A snapshot: an out-of-place teen in rural New Zealand

1.

She was back.

She paused at the door to her form room, blue and white checked skirt neat just above her knees (not yet rolled up). Crisp white polo, bag over one shoulder, all with her latest accesories: sweaty hands, dry mouth, heart beating up in her throat. She is 14.

Pause. Open. Smile. (Uncertainly).

The first person she sees is her ex best friend. Years of dance, sleepovers, petulant fights and secrets is discarded in her quick up-down, a glimpse of surprise quickly masked by “Oh, look, Grace is in our form room”. She says this with overly sarcastic joy, and no eye contact, loudly enough so everyone turns and stares at her.

Blush.

2.

She had to ‘re-adjust’. Every adult said this to her. She had to find her feet again (where did she leave them?). She had to settle back in (as if she had been settled before). These contradictions stayed unspoken, mostly, and she nodded, smiled and hid into herself, wishing.

Grace’s wish list: I want to go back to England to live, for good this time, not just a year. I want to be ‘the kiwi’, the foreigner in a friendly country, and stand out in a good way, as the shiny interesting person, not as the weirdo who left for a year and was now back, with a slightly different accent and stories that no one cared about. I want to be with my old friends, my wacky, loud friends with their total disregard for personal space. I want to talk about snogging, and Muse, and wear flares, and fantasise about Josh Hartnett.

These wishes started to pile up, and she was surprised at the weight of them. She fed and added to them by writing long letters to these friends, in different coloured markers, folded into intricate squares that only they knew how to open. In moments of solitude (and she found there were quite a lot, now) she would paw through the mementos her friends gave her, the ankle bracelets, the goth necklace with huge spikes, the tie-dye tshirt and rings and earrings, enjoying the feel of the different textures on her fingers as she gently remembered.

Slowly at first and then with a rush, this wishing and remembering starting hurting. It was an ache, right beneath where her ribs joined, and it was too much, it hurt too much and she would cry, in her single bed each night, arms wrapped around her middle and hunched right over, hurting and rocking and aching and crying. And wishing.

Grace’s wish list: I want to stop feeling. I want to stop experiencing my life. I want it all to go away.

These new wishes overtook the old ones. They filled her mind, every lonely, plodding day through school, through the dusty bus ride home where she would shrink and hope not to be picked on, through the cycle back to her house along the flat, gravel road, through the absent conversations and zombie chores and half hearted homework attempts. They would fill her mind until she’d be alone in her single bed again.

One night she found herself digging her nails into the skin on the inside of her wrist, tears wet on her cheeks, and unable to look away or stop herself as she slowly dragged one nail down towards her elbow. Only a centimetre or so. But it was enough for the skin to scrape back, the pricks of red blood to turn into drops and the pain the radiate up her arm, through her chest and down into that hole of hurt.

And she felt so calm.

This continued, not every night, but most. Her days would be exercises in invisibility and survival until she could retreat to her cocoon and hurt herself. After a while her fingernails weren’t enough and she searched around for something sharper, fingers landing on the goth necklace her English school-girl crush had given her, black and silver beads interspersed with centimetre long silver spikes. That night she pushed the tip of the spike into her skin, wiggling it around until the pain became too much and she sank into a dreamless, numb, sleep.

3.

Tess saved her life. (She said this to her, once, sharing her double bed and whispering to each other: “You saved my life”. She laughed it off like she always did, but under the sheets, reached down and gave her hand a light, brief squeeze). Continue reading

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Fault lines. A damp April in Christchurch, 2013.

This loss, this time, is something material.

Driving alone in her blue box car, the fish-bowl, viewing the infrequent traffic out of rain streaked, perfectly square windows. Tail lights squinting through the autumn dusk. The road is bumpy, potholes haphazardly filled, sections of gravel, men at work signs discarded and falling over at the roadsides. No one cares anymore.

I drive alongside the Avon river, following my childhood after school route. Past the fence where, as a screaming eight year old, mum once pulled the car over in a rush of annoyance and told me I was walking home. I walked half a block frowning until the tears melted my face, turned the corner and there she was, in our beat up red-orange Ford Cortina.

Past the playcentre with the witchy a-frame roof, past the school that wasn’t mine, and the yellow clothing donations bin with the blue children painted on it, holding hands in perfect symmetry. Past the place where on one Christmas Day, our whole family stopped on the way to lunch to push start a stalled car on the side of the road.

Past the house on the corner that was a ‘monstrosity to the neighbourhood’ when it was built. I remember walking to feed the ducks with Oma and stopping outside as she chatted to the builders, and then, silently amazed at her audacity, following her inside as she decided to ‘have a nose around’. White stark walls, two floors (a rarity in Christchurch in the nineties), open plan. On the second floor was a white and chrome bar and mini fridge, and this impressed the ten-year-old me immensely. How luxurious, to have your own in-built bar! All this white concrete monstrosity is gone now, no match for plate tectonics. The section is broken, rubbled and empty.

I indicate left at the old block of shops. The dairy is still there, the destination for bare-feet errands: tubs of icecream, milk, newspapers. All the rest- the hairdresser, fish and chip shop, bike shop- are all gone, so I’m surprised the dairy is still standing, but on turning into her street I see it’s boarded up and empty. Dusty Coke billboards curling on the sides.

Her street is unrecognizable.

The road is worse here. I slow to navigate a one-lane path through the sink holes, erratic humps in the tarseal. The houses that remain are gaping sadly at me, windows dark or smashed in, fences half torn down, weeds and bushes and trees choking out domesticity. I almost drive past hers, number 80, and at the last minute I recognise a tree in her front hedge and pull over. I get out, into the soft autumn rain.

Silence.

Everything is gone: her house, her garage, her mailbox and driveway, her vege garden, her sheds and sleepout, her immaculate front and back gardens, her brickwork patio and fence surrounding it, her shelves of bulbs, tools, gardening gloves and the occasional lost easter egg, her concrete paths, her bird bath, her weathervane, her lemon tree. This has all been replaced by a thriving blanket of weeds, grass and wildflowers.

I pull my jacket close and walk up the non-existent driveway, unable to cut across what would have been the rose garden. Someone has dumped an old washing machine on the lawn and it sits there, sad and rusting and lonely. I think of the washing machine obliquely observing, bearing witness to this empty property and this makes me cry and I stand there, where the front door used to be, and cry in the rain on my dear Oma’s bulldozed house in earthquake-wrecked Christchurch at the start of autumn. Bizarrely, there’s a car, and it’s turning down the driveway next to Oma’s house. I don’t want to be seen, so I duck down behind a holly tree, and listen to it drive down to the back section. Footsteps, voices, front door slamming. Imagine what it must be like, living in one of the only inhabitable houses in this red-zoned ghost suburb.

Shaking off the tears I pick my way across her section. Recognition of particular trees and bushes is bittersweet: I would ride my bike between these two, in a figure of eight. Here, I lay on the grass after my parent’s wedding, 14 and too cool, under the blossom tree. Here, I tried to bowl my Dad out in a game of cricket. In true kiwi style he responded by hitting it over the fence, roaring victory while others scrambled to retrieve our only ball. Twice. Here, my sister and I, in old paint shirts that reached our knees, painted two wooden chairs, and our arms, noses, hair, feet in a buttery lemon.

And here, after a whole family day digging up and transporting a native kowhai tree, Oma made a little seat out of two stones and a block of wood.

Amazingly, this seat is still here, tucked under overgrown ferns. I sit on it, cold wet wood seeping through my pants. This, this little seat makes all this loss okay. This seat is all that’s left of the lovely, beautiful, shiny childhood memories I have from my Oma’s house, but it’s symbolism is enough. I sit and think about the devastating earthquakes. I think about Oma, climbing out of her bedroom window in the pitch black, wading through mud and silt to find a safe place to sit until help arrived. I think about her, sitting on her lawn in the afternoon with her neighbour and her baby, drinking wine as the earth shook around them, waiting until help arrived. I remember our last Christmas at number 80, unfazed by the uneven floors, the doors that no longer shut and the complete unpredictability of living in a country built on fault lines. We were happy to be together, on this hot sunny day with good food and laughter and cricket and presents. I think about the devastation across the city, the lives lost and neighbourhoods abandoned, the long months of no electricity and heating and water. I think about the stoical, inherently brave kiwi attitude: “She’ll be right.”

And you know what? She is. My Oma is 87. She is the strongest woman I know. I love her fiercely. Last week she finally was able to buy a new house. She moves in next week. This house will be our new centre. And that’s okay. This loss is okay.

I’m wet and cold. I slowly walk back with determination across the site of the old patio, kitchen, lounge, conservatory. I nod to the washing machine: “Take care of the place.”

*****

Christchurch, the second largest city in New Zealand, was hit by a 7.4 earthquake on 4 September, 2010. This happened at 4:35am and miraculously, no one was killed. However it was the start of three years of aftershocks, of which the most devastating hit on 22 February 2011. This was 6.3 and killed 185 people, making it New Zealand’s second deadliest natural disaster. It caused widespread damage to infrastructure: 10,000 houses were damaged and 100,000, already weakened by the previous quakes, were demolished. ‘Red-zones’ were created; entire suburbs unsuitable for building. Now, although a significant rebuild and repair project is underway, Christchurch is a shadow of its former self.

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So Glad!

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Sunnier days in this beautiful city. A local beach, Auckland, March 2013

 

Today is the first real day of winter. There’s a mini hurricane perched over the city, and I have a headache, and it’s not even morning tea time yet. But. I am so glad! I’ve been writing these lists for a couple of months, so here’s my first ever publicly posted Glad List:

Dancing for 5 hours straight on Friday night to the dirtiest, sweatiest, thrash-your-body drum and bass

Wearing circus tights to places other than my aerials class

Having an increasingly relaxed view on the need to wear a bra (and panties, this week!)

Continue reading

This Is What I Know (or…How I Came to Realize I Love BDSM)

Barbie

Barbie (Photo credit: C Simmons)

When I started consciously acknowledging to myself that I enjoyed submissive masochism, it was emotionally turbulent to say the least. I felt so fucked-up, and found myself searching back in my past for any instances of abuse at the hands of others (there were none), or wondering how I could ‘fix’ what was causing me to enjoy this type of kink.

The coming out stories from other BDSMers were incredibly helpful- they made me feel far less weird and broken, and more like I was one of the lucky ones with a key to an amazingly kinky world. So, I decided I would write my own story. It is basically instances in my life that I look back on with curiosity now I identify as into BDSM. Perhaps I’m taking self-analysis way too far, but it makes me feel comforted thinking that seeds of BDSM have always been with me, rather than ‘just’ being a particular sexual fantasy.

This is very personal. But! Maybe it will help someone else!

*******

He pulls me to him across the bed. Thrusts one hand roughly between my legs, forces his fingers inside me. My breath catches, I turn my head away and scream into the pillow. His free hand twists in my hair, and he forces my face within centimeters of his. You are going to come, and you are not going to look away or close your eyes. He snarls this and I nod, already feeling tingly orgasm about to overwhelm my body. He pushes his fingers in deeper and I can’t help it, it’s too intense and my head snaps back, my eyes squeezing shut. Look into my fucking eyes! I’m scared by the anger in his voice and bring my face back to his. Fucking come! I obey, violently. Time slows…I’m staring into his eyes, dark, glittering. I see his pupils dilate, in slow motion, and I’m trapped, I can’t look away. That’s the chance he needs and then he’s there, he’s in my head, he’s dominating my thoughts, he’s got me. He’s won.

This is what I know.

I was brought up in rural New Zealand, in a well-rounded nuclear family. Both my parents are still together, and I have one younger sister. I was shy at school, but I had a close group of friends. At age 10, ‘playing horses’ was the game of choice. Every break-time for a year, you would see giggling girls cantering around, holding imaginary reins in our hands, and gripping tightly onto riding crops (or, rather, sticks. Bamboo was a favorite). The stick seemed the essential prop, we didn’t need reins, or a saddle, or even a pretend tail. We HAD to have a riding crop. The summer of that year I made an interesting self-discovery. It was one of those long, hot, dry summer evenings. I had taken to galloping around on my own for the last week, making neigh-ing sounds and jumping over things. I remember very clearly that one evening I decided I was riding a particularly troublesome horse, who needed to be ‘tamed’. I began whacking my own thigh, harder and harder with the riding crop, and becoming engrossed at the sound of the stick strapping my bare skin, at the red stripes appearing on my leg. Even more surprisingly I remember enjoying the pain. I didn’t recognize this consciously at the time, but this was monumental. I wasn’t known for having a high pain tolerance. Everyone called me a wimp, and I often didn’t try things my friends did because I was scared I would hurt myself. Then why did I enjoy this so much?

The following year my sister and I discovered a new favorite hobby. It was the winter holidays, raining and windy. We had Barbie and Ken dolls that a more conservative friend had brought me years before. I had worshipped that Barbie, partially because of what she represented. My mum is a strong, proud feminist and a manifest of this was that she only bought us gender-neutral toys as children. Barbie was so ultra-feminine and I would spend hours dressing her and brushing her hair. Ken was interesting for a little while, and then I left him in front of the fireplace and his ridiculous abs melted and formed a sort of penis shaped blob on his crotch! By the time I was 11, both dolls had lost their appeal. So, my younger sister and I decided to make a Barbie-cube. We tied Barbie and Ken together, back to back, at the neck, waist, wrists and ankles. My sister made the knots, and I remember closely supervising and checking the ‘bondage’ was secure enough. We dramatically drowned them in an ice-cream container of water, and then locked them in the freezer overnight. I remember gleefully fantasizing about Barbie struggling against her bonds, trying to break free from Ken and her captors. The next morning we ran to the freezer, with Christmas morning-like excitement. My sister carried the Barbie-cube outside with reverence, I climbed up onto our jungle gym, and from the highest point we could find I ceremoniously smashed the Barbie-cube on the concrete in our front yard. To our delight Ken split completely in half! We threw him up onto the roof of our house (seriously! I have no idea why we thought that should be his final resting place), and then turned our attention to Barbie. Only one of her legs had fallen off so I popped it back in and (fatefully), she lived.

My sister soon became bored with my new favorite game (“Let’s torture Barbie!”) and stopped playing, but I continued with growing cruelty. I cut all her hair off, tied a rope around her neck and dragged her behind my bike, alternatively drowned her and then stomped her into the mud, threw her out the window and dragged her behind the car. Funnily enough, my parents saw all this going on, and never once stopped me. I almost got the feeling that my mum encouraged it. Eventually Barbie was swallowed by a rain swollen stream, and I didn’t look for another toy to replace her. My days of torture (to others) were over.

My interest in horses quickly waned too, although I did continue galloping around hitting myself with a stick until I was 13. I remember one incident where I found a particularly whippy riding crop, and thrashed myself until I raised welts. My mum noticed these, and I can’t remember her making much of them at the time. Years later we were recalling my horse days and she brought this back up. I laughingly brushed it off, “Oh yeah, I used to get so into character when I was playing, what an imagination etc etc”. I was surprised she remembered this. I wonder if she had much of a clue as to what I am now?

My high school experience was painful for the first 4 years, and awesome for the last one. I was so shy, intellectually stimulated somewhat but bored too, desperate to be one of the cool kids and at the same time desperate to carve my own niche. Probably not dissimilar to every other teenager. 14 to 15 was volatile, turbulent, fraught. I ended up carving into my skin. I wasn’t suicidal, but I enjoyed the rush of the sharp, intense pain and then watching the blood rise to the skin, extreme contrast to the white of my arms. I would never cut deep, I restricted myself to the depth on the sharp point of a protractor, and would drag it again and again across my skin, then just sink into the pain. I would lie back on the mattress, feel the pain wash over me, radiating out from the cuts like light across my body. It was horrible, I was filled with misery, hopelessness, despair. Self harm didn’t solve any of that, but it did, for a short period of time, make me feel invincible, in control, powerful. The rush it would give me was euphoric.

I was drawn out of depression and self harm partially through various kinds of therapy, and mostly by a very stable and loving boyfriend. The Puppy. We were together for five years- the last two years of high school and almost all of my university. He’s a salt of the earth kind of guy: enjoyed fishing, power tools, kids and a white picket fence. Writing this now I’m surprised we lasted as long as we did, but as teenagers, we loved each other. We would spend hours together laughing hysterically, eating junk food, drinking way too much, going on dusty road-trips in the mountains behind our town, exploring each others bodies, learning about ourselves. I discovered an insatiable appetite for spanking. I loved the shock of his hand smacking my ass, the jolt it would send up my spine, the stinging pain, how it would make my head swim with arousal. We grew apart, the cracks started to show at university, and after multiple infidelities on both sides we broke up in my final year. When I was 19, a lesbian friend whispered to me mysteriously at a drunken party: “Literotica”. I had an inkling of what she was referring to, and the following day, horny and hungover, I googled it. I masturbated until I was exhausted, until there was a giant damp patch on my sheets, until I actually, physically, couldn’t come any more. I also made the ground-breaking self-discovery: the two categories I was most drawn to were “BDSM” and “Non-consent/Reluctance”. I told no-one. Not even the Puppy.

22. I graduated from university, honors first class, and in a whirlwind 2 weeks was offered a prestigious job in Auckland, ‘the big smoke’ and at the completely opposite end of the country. Of course I jumped at it. I was single for the first time since I was 16, in a city where I knew no-one, totally out of my depth and loving it. At a music festival I found myself gently kissing Fred, the surfer. We danced, talked, laughed and ended up naked in his tent. As he fucked me he pinned one arm above my head, firmly grabbed my chin in his free hand and forced my head to the side. I tried to bring it back to kiss him, but he forced it back again, whispering to me “I want to see your face in the moonlight as I make you come”. He did, and I did, hard and endlessly. I never saw him again, but that night something clicked in me. That subtle domination provided a tenuous link in my mind…that the erotic fiction I masturbate so furiously to could be more than a hidden fantasy. I was exceptionally turned on.

I met the Bear a few months later. He lived next door, our eyes locked across the weeds, broken beer bottles and moldy concrete. Or, more accurately, our pelvises locked. He was like no other man I knew. From the beginning he impressed me with his honest communication, his ability to eloquently describe how he felt about me and our relationship, his emotional availability, and his own lack of drama and indecision. It was simple. He liked me and wanted to be with me. He fed me: food, love, orgasms and compliments. Almost straight away we began pushing our sexual boundaries, quicker than I both think we realized. We were watching a lot of porn together, and I developed a noticeable taste for rough, humiliating, gang bang porn. We played with light bondage, double penetration with a dildo, more spanking, and rough, hard sex. Yet! Neither of us had consciously connected any of this to S and M. My tastes in erotic fiction were becoming more violent and depraved that I felt embarrassed by them, they were still my secret.

We were looking for a threesome, or a rendezvous with another couple online when we came across Master Mark. Reading his profile in the Bear’s bedroom I became very still and focused. “Master knows what you want and how to give it to you. Stop wasting time slut, and contact your Master.” I could feel wetness immediately between my legs, I unconsciously started grinding a little into the mattress. A cold shiver ran down my back. My stomach felt very light, my breathing was shallow, my palms were sweaty, I could almost feel my pupils dilate. I wanted this. I fucking WANTED this.

And I got it. The Bear and I met this ‘professional’ Dominant, had one incredibly unprofessional encounter, and I’m not even going to write about it because it makes my skin crawl. It was exceptionally sleazy, and I can only see that now with distance and slightly more maturity. Still, as gross as it was, it provided the catalyst. The Master Mark incident brought my BDSM desires, that I had never consciously acknowledged to myself, to the light of day. We had to address them. And as we discovered, they definitely weren’t going away.

The Bear was right on board. I think for him the sight of me, ravenous, almost foaming at the mouth for this particular type of erotica, made a big impression on him. An animal in heat is close to describing how crazy I was for this…thing…that had been awoken inside me. The Bear and I started experimenting. I started to develop my likes and dislikes. I enjoy stinging slaps all over my body. I enjoy being blindfolded and gagged. I particularly enjoy cruel dirty talk. Emotional masochism? Yes please.

For lack of knowledge and terminology, I self-identified as submissive. I’ve since found more enjoyment as a masochist. The two aren’t completely separate, and often in scenarios I become naturally submissive. I’m also discovering that certain types of pain make me submissive, while others make me mad and want to fight and struggle. I fight, but not wanting to win? I fight with the knowledge that I’ll lose, but grappling with my partner brings so much enjoyment.

I wish I could say everything in my life is clear and easy now that I’ve accepted this part of myself. It isn’t. I still feel some inner conflict about my masochistic desires, and recently I’ve been drawn to polyamory, which is bringing up a whole new load of stuff. I’ve had some awesome encounters with awesome men (the experience in the starting paragraph can be credited to one I call The Hyena;)). The Bear and I aren’t together anymore, for many reasons, one of which is differing priority we individually give to BDSM. But! I feel like I’m an onion! The core of this onion is who I really am, free to live in a loving and kinky world. And I’m getting closer and closer to that core, peeling off the layers of self-judgement, guilt, societal expectations, saying ‘no!’ to my desires, trying to be vanilla, shame, fear…

And that feels very good indeed.