Unless it’s someone familiar—a client I see regularly or a famous person—the names on the schedule I receive at the top of each shift rarely hold much telling information. An Igor will likely advance my carpel tunnel disease, a Bunny will probably keep her purse nearby so I don’t steal anything. But usually a name is just a name. Usually.
It was a Friday afternoon, the final leg of my work week, and the third appointment on my roster read: Intensity, Sixty Minute Deep Tissue.
Not Intensity Cartwright or Intensity Rosenblatt, just Intensity. A stage name, I presumed, almost surely self-appointed.
On days like this I want to move back to Carrollton, Texas where everyone is Amy or Brad and refills are always free.
Intensity sauntered in right on time and introduced herself as a professional Dominatrix who worked at a dungeon in midtown. She specialized in retardation fetishes and attended to her slaves by beating them senseless with heavy objects; whips, steel poles, baseball bats.
All this in lieu of hello, all before I’d said my own name. It was everything I could do not to roll my eyes. The biographical specificity was an indication of trouble, and my hands hurt just looking at her.
Intensity was an ample, towering woman. She had spiky black hair and a penetrating stare. Her robe was tied so loosely it hung open to her waist, revealing everything from bosom to belly button. I’m fine boned and petite, blonde and blue eyed. I look like church camp. I buy clothing from nationally recognized mass-market retailers and my cleavage is rarely visible; my abdomen, never.
If she was trying to hector me into revealing myself as judgmental—someone who impulsively labels others as good or bad—she was exerting far more energy than necessary. That’s pretty much all I do. I spend my days in near darkness, listening to harp concertos and wind chimes. Judging people is the only thing keeping me awake. I had a million points of view about this woman before the extensive S&M primer. She called herself Intensity. That alone flooded my brain with more spontaneous opinions than it had the space to hold.
The over-sharing escalated once Intensity undressed and lay down. She led me through her repertoire of pain tactics, schooled me in the basics of bleeding, and fleshed out intimate portraits of her clientele. They were mostly unassuming guys—middle managers, C.P.A’s—and they dated or married vanilla types—women who spearheaded community initiatives and carried cardigans in case of a chill. Intensity called them boring. I called them mom and dad.
According to my horizontal sadist, every man you might fancy—should you be so naïve—was secretly getting whipped by her during lunch breaks or suspiciously long runs to the grocery store. Partly because deep down everyone’s a perv, and partly owing to how good she is at her job. These men all fall in love with her on account of how well she hurts them. It is very stressful, she lamented, being firmly on the receiving end of so much adoration.
Besides the obvious bid for the alpha role in our coupling, Intensity was endeavoring to inform me that she was different. Nothing like the client I had before her, totally opposite of the one I’d have after. Certainly nothing like me. She was radical. An original.
I grew up in a nondescript suburb where the prevailing ambition was to be exactly like everybody else; identical handbags hung from our shoulders, just-so ponytails swung from our heads. Everyone pulled the same lever on the ballot box and everyone kept up their yard. We all lived in four bedroom houses built off one of three floor plans. Whether you’d been at that address before or not, you always knew where to find the bathroom,
I now live in a zip code where the desire is to stand out; subversive hobbies, outlandish outfits, face tattoos. It’s taken me eighteen years, four cities, two countries, and countless interactions with various members of the human race to determine that these aspirations are wholly interchangeable. Marked not by outcome, but by effort. Pretentious, pointless effort.
The only difference between a sex-toy shop and The Gap is their hours of operation and return policy.
I got a nose ring in my early twenties in a deluded moment of believing I was unique. The piercing was performed by a minimum wage high school student at a Claire’s Boutique in the mall (which in and of itself was an immediate disqualifier) and left me with a weeping infection. The fact that I’m not cool is yesterday’s news, and Intensity was competing with a ghost. You can scream race you to the door as loud as you like, but if your opponent continues meandering, occasionally pausing to consider the clouds, you haven’t won when you get there first. You’ve just doubled yourself over with a runner’s cramp for no good reason at all.
I suspect Intensity had a particular appetite for anyone who looked like they once nibbled on animal crackers—paired off in identical twos—while learning about Noah’s Ark in Sunday School. She’d pegged me as some prim and prude Sarah Lawrence grad, with a degree in comparative literature and a stick up my frigid ass. I actually hold a hobby-degree from a college whose only admission requirement is that you exist. Otherwise, her assessment was spot on. What she didn’t intuit, though, was that I wasn’t having it. Noah didn’t survive that storm by letting the orangutans swing from the mast, and that spa was my ship, not hers. If there’s any confusion as to who’s the Dom in a massage room, it’s the person standing up.
After deconstructing every which way a man can be made to scream, Intensity bragged that one of her submissives had proposed a very lucrative arrangement. This fellow—a partner at a tony corporate law firm—wanted to put her on salary, have her live with him and degrade him full time. She was seriously considering it, she told me, but there would have to be rules.
Her rules, she clarified.
Give me a break.
Take away the hogties and complicated rigging device and she was telling me that she might move in with a guy, let him pay for everything, and then routinely punish him for the transgression of being himself. That’s not kinky, that’s a relationship.
Intensity was doing everything in her power to unnerve me, and I was doing everything in my power not give her the satisfaction.
Abuse has a myriad of executions, and while my adversary opted for a kamikaze attack, I took a more measured approach. For the first ten minutes I completely ignored her, and for the following twenty my responses were limited to hmm and mmm, as if nothing she said was provocative enough to warrant parting my lips. Once I sensed her wheels starting to spin, I eased into the discourse.
What followed was the conversational equivalent of a staring contest, and it went kinda/sorta like this:
“He’s simply going to have to accept that I will be bringing other slaves home and—if I’m in that kind of mood—he’ll have no choice but to watch.”
“Man, I can barely fit myself in my apartment. No way would three pass an evening comfortably.”
“Don’t mind the massive bruising on my back, I had a rough night pummeling a dwarf with a putting club.”
“Bruising sometimes hints at an iron deficiency. Are you, by any chance, vegan?”
“I once ate the head off a bat and then rubbed the dying corpse between my legs while a troupe of Haitian refugees paid to watch.”
“Yeah, see, that’s exactly what I thought you’d say. Everyone assumes all animal proteins are equally rich in iron and that’s just not true. If you don’t have ethical issues with red meat, it’s really the way to go.”
Once I hit my stride, I could have lasted all night. Intensity slowly quieted down, and eventually stopped speaking altogether. I’d like to think I wore her out and forced some silent consideration of a more appropriate moniker, perhaps Mediocrity or Jennifer. Most likely she fell asleep. They all fall asleep sooner or later.
Relieved of the burden of one-upping Intensity, I could finally focus on my work. Her shoulders were disastrous, but that’s common among women with large breasts and mild scoliosis. Her feet were silky and child-like. I recalled that she sometimes punished her minions by making them give her pedicures. Clever. As I finished her neck and moved down her side, I discovered the same gnarly tendons in her forearms, and dense tissue in her palms, that I have. It’s the residual muscular distress that comes from working all day with your hands. The moment I penetrated the area with my thumbs, Intensity’s eyes fluttered open and she cried out like a little girl. I do the exact same thing when someone palpates my arm that deeply. The pain is almost unbearable.
Ouch, it turned out, was our safe-word; a single syllable—mutually understood—declaring a threshold crossed.
“Tell me about it,” I commiserated as I lightened my pressure and tenderly kneaded everything from her elbows to her fingertips, “that hurts me, too.”
“It’s all the heavy lifting and hitting people with things,” Intensity softly murmured, suddenly sounding almost human. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to keep this up. My job is destroying my wrists.”
And with that the rain stopped, the wind settled, the sky opened. Our ark began to rock gently atop smooth waters.
After the session was over, we walked together back to the dressing room side by side—an identical pair you might say—while I gave her some tips on how to nurture her tired hands, and stave off at least some of the damage.