I’m fully capable of projecting my voice to a packed theater, but this is not the time. This is me, Dane, spilling my snarly insides to a group of strangers. I’m barely speaking above a whisper, but every single man in the room inches forward in his seat—save that one we haven’t yet reached. Eleazar leans his elbows on both knees, hands folded in the space between them. We’ve got you, Dane.
“I had allowed myself to fall under the spell of an abusive predator masquerading as a sexual dominant. I served him for four long years with every inch of my body and every corner of my heart, but nothing could satisfy him.” My story spills without self-loathing this time. This is how you know you’re healing.
“He cut me off from my friends and family, robbed me of my dreams of dancing on Broadway, and sent me back to the strip clubs to peddle my body for his own gain. All I wanted to do was make him happy and proud of me, yet every day, in a million different ways, he taught me I could never be good enough for him or anyone else.”
There are gasps and tsks and shaking heads in the audience. I suppose I’d be horrified, too, to hear the tale.
“When he finally kicked me out, I wanted to die. My life had no purpose if I couldn’t be his sub. I had burned every bridge to be with him. I had nobody to turn to. Somehow, by the grace of God, I walked through the front door of this building and practically collapsed into the arms of a social worker some of you may know here at the Center. He quickly won my trust and introduced me to Eleazar, and together, they saved me. I will be forever grateful.” I glance across the circle at Eleazar, my trusted therapist, the man who saw me through my most vulnerable days. He smiles and somehow telegraphs his complete support with a single nod.
“Looking back, I’d regard that time as existing on life support. I breathed. I ate, sort of. I slept, not well. After weeks of intensive therapy, I stuck my tail between my legs and begged my old stage manager for forgiveness and my old job. He read me the riot act and gave me an audition. Then he hugged me and cried like a baby and told me he loved me and if I ever ran away again, he would come after me himself and drag me back by my earlobe. He saved me, too, in a different way. I was very lucky.”
Deep sighs fill the room.
“I was still an empty, broken shell, but I didn’t realize it at the time, not until I met the man who filled my soul and brought me into the light.” I turn to Master and give him a smirk. “Wow, that sounded all ‘Praise, Jesus,’ huh?”
He lifts our joined hands to his mouth and presses a kiss onto the back of my hand. “Sing it, brother Dane.” Master gives me a good-natured wink. He doesn’t tolerate the God comparisons well, always the first to remind me he’s “just Marcus.” As if that were any less exceptional.
With a shake of my head, I exit my little sidebar with Master and return to my story. “So there I was, dressed up like a penguin for this wedding I was only invited to out of pity. To be honest, I’m not even sure how I mustered the strength to leave my house on December twenty-third, let alone walk into a room where I knew only four people. The ceremony itself wasn’t too bad. I sat with Sean, my social worker. But when it came time for the reception, Sean had to sit at the head table with his partner, Riley, who was the best man. Of course, the bride and groom were a bit too preoccupied to babysit me, so that left me pretty much alone in a big, scary sea of people who were going to want to make small talk—or worse, actually get to know me.”
Nods of recognition greet my remarks. These men understand where I’ve been.
“I waited as long as I possibly could before slipping into the last open chair at my table. I had that minimal eye contact thing down to a science”—the young man staring at the floor gives an involuntary twitch— “but as I passed the obligatory smile all around the table, this pair of eyes on the other side of the centerpiece snagged me. You can imagine the intensity of being held by these eyes, as blue and deep as the ocean.”
Master rolls his eyes as all the attention shifts to him. “Flattery will get you nowhere, boy. You know this.”
“Yes. Yes, I do.” Appreciative chuckles travel around the circle. “In all seriousness, I thought I’d never seen such a confident man in my whole life. He had no intention of loosening his grip. Me? I couldn’t look away fast enough. Even after I escaped his gaze, I knew there would be more.”
Master nods, but he doesn’t interrupt.
“All through the meal, I felt him watching and trying to figure me out. I conquered the urge to look up again at this handsome stranger who obviously thought he wanted to know me. All I kept thinking was how I’d disappoint him. I was sure he’d eventually get discouraged and move onto someone else.”
I glance over at Master, who smiles at me and interjects, “Not likely, Dane.”
I grin back and address the audience. “So, you see what I was up against,” I say, receiving a smattering of chuckles in response. “Terrified rock, meet the hard place.”
Master can’t resist the innuendo. “Why, yes, I certainly was.”
“Good to know.” I wait for the crowd to quiet down again. “Master approached me later in the evening with the offer of a lifetime. By then, I’d learned who he was, and of course, I was even more freaked out.”
Master broke in with a deep belly laugh. “Which of the three stooges do I have to thank for that?”
I pause for a much-needed smile. “Not telling.”
“Oh, Dane, you know I have my ways of making you talk.”
The crowd joins us in laughter. The playful banter is helpful for all of us. I want to focus on the light in my life, but first, they need to understand the depth of my darkness.
“I knew I was going to have to reject his offer, and I was devastated. The next day when I emailed Master to tell him I’d never be enough for him, it broke my heart.” I turn to Master, whose expression is somber until I add, “Of course, he proceeded to convince me to give him a chance. And for me, that’s where the trial began—his, mine, and ours.
“I worried I couldn’t possibly give him what he needed. My self-esteem was zero. I had no assets to speak of. And what I’d always used to get me out of a tight squeeze in the past, my body, I was in no position to flaunt. Our first scene”—I flex my fingers to simulate quote marks— “took place at Master’s kitchen table, fully clothed, and consisted entirely of letting him hold my hand. I had been programmed to reject pleasure, and Master had to completely rewire the circuits in my brain, which was not exactly an easy process. My limits were prohibitive, but Master always, always respected them without question. I learned to trust that he wouldn’t hurt me. I could see that I was getting better, but a new kind of torture was taking root inside me.”
Master shoots me a look of concern.
“I became convinced he’d release me after our thirty-day trial period was over, and I was wrecked over it.” I take a deep breath before continuing. “With each passing day, I was falling deeper and deeper in love. Losing Master would be . . .”
I can’t finish, and I don’t have to. Master scoops up my face in his free hand and kisses away the unspoken ending with the softest touch of his lips to mine.
“Don’t,” he whispers, still so close his breath falls on my chin.
I nestle my nose alongside his, drawing comfort from his nearness and his strength. The fantasy of Master rejecting me has lost its power over me. He loves me as ferociously as I love him; his devotion might actually exceed my own. I return Master’s gentle kiss as a thank you before turning back to the group.
My breath catches in my throat. The young man at four o’clock has lifted his face. His eyes shine with tears he struggles to contain. He’s beautiful, possibly a few years younger than I am, same dark, straight hair and goldish tint to his complexion. Slight of build, tall and lanky . . . holy shit! He could be my brother.
Master recognizes the resemblance immediately; I can tell by the way he double takes, even though he’s quick to cover it up with a cough. Master and I face each other again, the silent conversation confirming what we both now know. This has to be one of Wayne’s victims, and my guess is that he is the unfortunate boy who took my place in the prick’s dungeon. The poor guy, I’ve obviously triggered something painful for him.
I force my gaze away, only to find Eleazar encouraging me to continue. Hmm, where the hell was I? Oh yeah, Master rejecting me.
“Every day, I waited for the bubble to burst, but it didn’t. For thirty days, Master respected my considerable limits and patiently accepted what little I gave. Toward the end of our trial period, I was almost frantic he would release me. So, when Master offered me his collar . . . let’s just say I was beside myself with joy.”
Master squeezes my hand again. “And yet you nearly gave me a stroke before you answered.”
I feel the grin spreading across my face. “I never promised it would be easy.”
“No, Dane, you certainly didn’t.”
Hope you all had a Merry Christmas yesterday! Sorry we had to delve a little into the dark past, but Dane wanted the men to hear his journey in his own words.