Crown of ThornsbyTheVelvetEdge©
"I'm really excited about this class -- I want to learn all I can about needle play," S said.
I sat behind the wheel next to a woman I barely knew. We were driving back to my place from a night out. I listened carefully as she told me about drawing blood from a consenting masochist, the details bringing a flush to my face I hoped the darkness concealed.
I met S through an acquaintance recommended to me by a professional dominatrix when I lamented the segment of "the scene" I was playing in was not queer or socially conscious enough for me. When I met S, I was drawn to her mohawk, piercings, the way she spoke Spanish, and her fondness for nudity. She was accompanied by her girlfriend and a Pit Bull puppy -- both wearing collars. I didn't ask, but I took note when S mentioned her handle on FetLife to someone else. I later sifted through mutual friends to find her, exchanged messages, and invited her to come dancing with me. I'd never asked a woman on a date before.
We smoked pot on my couch after pressing our hips together in the pulsing darkness of a gay club night in the Haight. Exhaling the fragrant smoke, she told me about cell popping -- a form of temporary scarification -- and she showed me the Pisces symbol burned onto her breast. "The way I learned to top, you always try things out on yourself first, so you know what your bottom feels," she said. It evoked an ache between my legs and a spark of curiosity. It had been a long time since I let someone hurt me.
I agreed to try the needles.
I sat on the edge of my bed, awaiting S's arrival, my heart fluttering. I was wearing the kind of panties that usually rest in lacey bundles at the back of my underwear drawer. My hair was tied in two coy braids. I had spritzed myself with perfume. I started when I heard the keys in the front door, rushing to shut my bedroom door as my roommate came home. "I thought you were supposed to be out!" I shouted, my face hot, my voice cracking. She was only stopping by to grab something. "I didn't forget about your date," she said, and though I couldn't see her, I knew she was rolling her eyes as she left again.
S texted that she was downstairs and I thought I might choke on my nerves. I trembled as I buzzed her in, a confused cascade of inane phrases tumbling out of my mouth as I greeted her at the door, which only became more chaotic while I watched her eyes take in my naked body with satisfaction. She gently told me to relax. I tried to take a deep breath, but it caught in my throat. I couldn't stop talking about stupid things, and S finally smirked and instructed me to lie down. I settled onto my stomach, my heart beating so loudly I was sure S could hear it, its drumming presence so immersive it drowned out all other thoughts. She told me again to relax. I sank into terrified silence.
We decided she would tell me when to breathe in, and upon exhaling, she would insert the needle. We decided she would start with the gauge most favored by needle players. She narrated the process as she donned gloves and sprayed my back with alcohol. I flinched. I heard her tear open the individually packaged needle. I wondered if it was too late to stop. I felt the moisture seep from my palms as I grasped the comforter. "Breathe in ... " I sucked in an uneasy breath, my safeword on my lips, but the desire to know propelling me onward and over the thousand voices crying out to stop. "Breathe out ... " I did. I felt the needle pierce my skin, the pain sharp and clean and bright. Everything else instantly fell away. There was only the needle pinching my skin, and when I opened my eyes, I focused on the pattern of the bedspread reaching out like a desert in front of me, suddenly in awe of its intricacy. I could sense the falling day in the way the sunlight was changing. I could smell the lingering hint of incense I burned the night before and I could hear S breathing.
"How was that?" she asked.
"Keep going," I said.
She put 10 needles in me that day and adorned them with ribbon in a corset pattern. Each piercing felt as fresh and bright as the first and while my body still pulsed with anticipation as I sucked in each preliminary breath, the clamoring voices quieted. Like the tide receding into the ocean, the day before and the day after faded away, footprints in the sand wiped cleaned.
"How are you doing?" S asked.
Answering felt like rising out of a deep dream of velvet waters. I smiled wanly and whispered, "Really good." S removed the needles one by one. I tied a length of the used ribbon around my wrist, a precious reminder of the needles' peace for my return to the din of the real world.
The next time we played with needles, I asked for the largest gauge and squirmed and cried out as S inserted it. Needles are designed to inflict the least amount of pain. They are medical tools. They leave no marks. But I still cringe when I recall play sessions -- they are intimately psychological, stirring up childhood memories of doctor's visits ending in tears and a cartoon band-aid to ease the trauma. There is no physical mark, but there is a scar, and the scar throbs long after the pain is gone. It throbs when I surrender my body to S and I let her enter me 10 or 15 or 20 or a thousand tiny times, trusting her to stop should the safeword break, focusing on my breath, the quiet wet sound of S moistening her lips as she steps back to look at me, my skin raised and red and irritated in neat, precise patterns. I can remember each needle while the strikes of canes, floggers, and bare hands muddle into one spreading bruise -- the needles leave no trace except for, sometimes, a dawning constellation of tiny spots across my skin.
We escalated our play. I learned a new level of agonizing ecstasy when S inserted a "button" into my back -- needles weaving over and under each other, as if indeed sewing a wayward button back onto a favorite shirt. With the needles in place, she took turns slowly sliding them, aggravating the punctures, repeatedly spraying the wounds with alcohol so the pain became fresh and new, stinging cleanly, forcing tortured cries of pleasure from my throat. She drummed her fingers against the raised points of skin, occasionally slapping them, and then running her nails down my sides. I was a pinned butterfly, examined under glass, my wings shuddering against the spasms running down my back.
When she pulled the needles from my back that day, I bled for the first time. As the last needle slid from my skin, it pulled a thread of emotions through with it, drawing up an abstract ache of fleeting catches of memory, stifled sobs in a dark room, and hole in my heart shaped like every dream I regretted leaving unfulfilled. S wrapped me up in a blanket and held me as I cried. She calmly explained that it was a common reaction.
"Don't try to pathologize me," I said, eyeing my therapist with wary regard. "I'm worried that if we fix everything, I won't like the kink anymore."
He was a young man who looked like an awkward bird, his long legs and neatly pleated khakis creeping into my space as I clung to the arm of the couch like a cornered cat.
"Do you feel like I'm trying to take something away from you?" he asked.
I attend a play party with S wearing a red mask carved from leather, a long black dress with a plunging neckline, and my hair tied up with a big red bow. I feel safely on display as her sparkling accessory and she whispers into my ear that I am the most beautiful woman there. I clutch her arm and giggle.
She whispers that she has her needles.
I look out at the party. There is a central play arena. I notice one woman in particular -- her skin is dark and smooth, and her naked body is taut with youth. Her arms are tied above her, elongating her figure. A white man is flogging her and she is screaming and pulling against the rope. I notice the people watching her. I remind myself that consent forms the foundation of all this play and that we're not freaks for this and that I respect other people's kinks even if the literally domineering presence of men in the room evokes a memory of my father stalking down the hall as he kicks over the furniture and we all stand watching and crying and helpless. I squeeze S's hand.
"I don't think I can play here," I say.
And yet later I am nervously slipping out of my dress. We've found a quiet room off to the side where only a couple people are playing. I am standing in my bra and S gestures for it to come off, and the simple expectation of her instruction makes it easier to slide its straps down my arms as if I am in a trance. I sit up on the table. I am facing the wall so S has full access to my back. There is a mirror and I can see my face, obscured and dramatic in the darkness. I admire the shape of my breasts. I listen to S's sounds of preparations. My palms are moist as I grip the edge of the table. I remind myself that I can stop anytime I want to. I wonder if I should stop. A wave of self-loathing rises out of the clamoring fear. My mind is suddenly a cave, and every little utterance is reverberating, escalating into a thousand voices, each one saying something menacing, something sinister, something cruel and debasing.
She sprays my back. She tears open the package. I can stop it. She pauses and I can feel her eyes on me. I can still stop it. "Breathe in ... " I can still stop it. "Breathe out ... " I exhale. The needle plunges into my skin. I cry out, my voice new to me again. There is only the gorgeous, exquisite ache of the needle in my back and the attention it demands, sucking everything into it like a black hole. I swoon, from blood or love I don't know and I don't care, because I can't wait for the next though I'm trembling and I'm frightened.
But I did it. And I do it again and again. I admire the way my face looks when I open my mouth to moan or to whimper or at last, to cry. I stare up at the ceiling as she inserts the needles, where the stars are looking down at me. I bear my crown of thorns for them. And I am guilty. I am guilty of being taken against my will, I am guilty of despair in the face of affluence, I am guilty of loving others to avoid loving myself, I am guilty of running away from a broken family instead of going back to save my siblings, I am guilty of the blush between my legs when I read about murder, I am guilty of losing my innocence, I am guilty of arrogantly turning down opportunities, of being a spoiled, sullen, ugly little brat who deserves this. Who -- most of all -- deserves this. I asked for it. I wanted it. I am getting it. This is all mine.
"Two more, okay?"
I nod. I receive them into me.
S plays with the needles. I am an out of tune toy piano and she strikes the keys. I wonder when it will be over. She runs her nails down my sides and then flicks at a needle. It's agonizing. I watch my face twist in the mirror. I catch the stares of passing audiences. Will this be the last time S sprays the wounds, inducing them to sting? Will this be the last time she twists the needle? Is this the last is this the last is this the last one? But when she pulls the first one out, I regret all my impatient thoughts.
I bleed. The blood runs down my back. I can't see it, but I can feel it, thinner and cooler than I expected. It is not a lot of blood -- each wound weeps a single tear, caressing my skin as they slide downward. It feels as though wings have sprung from my back, unfurling to their full breadth, and I am soaring, my fear and anger and hurt shrinking as I go higher and higher and higher.
Until the wind is knocked from me. S hurries to gather me in her arms and place me back down on earth, wrapping me in my designated aftercare blanket and fetching me a glass of water. I stare out, snagging the gaze of an onlooker who averts his eyes.
The familiar trembling takes over, but I don't cry this time.