I don’t normally fret too much about my clothes, but it’s my first hanging and I want to make sure I’m dressed appropriately. Do I go casual/comfortable—tennis shoes, khaki shorts and sweatshirt—or sexy, which for me is knee-length jean skirt, button-up three-quarter- sleeve blouse with first button undone, and flip-flops? I decide on an in-between: jean skirt, hoodie and sandals. I layer, in case it gets hot. This seems like a reasonable approach.
It’s the afternoon after my thesis defense, and in some ways a hanging is a perfect place to be: slightly hungover, exhausted, with the knowledge that I’ve got another useless master’s degree in writing to put on the wall of my apartment—if I can ever afford to frame it. After twenty-plus years of continuous education, the past five of which have been spent working on a collection of essays that aims to capture my most honest, authentic self, I’m ready for something different. Nothing could be more different than standing in my friend Lady Morgana’s BDSM dungeon, watching her test a noose first with her bony neck, then with her business partner’s more beefy man-neck.
There is worry that the noose, which is suspended from a set of chains dangling from the ceiling in the main room, won’t support the weight of the client. Lady Morgana is nervous that just before orgasm—the point at which he hopes to be lowered to the ground from his suspended state of bliss and asphyxiation, then beaten, screamed at, and humiliated—the rope will catch, and his neck will snap like a twig beneath a hiker’s shoe.
This does nothing for my angst.
Lady Morgana brushes aside her long, dark hair and hands me several cricket bats—solid, polished pieces of wood with rubber grips—and asks me to take some practice swings. I’ve been recruited in part for my brute strength. I’m the only one in my friend circle who can bench press 115 pounds, the only one whose idea of a fun Friday night is beating the hell out of a punching bag, eating twelve servings of Doritos, and holding plank while I watch The Lion King.
At the same time, the hanging is my christening. It’s the solution to my nervousness about dating, about putting myself on the line in a relationship. It’s been over two years since I’ve been on a date, five years since I broke up with my college boyfriend—the only real boyfriend I’ve ever had. The more time that passes the harder it becomes for me to leave my comfort zone and experiment with new situations. I continue with my already-established routine: long hours at the gym spent lifting and running half marathons on the lopsided treadmill, four daily walks with my dog, then drinking vodka and writing late into the night. It’s pattern. It’s expected.
When Lady Morgana opened her dungeon, a brushfire ignited in my friends’ minds, then quickly spread to mine: if I could just experience something subversive, maybe I’d awaken from my sexual coma. Perhaps it would be like when I signed up to go skydiving in order to overcome my fear of heights. Go extreme or why bother?
The client, a man who has traveled from Europe to South Florida on business, is antsy, insistent that the hanging happens. He’s well aware of the risks, he says on the phone, his thick accent pouring through the holes, but this is his thing, the one thing in existence that will make him climax like a geyser. And my friend is the only dominatrix he’s found who’s willing to give it a try.
As Lady Morgana paces the warehouse, cell phone at her ear, I twist the biggest of the bats in my hand as I wander into the various fetish rooms. There’s the dentist chamber, with metal table, electronic chair and retractable hanging light. This room is a snapshot of my worst nightmare. Then there’s the nursery, which Lady Morgana told me she hopes will one day have a man-sized baby swing, changing table with diapers, and collection of huge pacifiers. Then the electrocution room, akin to the place the screaming girl ends up in the final scenes of a Freddy Krueger movie. Around the corner is the boudoir, with a canopy bed, claw-foot bathtub and rack of huge feather boas, man-sized silk negligees, and an extra-large dress made out of metal mesh. Upstairs is home to the Catholic room, with its life-sized crucifix, tattered Bible, and set of flogging pieces mounted to the back wall like diplomas from Ivy League schools.
This is a world of worlds, a place apart from the one I know, which involves trips to Target, TGI Fridays, and the beach in Surfside I specifically go to on Saturdays because it’s mostly populated by Orthodox Jewish women wearing ankle-length skirts. I begin to sweat through my layers. I want to take off the hoodie, but risking any exposure, even an elbow, adds a new dimension to my mounting sickness. I suddenly wish I were home, watching cooking shows on PBS, taking notes on how to activate yeast while Julia Child circa 1991 towers over her next culinary creation. I want to be in my bedroom, screening my calls, dipping Twix bars in a tub of icing. This is what I know, what’s comfortable.
Lady Morgana’s partner has the noose on the floor, and is testing the boating rope around his waist with his body weight. He lunges against it and pushes, then jerks back into his original spot. I try to imagine how this could possibly work, with a naked British man’s neck in place of his body, but the only image I come up with is of Tony Blair lying dead and fetal on the dungeon floor, his neck kinked like a poorly wound garden hose. I look away.
I walk up to the mahogany armoire in the main room. Its shelves contain anal beads, whips, and black dildos arranged in descending size order. I study the contents as if I’m staring into a vending machine at a rest stop on the Turnpike, searching for the peanut M&Ms. What did Lady Morgana say to the people at the Faith Farm Ministries Thrift Store where she bought the furniture, where the workers tell you how much Jesus loves you as they load your car?Careful with that piece, it’s where the electric probing wand and vibrating nipple clips will be stored?
After dozens of test runs and over an hour spent watching Lady Morgana pace as she talks to the begging client, she reluctantly tells him it’s too risky. She looks depleted as she hangs up the phone; not only is she out half a grand, but I know what gets her more is that this may be the last time she’ll have this chance. I gently set down the bat, which I’ve been whipping around in warm-up swings for so long that it feels like I’ve pulled every muscle in my shoulder.
After I say goodbye to Lady Morgana, I walk into the alleyway behind the dungeon and head to my car. I feel like half-set Jell-O, that unsteady in-between state of being too wiggly to settle down but not settled enough to attempt significant movement. All that buildup for nothing.
Driving down Biscayne Boulevard, I pass the chains of car dealerships and Pollo Tropicals. I’m torn between slaps of intense relief and nudges of regret at losing the one chance I know I’ll ever have to take part in something truly fringe. Now that I know it won’t happen my mind indulges itself with could-have-beens. I imagine the waif of a man cowering in front of me as I wail on him. I imagine him screaming for me to stop, pleading. I don’t give in. I’m hitting him harder, harder, till I scream with my American accent and he screams with his British accent, and he collapses into a heap on the cool warehouse floor.
Then: I tell him he’s a pathetic piece of shit. A little girl. I tell him his penis is funny looking, like a tiny chicken wattle. I tell him whatever he seems to want or need to hear to make this experience authentic. As his quivering comma of a body compacts further, I kick him, spit on him, and walk away. In the corner of the dungeon, I linger behind the cricket bat and tell myself I’m doing this for him.
As I turn into my apartment building, I wonder why everything in my life has to fall on one end of the spectrum or the other. Why can’t I just go on a date like a normal human? Isn’t there any gray area between hanging and beating some naked stranger, and getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks with the hot guy from the gym? Will everything in my life always be doomed to binaries, with no hope of middle ground?
When I walk into my apartment, I set my purse on the counter and grab four slices of leftover pizza. I make my way into the living room with plate in hand. There on the table, in a lopsided stack, sits the mound of pages I’ve written.
The muffled sound of my cell phone’s ring cuts through the silent afternoon. I don’t answer it. Instead, I stare at my marked-up thesis. Whoever called tries again, leaves a message. I think about the years spent generating and revising those essays, whittling them down, trying to get at my essential self—whatever that is. My cheeks grow hot at how little those pages actually reveal. As I chew a wad of cold cheese, I wonder what it will take for me to find the words for everything I’ve been avoiding hanging out in the open.
Corey Ginsberg lives in Miami and works as a freelance copy editor. Her work has most recently appeared in such publications as the Nashville Review, Subtropics, PANK, Third Coast, the MacGuffin, and Saw Palm. Corey is currently working on the final drafts of a lyrical memoir.