional life, something almost unemotional compared to what was going on in his personal life. His face changed, and Belgrove saw it. Belgrove’s eyes narrowed a fraction, and he took a mental note of Juan’s behavior.
“I, uh, I met her at work.” Juan felt hurt somehow, as if they were having a civil discussion over a cup of tea, and then someone came and flipped the drinks over and broke them. He knew the getting-to-know-you portion of this interview was over.
“How long ago?”
“It’s… it’s been about-” Juan bit his lip, thinking. It felt like forever since he’d met her. She had been such a huge part of his life. “-two years. I think.”
“We saw pictures of you both all over your apartment.” Belgrove crossed his hands. “It seems you both were close. A lot closer than work-acquaintances.”
“Yes. Everyone knows that. We were friends. She was like, an amazing person.” Juan felt defensive.
“How well would you say you knew the victim?” Belgrove started writing notes on a paper pad. Juan glanced over, nervous. He didn’t want to get into how intimately they knew each other.
“Lisa. Here name’s Lisa.” He stuck out his chin, a little defiantly. Lisa was a person, not just some ‘victim’ to add to their crimes list. “Very well. We were best friends, or almost like best friends. We were nearly inseparable.”
“And so you knew where she lived?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And she knew where you lived?”
“Would she normally come over to your residence in the middle of the night?”
“No, but if she felt like she needed a place to crash,” Juan stopped and pursed his lips, narrowing his eyes in return to the detectives questioning, “of course she could come and knock on my door.”
“Well, she was found close to your apartment. What was she doing there that night?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t know she was coming over.”
“She was pregnant, walking in an alley at night. You seriously are asking us to believe that she didn’t tell you she was coming by?” Belgrove had a tone of sarcasm in his voice. “Come on now. It’s the age of cellphones. Technology. She would’ve told you she was nearby.”
“I don’t know! She didn’t tell me.” Juan was getting upset. He had thought this over and over again. He’d lost sleep wondering why, Why hadn’t she just called me? He thought. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened to her if…
“I don’t know why she was there that late. She shouldn’t have been walking around at night like that, not in her condition.”
“Condition? You mean pregnant?” Belgrove’s eyes raised.
“She was in the first trimester. You can lose the baby easiest during that time.” Juan looked at Belgrove’s expressionless face, and mentally cursed him. He didn’t get it. “If you are going to have a miscarriage, it’s going to be within the first three months, the first trimester.”
Just then, the blonde-haired and blue eyed officer, Cook, came in. Juan barely recognized him as the younger cop he’d spoken to the night of the murder. Cook leaned over to Belgrove, whispered something to him, and left. Belgrove gave a curt glance to Juan, grabbed the file on the table and gruffly said,
“I’ll be back. Wait here.” He paused, an aggressiveness in his posture that wasn’t there before. “Try and see if you can remember anything more before I return.” Then he left out the door, leaving Juan alone in the cold room.
Juan sat in the room, feeling deafened by the quiet. It seemed as if the room was getting smaller, colder the longer he stayed in it. He hadn’t brought his watch, and they’d confiscated his telephone before he entered the room. He began tapping his fingers on the table, drumming out patterns to songs that played somewhere in the back of his subconscious mind. His seat became uncomfortable, and he began to wish to get up and move around. He stood, paced, sat back down again. There was a temptation to test the doorknob, just to see if it would open. Why would it be open, Juan? Damn. They’re not gonna just tell criminals to stay here and wait and expect them to do it.
Then a thought occurred to him, one that chilled him to the bone. Do they… think I’m the criminal? Juan, again pacing the floor, stopped dead in his tracks and sat down. He felt his palms sweat, his body get cold. Oh god, no. Virgin Mary protect me. I can’t go to jail, no no no they have the wrong guy. How could they think that? Lisa…She was my friend. She was. ...wasn’t she?
It must have been more than twenty minutes that he’d been left alone to worry, to make assumptions about what the detective was doing. He got angry, frustrated, and finally, he got afraid.
And he couldn’t shake the thought he’d had since they’d found her that night, dead, defiled, her body destroyed. If she was really my friend, why didn’t she come to me?
Then another thought occurred to him. What if she was? What if she was running from something and running towards me, for safety?
A fresh wave of despair washed over him. Time, he knew, didn’t favor anyone. Every drag queen knew that. They joked about age, and they saw the younger, “newer” version of themselves come and go. He was still young, but he valued the company -and wisdom- of older queens. But the lessons they taught were also those of sacrifice, of knowing that you might lose your dearest friend because they were careless, or careful, because they loved the wrong person. You might show your love and die by hate. You simply never knew… and so everything was honored and sacred, at least it was to them. And that’s what he learned from them, to live that way, with that in mind.
He had never expected it to be Lisa. Somehow, he thought he would have been the one to die young. He had never expected Time to take a few moments from him that would keep him from seeing her in the alley, keep him from helping her, or at least saying goodbye to her during her final breaths.
She died alone, horrifically, in the dark and in pain.
The door swung open without warning. Juan wanted to yell out, “I know my rights! I didn’t do anything. Why did you keep me in here so long!”
Instead, he kept his mouth shut and sat down. The caution his abuela taught him as a child came rushing back. He swallowed and met Belgrove’s gaze.
Belgrove’s eyes looked darker than before, his demeanor more imposing. The familiarity and ease that he’d had before had vanished. He threw down a file, larger than before, on the table.
“Mr. Martinez, we have reason to believe you a possible suspect in the murder of Lisa Falealili.”
20 min read
In Asgard, a long time ago, there was a pup named Fenrir. One of the three children of Loki, he was feared from the very day he was born. The other two children were sent away to locations that Odin and other gods deemed safe, but they believed the wolf pup would be the most dangerous of all, for there were prophecies that foretold he would be part of Ragnarok, the downfall of Asgard, and that he would swallow Odin whole. So they kept him close so they could keep an eye on him, in Odin’s stronghold in Asgard.
Though he started out very small, Fenrir was already feared and only one god, Tyr, was brave enough to feed the beast. The wolf pup grew quickly, and so did his appetite. Soon, he was as large as the room they put him in, and was cramped against the walls. They moved him to a larger hall, and kept watch over him. Many of the gods were concerned about how to contain him, and made fetters, shackles that closed around his legs, to bind him. Fenrir did not know how to distrust them yet, and they didn’t want him to be suspicious, so they made putting the fetters on a game. They told him it was a challenge to break the fetters, and he gleefully agreed to try each collar on and break it, proving his strength. Each fetter, heavier and larger than the last, was broken by Fenrir and he enjoyed proving his strength. Finally, the gods decided to ask the dwarves to create a fetter that would not break. They made it out of impossible things: the breath of a fish, the sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the sinews of a bear, the spittle of a bird) and called it Gleipnir. The dwarves presented it to the gods to put on Fenrir.
The gods thanked the dwarves, and decided to take Fenrir to a far off island called Lyngvi. Fenrir was suspicious of the fetter. It was lighter, smaller than the rest; it moved like a serpent and was a light as silk. He could not see how breaking these fetters would prove his strength or be an impressive feat. He said, “I will only put this on if one of you takes a vow of good faith that this is not a trick.” None of the gods would take the vow, so Tyr came forward and pledged that he would release Fenrir if Fenrir could not break the bonds. Fenrir, who’d been fed by Tyr his whole life and raised by him, sniffed at the fetter, still wary. “Put your hand inside my mouth; if your vow of good faith proves false, then you will lose your hand you hold your sword with.” Thinking that his threat was enough to convince Tyr not to lie, Fenrir opened his giant maw, and as Tyr placed his hand in Fenrir’s mouth, the fetters were placed around his legs.
Fenrir tried to free himself as he had before, and failed. He flexed the muscles of his neck, and nothing budged. He kicked his legs and writhed. He pulled against the fetters, struggled and raged and… nothing. Lighter, smaller, the fetters made of impossibilities had trapped the impossibly strong wolf.
Hurt, betrayal, fear, and finally rage filled Fenrir’s eyes. He gazed directly into Tyr’s face as he snapped shut his jaws upon Tyr’s arm, tearing the flesh and cracking the bone at the wrist. Blood dripped from his mouth and he snarled so deep the earth shook. It did not matter though; he was trapped. Chains of the same strength had been tied to the fetters, and he was sent to the farthest away part of the universe, on a dark planet, all alone. To keep him from shutting his mouth and biting anyone else, they threw a sword between his jaws, piercing deep into the top of his mouth. He howled with anger, chained to the planet in darkness, until a red foam began to spill from his mouth and became a river of blood and agony.
But this isn’t the story of his despair. This is a story of love. In places forgotten, in stories from long ago, there are forgotten players that are hidden in time. Tyr was not the only one to know this beast; there was another, a kinder soul who saw not a monster, but an animal torn from its mother, cursed by the infamy of its father, placed in a beautiful prison, left alone. We often hear of the gods who fought wars, who died valiantly, or who caused trouble. These are not our only heroes. For Fenrir, the only one who mattered, was Soley.
Soley was a light elf from Alfheim. She had been part of a diplomatic peace trade, and served as a sort of ambassador servant, and had to leave all that she knew behind. She had been tasked with being a servant of the goddess Freya. However, Freya saw in her magical potential, and took an interest in her. When serving her goddess, she learned from her magic. Not very much, but enough to be troublesome if she’d wanted. Freya was fond of her, and as the goddess of fertility, sex and lust, taught her many things about the ways of seduction and lovemaking. She had looked into Soley’s eyes and decided that she could see Soley’s future. Then and there, Freya took so much of a liking to Soley that she taught her secrets that only someone who ruled over the fallen warriors of the battlefield would know, like how to heal those close to death, and how to commune with the dead.
No one ruled over Freya, but Soley was not so lucky. She was not of Asgard, and so her invitation to stay could be rescinded. When she was caught whispering incantations to herself, she was given a choice; leave Freya’s side and serve elsewhere, or be thrown out of Asgard. She chose the latter, and became a servant in the palace, hidden away from Freya’s affections.
While Tyr was brave enough to feed the beast Fenrir, he was not so interested in caring for the pup. There had been attempts to have servants clean up after Fenrir and keep an eye on him, but so far, all had been too fearful, or too stupid. Some had made unfortunate mistakes and been injured by the snapping of Fenrir’s teeth.
Soley was in a position to be punished, and being a quiet servant in the halls that Fenrir roamed was her punishment.
He was still young when he met her, but so very, very large. He smelled her as soon as her footsteps lightly padded outside of the door. As she entered, her scent filled his nostrils and he crouched low, near the far end of the great hall that was his home, waiting.
With a creak, the door opened. A guard shoved Soley inside, and quickly shut the door behind her. No one wanted to be inside the hall with this enormous wolf.
Soley stood near the door, her hands clasped. She was barefoot, and wearing nothing more than a simple silk dress colored sage green that softly contrasted against her golden skin. Her dark hair had small, white flowers braided into it and fell just below her breasts.
Soley peered into the darkness. She could smell the scent of Fenrir, as well. His musk was heavy in the room. It mixed with the scent of old blood and excrement from the animals he’d been fed by Tyr. As she looked at the floor, she noticed the filth that none had attended to, and saw that the entire hall was generally unkempt.
Fenrir waited in the shadows across the hall, his large body still lay low against the ground. He had an idea. She could not know whether or not he was awake, so he decided to pretend to be asleep, and see what she did. If he did not like her, perhaps he would surprise her and attack her.
Soley crept across the hall, stepping around bones and debris. The great wolf was in the far corner of the hall, still and quiet. Her heart sped up. She’d never met such a large beast. She crept closer until she, too, was in the darkness and could see him more clearly.
Fenrir waited, his muscles tense. Her smell was overwhelming, she was so close. He could snap her in half, if he’d wanted to. He wanted her to know that he could; a good scare should teach her this. His eyes were closed so he didn’t see that she had reached out her hand…
Soley came close to Fenrir. She was told he was a beast, but all she saw was a sleeping beauty. His muscles were strong, his head large and heavy, his coat needed brushing but was fine and thick. She reached out her hand and placed it on his flank and began to softly, so softly, stroke his fur.
Fenrir was completely alarmed. His muscles relaxed, but his mind was more alert than ever. Something strange was happening. He felt… what was this feeling? Whatever it was, he waited more. He opened his eyes and lifted his head to look at her.
“Hello.” Soley spoke softly, and directed her gaze right into his eyes. She didn’t stop caressing his fur.
“Hullo.” Fenrir said, his voice rough and deep.
Soley began to remove her hand from his back, and Fenrir made a sound of disappointment very similar to the huffing of a dog.
“Oh, you like that, do you?” Soley smiled. “Lay on your side, and let me come close to you.” Fenrir, still shocked at his response to her, did as he was told.
Her fingers pulled through his fur, untangling some of the fur that had been matted, and then traveled down to his belly. She massaged his muscles and scratched the hard-to-reach places. Fenrir’s eyes began to close and Soley saw his lips pull back in a relaxed grin.
Soley looked at this gigantic beast, laid out on its side, acting like nothing more than a pup wanting love, and then she suddenly saw herself, small and fragile besides him. He could rip her apart if he wanted. When she was sent here to clean up the great hall that he lived in, she knew deep down that this punishment could be a fatal one. She mourned being separated from her goddess, Freya. She looked back at Fenrir, and something stirred within her. She saw this great beast who so yearned for her touch, a touch of kindness and care, and she knew that he was lonesome here. Her heart felt for him.
Soley walked around to face him and sat on her haunches. Fenrir’s large eyes opened, lazily, and he rolled over onto his belly and looked at her directly. His gaze was steady and had the calm confidence of an animal that can kill you, but somehow she saw the playful youth in his eyes, as well. Fenrir had a little bit of trickery and mischief in him. Soley smiled and had an idea. She decided she would tell him stories about tricksters. You see, she was one of the very few who walked these halls that had been beyond Asgard and heard of old trickster stories from those she had met who’d traveled to Midgard. There were stories of coyotes, bears, foxes, and even of human women and men. Fenrir’s ears pricked up, and they would twitch at a particularly exciting part of the story. Soley did this until the sun set and there was a shuffling of feet at the door.
A few guards opened the doors, tentatively. They didn’t expect her to still be there; they had a bet that she’d have run away or been eaten. So, they were surprised when she walked towards them calm, unharmed.
Soley went back, day after day, to do her job. She was to clean and care for the great hall. It had been neglected and become filthy since no others would go near Fenrir. When she was done with tidying up, she would sit down and stroke Fenrir’s head and neck, and tell him stories that she’d heard from different worlds. Fenrir would become so anxious to spend time with her that he actually became a neater eater. Instead of dragging his kill all over the hall, spreading its blood and vitriols on the floor, he picked a place where he would eat and leave the rest of the hall more-or-less clean.
Soley and Fenrir spent more and more time together, and Fenrir’s heart became light, and Soley began to forget her despair in losing her goddess. Then, one day, Soley and Fenrir had been playing a game of hide and seek. Soley knew that Fenrir had an advantage and she’d stolen a large sack of flour mixed with pepper and tied it to Fenrir’s muzzle. Anytime he’d try and take a big whiff and look for her with his nose, he’d sneeze instead. She tied a long scarf around his eyes so he couldn’t look for her with his eyes, either. The only thing he could do was listen for her. She would step so very quietly, that mostly she felt this was a nearly-fair game. This day, as he searched for her, she had hidden close to the smells of blood and carnage from his meals. He got closer, and closer, and closer. She could have stayed still or covered herself in blood so he wouldn’t be able to even try to sniff her (sometimes he could catch her scent even through the flour and pepper). She decided to run.
Fenrir heard her footsteps, heavier and quicker now, and pounced after her. His great head shook off the sack of flour and the scarf around his eyes fell as he landed, two large feet on either side of her body. She stumbled and fell to the floor. Fenrir’s great, big muzzle was just a breath away from her face. His tongue lolled out and his teeth showed in a grin. Soley felt vulnerable, her skin heating up from the hot breath of his panting. She couldn’t help herself from feelings the primal reaction that triggered her need to fight or flee, and her heart raced so much in her chest that the beat of it was like a steady, rapid drum. She felt compelled to reach a hand out and stroke his muzzle, soothe the snarl from his face, and calm them both. Fenrir’s body changed as his muscles stiffened at her touch. He could smell her, too, that the very scent of her sweat had changed. He lowered his muzzle, slowly, until his nose was against her chest. Her hands moved up his muzzle slowly, stroking his fur and reaching the places he had trouble reaching himself. She grabbed his ears and massaged his temples. He breathed her scent in and his whole body tensed. Normally, her touch would relax him and make him want to sleep. Now, Fenrir simply felt that his senses were heightened, that every part of his body was tingling and electric.
Soley felt like every time she touched him, wherever she touched him, that warmth moved from his body into her hands. She felt her heart warm and she realized that it was love that was tingling through her. She began to kiss his nose, and then his cheeks, and then his ears and neck. She reached below his belly and then around his back, wanting to give this love to all the parts of him that she knew, with certainty, had never been loved.
Fenrir began to pant and shiver. Unlike Soley, he had never felt any kind of compassion, and Soley had been the only one to show him any affection for as long as he could remember. This feeling was new to him; he didn’t know that he had fallen into such a deep state of love for her. Nor did he realize his love had turned to lust.
Soley remembered all the magic that Freya had taught her. She’d been taught to please giants and giantesses at Freya’s side, and often been a lover of Freya, herself. “It is not necessary to have the right parts,” Freya said to her, “but it is necessary to have the right attitude.” To be playful, loving, creative, sensual; these were Freya’s gifts to her.
Ah, but she had one more, and it was a spell not given to many. Freya truly did love Soley, and since it was often said that Freya could see the future, Soley realized why Freya might have taught her a magic spell so very different than any other -and one that was never truly used with Freya, herself. It was a spell that turned her into any animal she touched, as long as she had a connection with that animal. The connection had to be genuine; it could not be faked. More importantly, it was a very limited spell, because once she chose that animal, she could not take on the form of any other animal except her original body without causing great harm to herself.
Soley felt the lust and tension in Fenrir. She knew that all this time had not been false or wasted; there was love there and there was friendship. Fenrir had come into his age and Soley was the only one he had ever truly trusted.
“Fenrir…” Soley whispered, feeling shy and nervous. Fenrir’s eyes focused on her, even though they were full of heat and fire, and amongst it, a fluttering fear. “Do you trust me?”
Fenrir nuzzled her and gave her a wet kiss; her chest and face, small as it was compared to him, became wet with his saliva. “You are Soley. You are my light in the dark.” His voice was steady, although there was a strained and haggard quality to it now.
“I want to give you something. Something you’ve never had.” Soley reached forward and touched his face, lovingly, and looked into his eyes. “Please trust me, and don’t be alarmed.” Fenrir looked at her quizzically, but stayed still and listened to her. Soley step back and began to whisper the incantation she had learned, one so very old and secret that she had sworn never to teach it to anyone. She dearly hoped it worked.
It was not as scary as she thought it would be, changing into a wolf like this. It hurt a little, but she’d endured worse pain. She could hear better, see in the dark better, and suddenly the world changed from forms and colors to smells. So many smells! The strangest thing, she realized, was she saw the world from higher ground.
“I’m bigger than I was!” She exclaimed, in shock. She looked at Fenrir now, who was wide-eyed and completely bewildered.
“Soley??” Fenrir knew of magic, but not of this kind. He certainly didn’t expect it from Soley. “Why do you look…”
“Why do I look like a wolf?” Soley grinned and began to pad over to him. Her new body felt natural to her, and she moved with ease. She silently praised Freya for magic that was so elegant. “So I can do this!” Soley pounced on his back and bit him gently on the shoulder. Fenrir’s immediate reaction was to flip her off him and pin her down, which he did with ease. After all, he knew his body well and for much longer than she’d had hers. She began to lick his face and neck. Fenrir realized the kisses made him feel strange. Then Soley wriggled free and nuzzled his belly, nipping and licking him all over. Fenrir’s eyes closed, and his jaw fell open. Then he felt her beneath him, and something so primal and very natural to him occured right then and there…
Soley and Fenrir played with this new experience, sometimes Soley in her normal form, sometimes as a wolf, sometimes somewhere inbetween. She heeded Freya’s advice and was very creative. After, they would lay curled up together, feeling the swelling of their hearts as they both were full of love.
Sadly, as history has shown, this bright Summer of love and light they enjoyed did not last. The Winter of their love was not of their doing, but of the fearful gods of Asgard. The gods had begun to devise plans to chain and bind Fenrir. Now a full grown wolf with love and pride swelling in his chest, he did not suspect their mal intentions. Soley occupied his mind, his time and his heart. While there were a few that questioned how this simple, fragile woman would be able to survive the fearsome wolf, none were brave enough to find out the answers; they remained curious, and Soley’s love for Fenrir was so preposterous an assumption that it was never considered.
Fenrir was fettered and chained, and dragged away never to return until the Ragnarok, when the moon would be swallowed, and the sun devoured, and all light left the world and the end came for all the gods who had imprisoned him. He would die there, never to meet Soley again.
No, he would suffer endlessly, betrayed and alone, his blood pouring from his mouth only because he defied the silence with his howls. In his cries, muffled and unheard, he called for her. She, the only one who could have bound him without steel, iron, or impossible chain for the rest of his days.
“You are Soley. You are my light in the darkness.”
But on that isolated planet far away, the darkness persisted.
11 min read
The woman took the lash of the wolf.
“Don’t go out into the woods”, they said. They were afraid for her. They were afraid of the woods, of what was different and dark. They heard the howling on the wind, they couldn’t tell if it was demons raging from the forest, cries of the unsettled dead, or the wild moans of creatures; they said it was the wolf, and that the wolf was always bad.
She had been born in the village, on a night as dark as this one. The moon did not hang high in the sky, casting its light over the town and casting long shadows. She had been born at the end of a very long labor, at night, on an unlucky day. Friday, Freya’s day, the 13th, the forbidden number. When she was taken from her mother’s womb, she was already screaming, her fist raised and her hands bloody.
Her mother raised her to be good, protecting her from everything that might harm her. But still, to her mother’s chagrin, she did not want to play with the dolls, she did not care for the things of little girls; she ran after frogs, sought out the dead things, played with the bones. She would get so filthy in the dirt that her mother stripped her of her clothes, and let her play naked as a child.
She was grown now.
There was no place and time for games like this.
And the people were afraid. They said the wolves would eat her. “Don’t go out, don’t go out!”
She had first heard the wolves howling when she was very, very young. She knew that she had heard them before, but this night, with the window open to let in the full moon, she heard them… calling out to each other. It was the first time she realized that their sound was her sound, their voice was calling to her. But she was not of their kind, and yet her heart sang with a fire so consuming that her blood ran hot and her skin burned with a desire to join them. She stripped down to nothing, and sat in the pool of moonlight, and sang herself to sleep.
“Why do you fear the wolves?” she asked.
“They kill our livestock!” one said.
“They eat young babes!” said another.
“They have teeth that can crush your bones!” another snarled. “They are animals, and they have no kind of soul at all, girl.”
When she heard these things… she began to hide inside herself. Though she couldn’t understand why, she knew then that she had to keep her moonlit baths secret, that her singing could never be too much like a howl, and that they must never see how well she slipped into shadows.
AAwwwooooo!!! The wolves were crying. She felt a pang in her heart, her stomach tightened, and she doubled over in pain.
“What’s the matter?” asked her mother, suspicious, but not really wanting to know the answer. She had eyes that wouldn’t see. If she couldn’t see her daughter’s pain, she couldn’t speak her daughter’s secret to the town.
“Nothing, mother, nothing. Just a pain.”
“Then go to bed and sleep. Rest up, and you’ll feel better.” And so the daughter went to bed.
In her sleep, she dreamt.
She was running through the darkness. The sky was black and endless, the stars glimmering above. Cold air filled her lungs and she stretched out, and the grasses and fields around her fell away as she picked up speed. She looked down and saw not human feet, but paws. She stopped, in shock. And with that jarring moment, she saw her hands and body were human once again.
The edge of the forest was in front of her, a wall of trees that made some strange and mystic barrier between her world and the unknown. She glanced behind, at the town, and only a few fires were burning; only a few candles in the houses; people were sleeping.
She turned to face the forest when, suddenly, a giant wolf leaped upon her!
The daughter woke abruptly, her heart pounding. The image of the wide open mouth of a wolf was seared into her mind.
“The wolf…” She whispered, and felt the howl, like a breeze, blow through her very soul.
She still felt like she was dreaming when she crawled out of her window. She barely felt the earth beneath her feet as she began to creep within the shadows, then to jog, and then to run. She ran towards the forest, closer.. Closer… closer and then, suddenly, she was within the trees.
It felt different here. Less like danger, and more like protection. She could hide amongst the trees, slip between them unnoticed, watch from afar.
AwwwooooOooOoo! The howl was pained.
She knew now where it was coming from and headed in that direction. Then she saw it, a lump of haggard, fur and muscles, wrapped in a metal trap. It’s eyes watched her with anger, and fear, and desperation. She smelled the blood before she reached him.
“My life is in your hands. My pack can’t find me. They are afraid of the traps.” The wolf said to her. He spoke in a language she did not know that she could understand. “Please, don’t kill me. Please, free me.”
She reached for his fur, spiky with blood, and his lips pulled back into a pained growl, teeth flashing.
She remembered what the villagers said: “The wolf will eat you! They are cruel! Monsters! They have no soul.” And for a moment, she felt afraid.
“You will eat me… if I let you go.” It was a statement. It was a question.
“It is true, I could kill you. You would be a delicious snack for me and my children. You have seen the strength of my jaw, the sharpness of my fangs.”
“So you will eat me?” she asked.
“That is not the right question. If I tell you no, you won’t believe me. If I tell you yes, you’ll leave me to die.” said the wolf. Pain wracked his body. “You speak our language. You have to decide what to do on your own.”
The girl contemplated what to do. Her mind raced, and her thoughts made her dizzy. Then, realizing her hand was still on his bloody chest, she felt his heart beating. Looking into his eyes, she said, “I’m going to free you, wolf.” As she pulled the metal trap off his body, the trap tore at her hands and made her bleed, but she ignored the pain and freed him. She staunched the blood with the earth and leaves, tending to his wounds, and ripped her dress to shreds to tie his bandages.
Throughout the night she tended to him. She could hear the stream, though she had never gone there, and brought him water. She found a rabbit in another trap, and brought him food. And as the light came up from the mountains and night turned into day, the wolf was better, and stood on all four paws.
They walked together in silence, padding through the forest and listening to the sounds of the this new world waking up. The wolf did not look so scary, nor did the forest.
As they walked, she did not realize where he was taking her. A hut had been hidden deep in the woods. She had never heard of anyone living here before, and yet here was a home, as familiar as those she had grown up around.
“Why am I here, wolf?” she asked, confused.
“I have brought you here so you might live in the forest.”
“I must go home, I’m sure the village is worried about me.” She did not want to go back, but a sense of duty pulled at her.
“I am sorry... but you can never return. Not the same, anyway.” The wolf looked sad. “I have indeed killed you.” The girl did not understand; she felt alive, better than before. “When you helped me, you pulled the trap away from me, but cut open your skin in the process. My blood is in you now, mingling with yours.”
“I … I don’t understand.” She stammered, suddenly afraid.
“Please, come inside. Let me show you.” The wolf led her to the door, but waited for her to open it. He needed her to choose to enter on her own.
Inside the hut it was warm, and looked like someone had been living here recently.
She turned to face the wolf, but instead saw a man standing where the wolf had stood. Taller than she, he covered himself in a robe nearby before stepping towards her. She saw his skin, covered with scars from the forest, claws and bites. His dark hair fell across his face, but his deep, brown eyes were those same eyes she had seen in the wolf.
They were gentle, and kind as he said, “The you that you knew is dead. My blood has killed her.” He stepped to take her hand, and bowed his head to kiss it in gratitude. “But you have saved my life, and I will not abandon you when you change for the first time.”
“Change?” she said, nervous, and exhilerated.
“You will be like me, and run under the moonlight, if you choose. You will transform into a wolf.”
The girl was stunned. Torn between horror and excitement, she knew that the life the had tried to make for so long in the village was soon ending, but that the mask she had been wearing would no longer need to be worn. She was going to be given the chance to sing, to howl, to be free.
But her old life was going to die… and this saddened her. The villagers and the town had been her home, and though they lived in fear and shelter, there were still those she loved and cared for. She needed to return to them, even if it was not forever.
“Wolf… I cannot just leave my home.” She placed her hand upon his cheek, felt the warmth of his skin. He looked at her with eyes that held no secrets, no reservations, no judgement. As human as he looked, he still had the steady gaze of the wolf. “I must go back.”
“Then I will give you a lash from my eye, so that you can see as I do, and be able to make your decisions clearly with this newfound sight.” He plucked a lash from his eye and held it out to her to take. “And I will wait for you to come to me, and I will howl every night until you do.”
She gazed at him, a new understanding developing. Should she believe him? Should she leave now and never return? Was this all a dream?
The woman looked into his eyes, held out her hand, and took the lash of the wolf.
3 min read
Bodies: They all tell a story. I can see it as you walk in. Maybe your shoulders are a little rounded, your back rigid, your gait stiff. When you breathe, I notice your chest lift. You lean on your knuckles today because twenty years ago you fell hard on your wrists when on a fishing boat. You find Down-Dog difficult; your shoulders have already been carrying your children and the weight of their needs for so long. You can't look me in the eye because you're nervous, and -for the same reason- neither can you close them. Visions of your work week, school day, past trauma or past excitement often flash before your eyes.
Yet you return. You learn to breathe deep, to stand tall and root your feet to the Earth. You've done something incredible, one long breath after another, and you've grown inside yourself.
Even so, I see you comparing, competing, and judging yourself for not being 'better'. Yes, I know the feeling. Sometimes I think I should be perfect, and show a perfect example. But what is perfect? So often we have been misled to believe that perfect is untarnished, pristine, and even the creams we put on our skin are meant to help us return to that 'freshly packaged' look, like a newborn.
What if we reexamine that definition. As a kid, I read fairytales of Kings and Queens. Pampered and protected, their feet never touched ground, their skin never blemished, they never broke a sweat. Naive, and gullible, this seemed like a life of luxury. As an adult, I can't imagine a life more boring! The scars I've accrued are well-earned and give me character. Aching muscles are lessons to learn about balancing work with self-care. Broken bones heal stronger, and long-term injuries teach us to be gentle. Each of these 'imperfections' you carry with you into class has a story. You may judge and compare yourself to that guy doing the splits, or that girl serene in Padmasana, but imagine life without your mistakes, your adventures. Sure, you might've gotten hurt in some of these stories, but here you are again, learning to breathe, to heal, and ultimately to love yourself. Next time you step into class, don't look around; look in, and find those stories, love those stories, and you'll never need to compare to another person's body again.
27 min read
[Transcription from an interview with two anonymous members of the BDSM community]
E: (We’re) all into love. People call it falling because there’s a loss of control, it just happens, right? In a BDSM relationship, you -anytime you hit a trigger, anytime you hit anything, you try and discuss all you can beforehand.
E: So you’re intention going in is much different. You’re intention going in is one of a collaborative experience.
E: Not of a taking, not of a giving. It’s a power exchange but it’s a collaborative experience for a best possible outcome for both people. Not everybody in the scene is that way,
E: -but the healthy people are.
C: Well the more experienced people are, too.
The BDSM community is one that has rarely been spoken of in any depth, and it can be considered a marginalized group that suffers from social stigmatization. One of the functions of the community is to keep themselves safe from outsider judgement and persecution, so they keep their events and lifestyle secret. Its structure is founded on the principles of discretion and is based on established boundaries, explicit roles, disciplined techniques, and open sexuality. The acronym for BDSM Bondage and Discipline, Sado-Masochism. However, the ‘D’ and ‘S’ in the middle also represent ‘D/s’ (Dominant/Submissive or Dominance and Submission). The concept of gender and sexuality is fairly fluid within this community, and even identity can completely shift within a ‘scene’. Much of the language is also nonverbal, and there are several symbols that are universally understood within the community.
To gather my research, I had to reach beyond what was available to me in the library and look on the web. Because there hasn’t been a lot of attention given to this particular group, there simply weren’t enough articles to get a holistic look at the community.To begin with, I asked friends about the community and what they knew, which lead me to being introduced to people who were active members within it. In addition to informal interviews which gave me several hours worth of audio, I also took photography of tools/toys and settings, and took notes when audio wasn’t available. They directed me to website groups such as ‘FetLife.com’ (which is similar to facebook, but more private and informative) where the entire content is user-contributed. Besides being a tool for networking and community-building, it also included groups and discussion panels on subjects that were important to the community. I used some of these online discussions as informal data-collection on topics that were missing from my research, such as a group survey with answers to behaviors and language use in ‘AgePlay’. I did attend an actual dungeon (fetish club) in Los Angeles, but my ability to record was highly restricted. For anything I couldn’t find online or in the groups, I asked my interview subjects directly.
In the book "Ouch! -- the Language of Sadomasochism: A Glossary and Linguistic Analysis,” Thomas E. Murray and Thomas R. Murrell write that “on the west coast, S is used as an abbreviation for ‘slave, submissive’ and M is used as an abbreviation for ‘Master’; elsewhere, S stands for ‘sadist’ and M stands for ‘masochist’ ,” which suggests that geography plays a role in agreed upon terminology. Like all speech communities, the language used survives only by frequent use by community members. However, the previous article was written in 1991, and due to increasing access to the internet communities now grow rapidly with online profiles and information sharing, so the language has gained more uniformity in the last few decades. There are different perceptions on how words should be interpreted, and this usually has to do with what stage of enculturation the individual is at, and does not generally reflect the group consensus.
Angel Butts, in “‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered ... I’m Yours’: Calibrating Body Ownership Through the Consensual Mastery/slavery Dynamic,” wrote, “Our [American-English] language is filled with reminders that ownership of another person is not only possible but often desirable.” She references song titles about love that have a possessive or objectifying nature, such as “I Belong To You,”which gives ownership of oneself to another, or “Signed, Sealed, Delivered… I’m Yours,” which objectifies the admirer as a package. American society pays little attention to these small indicators as anything more than playful semantics. In the BDSM world, terminology is used to define a person’s identity as well as their role, which is always representative of a hierarchy of power. This is evidenced by the ever-increasing and creative titles that the community uses to identify their kink or interest as well as their sexual orientation and preferred position of power.
In “Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Margot Weiss interviewed several subjects and wrote that “interviewees identified themselves
in very specific, and relational ways,” giving a detailed list of examples that clearly convey a broad canvas of possible identities and roles.
“pervert, voyeur, master, masochist, bottom, pain slut, switch, dom(me), voyeur, slave, submissive, pony, butch bottom, poly perverse, pain fetishist, leatherman, mistress and daddy.
For those who identified themselves as tops, there were just plain tops, but also service tops, femme tops, switches with top leanings and dominant tops.
Further, these SM orientations are typically modified with sexual orientation (for example, het, dyke, gay, hetero-flexible, bi, genderqueer), relationship style or dynamics (for example, poly[amorous], Masterlslave, TPE [total power exchange], married) and interests (for example, flogging, Japanese rope bondage, canes, pony play).” (Weiss)
Butts discusses in her article “the interplay between body ownership and sexuality” in the Master/slave (M/s) relationship. One of her interview subjects, Mistress Linda, who is a full-time domme, expressed her personal interpretations of D/s and M/s.
“For a long time D/s... Dominance and submission [was my identification]. And then I came to see that it was really Mastery/slavery because it was about Owner/property relationships, and although I used [the terms] “Owner/property,” I didn’t always use “Master/slave.” ... I would have viewed Master/slave as being synonymous with Dominance/submission at one point, but I think they are a little bit different now.”
Mistress Linda expresses her belief that to “own” someone and make them your property, you have to think of ownership differently, as more of a territorialism of a person’s will. It isn’t just possessing someone; it’s having an “authority to control.” She accomplishes this with her slaves by controlling the time they have and even the simple freedoms they enjoy. For example, she told Butts that she would tell her slave that he/she only had a certain amount of time to do a number of tasks, which not only limits the time they might have to do things for themselves, but also reminds them that even intangible things—such as time—are not their own. In addition, she makes them ask permission to go to the bathroom, but will not always grant it; even simple freedoms such as the ability to relieve one’s bowels were under her authority.
The slaves willingly choose this lifestyle, and they can gain a lot from it as individuals. The relationship, even if it is temporary and lasts the duration of a few hours, requires mutual consent, and is entered into in a contract-like way.
“A submissive party (typically referred to as a slave or ‘the property’) agrees to serve a dominant party (typically referred to as a Master/Mistress or Owner) for specified periods of time. The contract stands as a written reminder that neither slaves nor Masters are free to exit the relationship at will without risking sanctions from the closely knit lifestyle community.” (Butts)
In “Un Corps Sans Limites : Sadomasochisme Et Auto-appartenance,” Veronique Poutrain calls this community a “l’organisation sociale qui devient un subtil agencement de territoires (a social organization that becomes a subtle agency for territorialism)” and claims that “les corps est le premier et le plus naturel des instruments de l’homme (the body is the first and most natural instrument of man)”, and so it natural to want to claim ownership over it or explore the concept of possession of one’s freedom, desires and actions within the realm of BDSM.
For most people, especially Americans who have such a recent history of slavery, the concept of wanting to be owned is hard to understand. The M/s contract is commonly perceived as the Master having all the control while the slave submits without objection. Butts corrects this misconception by affirming that “traditionally...the submissive participant, or ‘bottom,’ controls the sadomasochistic arena by defining the boundaries within which the work of the dominant participant.” In my own interviews the importance of the submissive was not understated. The dom has no role to play without the consent and willingness of a submissive who allows him/her to have control and power.
For those who choose to submit in such an extreme way, the opportunity to give the heavy burden of responsibility to someone else for them to make decisions is a welcome relief. In an effort to escape from this constant pressure that they face -sometimes as CEO’s of a company or managers of a firm who are responsible for many other people- they find satisfaction in being of service to someone else in their personal life and being told explicitly what to do.
“Many people in the scene enjoy roles opposite to their "real life" roles: the businessman in bondage; feminized, cross-dressed heterosexual men (called "sissy maids"); female dominants with enormous strap-ons; adults in diapers; lesbian women as butch bois” (Weiss).
Even if Mistress Linda’s slaves have high-status jobs in the vanilla world, they are given permission by her to go to work. But while at work, “they’re to focus on doing their work and doing it the best they can, and doing that as a service to me” (Butts). In this way, she has given the responsibility of deciding to be an efficient worker to herself, and taken the burden away from her slaves -who now are doing their jobs in a “service” to her- which grants more meaning and enjoyment to their everyday life., and allows her to have power over him even when not in her presence.
In BDSM the relationship to power is not always about having power, but giving it, as in slave or submissive service. However, some people prefer their power to be taken, and so objectification and degradation serve that purpose. Because all actions and interactions must be consensual, anyone experiencing pain, humiliation or degradation has agreed to what occurs in a scene. In addition, anyone who is objectified is consenting to it. The idea of being objectified or degraded is not commonly viewed in America as an acceptable and desirable thing. During one of our interviews, two of my subjects (referred to as ‘E’, a male-hetero-poly-dom and ‘C’, a female-monogamous-hetero-sub) explained it to me.
E: Now if we, if we’re, if we agree, that- a- and I went to a seminar on humiliation and degradation and this other kind of stuff and one of the things they said that was very interesting that I took to was, was this one lady said “Look. When I’m a footstool, all I gotta worry about is being a footstool and a damn, good footstool.”
E: “So, everything else -I can focus completely on that”. -And I got that. And she said “To be objectified is to release.” And I’d never looked at it that way.
The concept that “to be objectified is to release” is what struck him so powerfully, and it helps continue to shed light on the choice to be a submissive or slave. They describe further what being a footstool is like, and its purpose. Not explained below is the description of a “hard session”, but it typically includes a long period of interaction between the partners -that may involve a beating and pain infliction- to the point where the submissive was in a state of transcendence and receptivity.
C: Being a footstool would be after a long, hard session-
E: -and being of use and being of purpose and being of service without having to think.
C: you have you’re aftercare, but then
C: Literally, you’re dom might take you, into the room with everybody else, but have you kneel and and literally act the footstool
E: -Put your feet on you
C: as he does that. puts his feet on you and just sits back and watches the room
E: and you take the weight and you get that touch
C: You take the weight, but you’re, you’re letting everything wash around, the noises and everything are washing around there. You’re there, but you’re coming back down into yourself. You’re deeply connected to him and everybody knows you’re connected to him.
Being a footstool is one form of service that has a meaning limited to the BDSM community. There are several other terms that are understood symbolically within the language of BDSM but not by vanillas (outsiders who aren’t part of the community). Many of the terms seem to be descriptions of or attributed to submissives or slaves, which further evidences the power over this speech community that the submissive party has. In truth, a lot of the relationship is dictated by the submissive party and they have shown much creativity in contributing to a wide range of scenarios, settings and roles. These desires and limits are discussed without reservation in Master’s meetings. This is where subs and doms gather to address the group and make sure everyone is aware of each other’s boundaries, roles and hard limits so that safety can be assured during the scene.
[‘S’, a hetero-monogamous-dominant and ‘C’, a hetero-monogamous-submissive]
S: -on the ground or on a cushion and seated at the foot of their master
C: Yeah this is old leather stuff
S: and then we do a round table discussion, introducing, you know, you know, I’m Master, this is my submissive you know-
C: -Or you’ll call it sub, they’ll be very descriptive
S: [Exactly], key terminology
C: [The first time I] went is absolutely the most embarrassing thing I ever went through. (pause) Now I understand it. But it’s very hard to have your (pause) sexual preferences and limitations or openness discussed (whispered) out loud in front of everybody.
C: -But they’re stating your limitations, what you like, what’s allowed, and what has to be asked permission for-
C: -in a Master’s meeting.
The meetings are very formal and not everyone will go through this protocol. This is a very ‘Old Leather’ or ‘Old Guard’ tradition and both the doms and the subs put a lot of time and work into their play. Weiss supports that “just because it is ‘play’ does not mean it is not ‘serious.’ Some are nostalgic for the Old Guard Leathermen days when, instead of ‘play,’ SM was considered ‘work.’” Almost every person will, if they are experienced at all, reveal relevant information about themselves before interacting with a play partner. It is important to reveal any medical history relevant to the scene, such as a dislocated shoulder, a weak jaw, high blood pressure or bad circulation. It is also important to address psychological triggers, such as PTSD, claustrophobia, previous experiences of childhood rape, or a fear of clowns. Certain words might be triggers for people, such as the word fag for someone who was humiliated as a child for being effeminate.
The community requires full disclosure between involved participants in order to keep people safe, which would make many uncomfortable and, as referenced above, often initially does. In order to overcome that feeling of vulnerability that full disclosure creates when people talk about and reveal things they would normally never admit to friends, family, or people they’re interested in dating, the community is very egalitarian -equally shares their vulnerable secrets- and highly supportive and accepting -which allows people to explore their fantasies and desires without feeling judged or ostracized. Foucault argues that “It is through sex—in fact, an imaginary point determined by the deployment of sexuality—that each individual has to pass in order to have access to his own intelligibility.. . to the whole of his body.. .to his identity” (Weiss). On the other hand, someone who was called a fag as an insult, as mentioned above, might request to relive the trauma via verbal humiliation and degradation in order to work through their trauma, and that allows for yet another unique, supportive activity that this community offers.
There are several indexical symbols that are uniformly understood. In reference to submissives or slaves, the most common symbol is a collar which, similar to being placed on a domestic animal, represents the collared individual being owned. Now it doesn’t always mean that the collared sub is owned as property; it refers more to a general sign that this sub is ‘not to be touched’ by anyone else except her dom. Slaves are also commonly understood to be the property of one person, unless that person shares the slave with another (with the previous consent of the slave). A flogger, which is typically a leather whip with a firm handle and several tails, is one understood iconic symbol for BDSM or SM. Mini-floggers or handcuffs hung from the rearview mirror or on a keychain or belt, or wearing a collar in public are examples of flagging in which the individual is presenting a subtle and often overlooked message that they either might be interested in the BDSM lifestyle, want to learn more, or are living the lifestyle currently. Flagging generally is a common way to openly invite others to approach the person about the topic of SM.
A fascinating array of indexical symbols can belong to one subgroup within BDSM. For example, in the rough trade -a term used to describe male homosexuals who enjoy ‘rough’ or SM sex- armbands are used at parties to indicate what kind of ‘kink’ the person is into. The armband, when worn on the left, represents that the person is a top or more dominant participant, and when worn on the right indicates someone who is a bottom or who likes to receive or be the one servicing as a submissive. On the back of a business card for ‘Rough Trade,’ a well known Los Angeles sex shop for ‘hardcore’ homosexual male fetishes, I found a coded list for recognizing fetishes at certain types of kink parties. A few examples include:
WORN ON LEFT
WORN ON RIGHT
Heavy SM Top
Heavy SM Bottom
Suck my Pits
Look for Daddy
Fit to be Tied!
In conversation, D/s roles are often revealed. Because being a dom or sub is partially a characteristic personality trait, the nature of the person speaking isn’t simply ‘shut off’ when they aren’t performing a scene. When speaking with each other, a hierarchy is revealed in who can interrupt and ‘hold the floor’ or take command of the conversation. Often, a dom will speak calm and assertively, while some subs will characteristically wait their turn to speak. Many individuals are not so strictly doms or subs, but are considered a switch (someone who can play either role), so they don’t always submit to another person’s opinion. Staci Newmahr, an anthropologist who conducted a brief ethnography on BDSM noticed that social-roles were not always followed, but generally noticed and agreed upon in conversation.
“I witnessed a playful chastisement of non-SM behavior based on one’s SM identity: ‘Hey, stop interrupting me; I thought you were a submissive!’ or ‘That’s not very domly of me, I know’.”
While at the dungeon I noticed a lot of interactions as well that indicated language was part of the foreplay that set up how the two individuals would interact together. The body language of a dom was typically powerful with upright posture and a steady gaze. Submissives had quick, flirtatious movements and might show nervousness by giggling or breaking eye contact. The dom could easily move in and out of close and far proximity to a submissive without losing focus or power over the sub, and no other doms—unless invited—would invade the space of the submissive they were with. The submissives, however, often would get distracted by many things and allowed themselves to be lead towards an object or task that the dom wanted them to focus on. They showed playful or coy behavior and emitted a very ‘agreeable’ personality.
For the most part, subs will avoid FTA (face threatening acts) towards their doms. They will address them as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mistress’ or ‘Master’, and a collared sub will always reply to a command with “Yes, Sir/Mistress”. There are some subs who are brats and act-out towards their doms -like a bratty child might- in order to get a spanking or be punished/reprimanded in some way. They purposefully use FTA to get the attention of their dom by disagreeing with him/her, by mockery, by being catty or childish, but all of it is rather playful and does not actually threaten the dom and instead entices him/her to take action.
When the dom uses FTA, it is always done purposefully and with intention. As degradation was mentioned before, the language involved in humiliating someone verbally has a wide ranging vocabulary that the doms have full agency over contributing to. The sub might inspire the dom to include some of their past traumas—or exclude them—the scene, or the dom might mention obvious imperfections in the sub or slave. These interactions may even involve withholding sex from the slave/sub as part of denying them what they want.
“There is an old story about a masochist who went to visit a sadist.
‘Beat me! Beat me!’ he said.
‘No!’ replied the Sadist.” (Jochnowitz)
The dom might call an overweight submissive a piggy, or may say demasculating things about a male, or call them ‘worthless’ and ‘pathetic’. They use FTA in humiliation as a form of sadomasochistic exchange. The sub/slave, in turn, is also made to serve the dom as if they had extreme authority and hierarchy over them, and will always call them ‘Mistress/Master,’ and may also grovel at their feet, lick their boots, and praise the beauty and skill of the dom.
At the core of BDSM, however, it is a community that is based on understood boundaries and so even if the people play D/s roles while in a scene, they navigate a conversation with respect and turn-taking, as long as respect is given by all involved. In language and in interaction, the importance of equal exchanges are paramount.
C: You’re [a lazy dom…]
E: But I’m a sadist. I love to eschew pain. But I like exquisite, like, twisted, sick, or delicious pain. It has to heal. It has to have some purpose. She just wanted wholesale pain.
E: [So, let me show it this way.]
C: [What can you tell ‘em about] pain.
E: You know people who get high, to run away. And you know people who get high for shamanistic purposes. This is the same thing. All this is is a different kind of high. It’s getting into a trance space, it’s getting into (XXX) I do it purposefully. So, I do it with intention. I do it with love. All she wanted to do was to get beaten and used. She’s like ‘I’m your fuck (XXX)? And humiliation and all that, I get it. It’s not my thing. I can do it very very well, but to me? I want an exchange.
The exchanges are what creates the different relationship roles within the community. An interesting linguistic characteristic of AgePlay (where there are two defined and highly different ages between the pair) is when there is a Daddy (or Mommy) and a Baby-girl/-boy (or ‘Little’). I had to go online to find information on it, but luckily there was an entire forum discussion on the subject of ‘How Littles/Babygirls/boys Speak’ with a prepared questionnaire that people responded to. The consensus within the group was that the voice and body-language changes when someone is being a little (a child older than 4 years old) or a babygirl/babyboy (under 4 years old). It is a form of playful age regression that involves having the Daddy/Mommy care for and protect their partner and interact with them as if they were a helpless, young child or baby. It may involve them putting them to bed, buying them child’s toys and clothing. The daddy is usually a dominant and the babygirl/little is a sub.
One person explained the difference in speech styles between littles and babies as “ little speak seems more like a few words here and there are a bit difficult, but the grasp on most of a language is there… (while the babygirl/boy) doesn't have a full grasp on language yet”. The speech was almost always characterized by forming words in a childlike manner by dropping the fricative in ‘love’ and replacing it with a bilabial ‘lub’, or even losing the ‘l’ and replacing it with a ‘w’ as in ‘I wub yu’ (both voiced this way and written like this in text).
Language includes mis-usage of grammar norms, “I wansta cuddle and has cookies p’ease” and pluralizing things that are singular. The respondents mentioned that their voices took on a higher pitch, a softer tone, and sometimes even incorporated indicators of self-consciousness such as stuttering or mumbling -which didn’t normally happen when speaking outside of the context of the relationship. One respondent mentioned that she and her ‘Daddy’ had codewords for ‘vulgar’ speech, such as “instead of saying something like ‘suck my dick’ we say ‘putting daddies big boy parts in my mouth’ and ‘I have my princess palace and I get tingly and make messes when I feel really good’. (Fetlife.com)”
While there is still much to learn, and this is a very large and varied field, it can be said that the behavior of dominants and submissives within the community are not limited to sexual acts but also can often be present in their friendships and relationships. D/s roles are part of a pre-existing personality type that finds personal ways to express itself in the wide range of fetishes. The language is very creative expressive, as are the range of sexual implements and tools. Some words are directly taken from the original tool. For example, a speculum, sound or Wartenberg wheel all are medical tools that have been adapted to medical play. A crop or a switch were both originally used on horses but are repurposed for pain/pleasure and dominance/submission. The people who have power over the language and behavior within the group are those who are highly involved and experienced. New people (considered white ribbon by some) or vanillas have little to no influence because they haven’t gained respect, and so only those who are active in the scene have any agency over the continual evolution of BDSM language.
The emic perspective is considered far more important by community members, but the etic perspective (portrayed by social media and outsiders) remains simple, limited, and usually negative. Even some academics completely misinterpret the behavior that is seen in BDSM. In an analysis of where the original meanings for sadism and masochism came from, Chris White referenced scholars who viewed sadomasochism as criminal and leading up to murderous and perverse behaviors. “Whipping and submission removed from the context of their meanings and their subtle operation appear only as violence”, White wrote. The ‘other’—in this case, the ‘vanilla’ outsider—is ignorant of the complex nature of BDSM and so will remain in the dark about language, context, and symbols, a fact that at the same time does and does not positively serve the community. If people outside the community knew more about BDSM culture, they might not be so discriminatory. However, if they know about the community, it means the community is no longer so private, safe and secret.
Even with more access to information BDSM due to the web, many will never be adventurous enough to step into a dungeon, and it remains a community that is self-policing and will push out any members who don’t respectfully follow the rules and boundaries that keep everyone safe. So for now, the language and symbols used within BDSM will still remain a mystery to most, and for many members who maintain secrecy, that arrangement is preferred.
Butts, Angel. "“Signed, Sealed, Delivered ... I’m Yours”: Calibrating Body Ownership Through the Consensual Mastery/slavery Dynamic." Sexuality and Culture, 11.2 (2007): 62-76.
Jochnowitz, George. "Ouch! -- the Language of Sadomasochism: A Glossary and Linguistic Analysis by Thomas E. Murray and Thomas R. Murrell." American Speech, 66.1 (1991): 96.
Newmahr, Staci. "Becoming a Sadomasochist: Integrating Self and Other in Ethnographic Analysis." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 37.5 (2008): 619-643.
Poutrain, Veronique. "Un Corps Sans Limites : Sadomasochisme Et Auto-appartenance." Cités, n 21.1 (2005): 31-45.
Weiss, Margot D. "Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area."Anthropologica, 48.2 (2006): 229-245.
White, Chris. "(Not) Dying of Shame: Female Sexual Submission in 1890s' Erotica." Critical Survey, 15.3 (2003): 74-91.
‘Daddydoms and Babygirls’ Group. “Baby talk and little speak” Discussion Topic. Fetlife.com
3 min read
Awesome. Another bill from Kaiser with an unexpected cost.
"I thought I paid this upfront..." I think, reflecting that the co-pay that I paid the day of the appointment was steep enough without adding a post-appointment bill.
I keep myself pretty physically healthy with generally good eating. I don't like fast-food, greasy or fried meals (except fried chicken... that's just damn delicious, so I have it now and then). I don't like to drink soda or sugary drinks. I try to cut back on too much dairy, bread, sugar and fatty foods. I focus on protein and greens/veggies more than anything. I do yoga and work out, both strength-building and cardio. I get just enough sun -but not too much- and I sleep enough.
Mental health is harder to manage. Stress is a serious inhibitor of health and body-function. I should meditate more. I should stop and breathe more. I should create a better system for myself.
This one time... the first time ever in my life... I couldn't solve my own life's riddles. I went to a therapist. Big leap of faith for me, and I still can't be certain the therapist really understood what my problems were. After all, if it took this long to go to one, my life's problems are probably not basic issues. My concerns aren't of the norm. My life isn't normal. Never has been. But, I've been able to handle it on my own without outside help.
Luckily, the therapist was... kinda helpful. But you know what? I don't want to pay what they're charging. So I'm not going to go anymore. Yeah. That isn't what you're supposed to do. But screw it.
So what now? Well, I have some amazing and wise friends (partially luck, partially due to the fact they're much older and have "been there, done that").
Here's the problem: too many people don't have that option. And here's where my ideas for self-care are going to originate with me and extend to others.
Yoga, meditation, and creative community. I want it. It isn't here. Elk Grove is a vast and empty land waiting to be cultivated. The potential is here, but it seems like very few are planting seeds and harvesting the crops.
I need to dedicate myself to a very healing yogic practice -with pranayama (meditative breathwork)- and this community doesn't have yoga in the park here. They only have gyms and a Bikram studio.
There aren't really open-mic nights here, either. I want to connect with poets and performers and musicians.
So, it's time to plan some days and be there (for myself, first) and then through that self-dedication, invite others to join.
Yoga in the Park.... Open-Mic Night at a local, mom-and-pop coffee shop....
Self-care, self-motivated, and open to the public.
After all... community makes you stronger. And feeding the community decreases isolation, loneliness, and boredom.
Let's see what happens.
6 min read
This is a fairly conflicting thing to say considering the name of my website/web-blog. If love is who we are, and yet love is not enough, are we not enough?
Hold on. Don't go there. This isn't about quantifying ourselves. We are better than Paul at math, but not as great as Deborah; in that case, we can compare, on some level, our skill. We are skilled at cooking, but our friend Shelby is much better at painting. These aren't comparitive; they simply are individual skills that bring unique and individual things to the relationships we have with others. Love... well, love is so many things.
Love in relationships is shown in how we express ourselves. We may write sonnets for our beloved, but if they have no love for language, it is a gift not well-recieved. Also it is pointless to write a love-song for the deaf.
But "Love conquers all!" Perhaps... or perhaps it is the patience, perserverence and dedication we have to our partners and ourselves to continue to grow as individuals and together. Perhaps it is the ever-evolving skills of communication, the ever-deepening honesty we find in introspection, and even the less-often seen bravery of seeing our partner not as an extension of ourselves but as a unique and individual person that could leave at any moment.
A friend said that fear and love are closely tied emotions. I didn't quite understand her meaning, so she explained that if you aren't afraid of losing someone -if the thought of them not being in your life doesn't bring some form of fear to your heart- then the depth of love you have for them may not be so deep (at least, romantically speaking). After all, do we really care if George who hangs out at the corner bus-stop disappears? Or do we care if someone truly close to us suddenly leaves our life forever?
Maybe fear and love are connected. Maybe they aren't. (Jury's still out on that one). But there is something to be said for taking our partners and loved ones for granted. We assume they will be there, through thick and thin, for "better or worse", because they said so in some promise. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of neglect. Sometimes this neglect becomes the new normal, and that's where I see a lot of couples in a rut, a loveless and passionateless monotony of life. Marriage or civil union becomes a contract that is more about convenience and comfort than actual passion and love. People find their own lives on the side, and sometimes that leads to infidelity; other times it simply leads to complacency and boredom. More common than I think most people would admit, it also leads to having kids to fill the gap. (I can't tell you how many times I've heard mothers imply that having kids ruined their sex life, their sex drive, and any romance. I also can't tell you -because I'd be telling other people's secrets- how many husbands cheat for this very reason).
Is love really all you need? Or do you also need to be able to look at yourself as you grow and age and be able to check in with your partner and see if this relationship is working for both of you? Are you really all that compatible? Do you allow for each of you to find and walk your own path in life, or are the life choices of one of you driving the direction of the relationship?
So, maybe love is not enough. It is a start, though. After that, you have to find a way to honor and love yourself in an honest way. If you are someone who needs certain things in a partner, but your partner cannot provide those things, you must either compromise and open your relationship to meet those needs (with your partner's consent), or you must let go of the relationship because neither of you will truly be happy. If you are needing more from your partner, you need to make those needs heard. If they cannot listen or will not, try seeking a marriage and family therapist to work together on better communication, or realize that being single and honest with yourself is better than being trapped in a relationship where neither of you can find true intimacy through honest communication.
A few thoughts, for anyone struggling with a relationship that has love in it, but for some reason isn't working:
Lastly, I just want to remind you, as much as you think your partner is your whole world... they cannot be everything for you. They may be your friend sometimes, your lover other times, your companion, your support. However, no one person can fill every social need that a person has. There is a good reason humans developed large social groups; we need them. So, go find your larger social group and get at least some of those needs met. Love many in the ways that you can, without breaking the contract of your relationship -and if the contract of your relationship isn't working for you, learn to be honest and loving and communicate. Maybe you can negotiate a new contract, maybe you'll move on and free both of you up to find a more compatible mate.
Whichever way your path goes... GOOD LUCK AND MUCH LOVE TO YOU!
8 min read
My arms bundled with supplies, I've entered a classroom. The air is stale, the walls painted a muted gray; there are no windows. Every door I enter requires a key, or to be buzzed in. A camera tracks my movements every second. They aren't worried about what I will do, unless I do something unsafe or unwise. They worry what will happen to me if the inmates get a bad idea in their head. I know the deputies are watching me; their voices come across the intercom when I have a question or need to get through another door. I've gone through six doors so far to get here. I set my stack of lined paper, folders, spare dictionaries that I snagged from the office, and my see-through bookbag down on the table and open a seventh door, the one to the storage room.
There's no camera in this one. They don't want students going beyond this door; anything could happen and they wouldn't know. I suppose that's why they make me wear a button worn on a lanyard around my neck; it blinks on and off every now and then to show me the batteries work. If I press it, they'll come running and will bring hell with them. They won't get there in time if anyone wanted to hurt me, though. No one could. My protection isn't a camera, it isn't a button, it isn't a door; my only protection is myself.
Respect is a currency that must be paid in kind here. Status is an important thing to understand. My role is to walk between the worlds of the sheriffs, a family in and of itself -even if they aren't all the same and they don't all agree with each other- and that of the inmates who self-group themselves into either racial divisions or a defiant, non-racially based group called the "Others". I am in-between, and so I fall into no categories. I don't get involved in the politics on either side. At least, I shouldn't. I hear what each group says. I listen, and I learn. It would be stupid not to learn what I can. After all, this is now my world too, for five days a week and at least seven hours a day.
The class shuffles in, plastic cups of coffee or red, kool-aid looking drinks clutched in their hands. It might seem odd for some of them to seem like they've just awoken, but not here. Even though it's past noon, they rarely sleep during the night, and the daytime and morning are used for sleeping. Some of them have only just woken up. They're coming to study for the GED test. They're coming to better their skills at reading, writing, math. They're coming to escape the monotony of their cells. They're coming to get days off their sentence. They're coming because it is one step closer to freedom.
I pass out books and headsets, paper and pencils. I make sure they can log into their computers and try my best to track what subject they're working on. Science, social studies, English reading, English writing, math. I've got to get a handle on each of them to the point I can answer most -if not all- questions that they throw at me.
"Miz B, I need some help!" I rush to one, and then to another, another, and another. I write out examples on the board. I deflect dumb questions about what my astrological sign is. I courteously respond that I had a nice weekend, "Thank you for asking" when they try and attempt to socialize with me. I rarely sit still for that long.
Before I know it, the class is nearly at an end. I stick my USB drive into my laptop; it's connected to the speakers and the projector. I leave them with a song or a thought or an educational video. It's something to break the monotony of their lives here. It's one of the many tiny reprieves I can give them from staring at the same gray walls, hearing the same conversations, being surrounded by the same type of people day in and day out.
And they surprise me. I play something that has poetic lyrics, and some of them are somber; one of them hides in the back and I can see he is crying. I sneak him tissues. I don't know their lives. Some of them let me know, but they'll never tell me everything; some people never even admit everything to themselves at night, when they're alone in the dark and dreaming.
Four different groups per week. They grow fond of me quickly. I'm quick with an answer or a witty remark. I dish out what I'm given, and they learn to respect me. I treat them like they're students, not criminals. They are allowed to simply be adults, and so many of them take on that role -instead of stepping into the same, demonized role they have been cast in time and time again.
They aren't perfect. They have addictions, both to money and drugs. Many of them are nearly as old or older than I am and have never held a real job. "All I need is a job to get that dope, then I can get back into that game." It's hard to say no, they say. It's hard to live a clean life when you have to start over and start from nothing.
But then they say the money isn't worth it. They heard their family wants them home. They're missing their daughters sixteenth birthday, their son's 21st birthday, their wife giving birth, the passing of their mother, the marriage of their brother... Moments they can't get back are taken from them while they are serving time in jail.
Not all of them come to this conclusion. I suppose we don't all have that much to lose, but when we do... the risks certainly get higher.
"I need to pass this test before I leave." Some say. They plead, "You gotta help me. Just sign me up." Some of them aren't ready. Maybe it's the drugs that have eaten away parts of their mind, maybe they have an undiagnosed learning disability. I try with them. I sit with them one on one. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don't. They get released into the world and I don't hear from them again.
Less, rather than more, students pass the tests and get a GED. One of my first students to graduate was so young and full of potential. He was bright and charismatic. He wasn't affiliated with a gang. I wish I'd known he had an addiction to meth. I heard later he gave up the shelter and housing and school that he could've gone to; within a few hours of being out, he bailed on his parole officer and left to get high.
But others would succeed, even though it had taken them several trips to the jail to finish what they started. They would go to college and get away from their gang and drugs and create something different. It makes you wonder... How many times do we need to fall down in order to get up and stay standing?
I will say this; teaching at a jail is like being a blind and stubborn optimist. At the same time, it means opening your eyes so wide you can see how cruel, twisted and gritty this world is. It is realizing that the sweetest person can also be someone who can beat a woman within an inch of their life. It is realizing that to survive is to learn how to lie well and to con others. It is believing in the best in your students but also knowing that to expect them all to succeed only to watch them be released, fail, and end up back at the jail is asking for heartbreak. It's learning to not take things personally, to keep the details of your private life private, and yet to be genuine and real at all times.
Freedom is the ability to change the direction of your life. Locked up, behind bars is one form of incarceration. The prison of the mind, of habits that trap you in a destiny that leads you back to prison or worse, are eating away at freedom, also. The thought patterns that lead a person to think that they will always need more because nothing will be enough, nothing will be certain, nothing will be safe... that is a prison, too.
To learn something... anything... different; to learn that you have what it takes to finish what you started as a child, to rewrite the story of you, to accomplish a goal that seemed little and unimportant only to realize it was one of the only things stopping you from changing the perspective you had of yourself and your potential; it isn't much, but it's a start.
7 min read
Centuries later, people have migrated and their skin has adapted to varying degrees of sunlight. We have light skinned and dark skinned, we have thick hair and thin. We have light eyes and dark. Most importantly, we have an even greater variety to choose to categorize. We humans feel the pressure of so many humans trying to take resources and power from us. We must band together... and the easiest way to band together is simply to choose to be amongst those who look most like us. By choosing to make the ones who are already similar to us, we oversimplify the differences amongst our group. If they are different thinkers, we begin to indoctrinate them and change them so they think like us.
Maybe it isn't just skin anymore. Maybe it's a uniform. Maybe it's a series of symbolic tattoos that tell us which gang we are part of.
So where does this feud end? Will it ever? If my own friends who are not gang members, but happen to be queer, or immigrants, or POC (person of color), hate the cops so much because of the stories they grew up on, of fearing the cops, of being harassed by them, then what keeps them from joining a gang that would protect them from harassment? Or what keeps scared white kids, who have been exposed to the misdirected anger and violence of a POC, from deciding all POCs are violent, and what keeps them from joining another gang, or tribe or telling their kids that POCs are hateful and the enemy tribe? After enough altercations with violent and drugged-up criminals, what keeps the mind of a cop from getting jaded? After all, they're being shown the worst, are they not?
The story seems to feed on itself, and this multigenerational feud of tribes keeps going on and on and on....
So let me leave you with these images. See if you can notice the characteristics, the uniforms, the tattoos, the characteristic similarities that define each group. See for yourself if it seems like we have many tribes amongst us....
We always find ways to show what tribe we belong to... don't we.