The Shoebox Ch. 03bySusanPSharpPHD©
Chapter 3. Putting Things in Context.
I carefully slid the rubber band off of the stack of pictures. I shuffled the first picture, the one I had been studying, to the back of the pack. The next picture made me gasp. I was so startled I dropped the stack of pictures into the box and brought my hand to my mouth. It couldn't be! It just couldn't be! [Chapter 1.]
I woke up earlier than usual on Tuesday morning. Sid was still in bed as I put on my running outfit and trainers and headed out for my daily three mile run. Although it was well into springtime, it was cool that morning and the rising sun seemed to do nothing to take the chill out of the air.
As I jogged up the footpath to the park, I thought about what had happened in the last twelve hours. First, my meeting with Joe Powell, his entrusting me with the shoebox he had found in his wife's closet and finally the extraordinary effect that box had already had on my life in that short time.
I thought about how passionate Sid had been last night; how passionate we had both been after just viewing a small portion of the contents of the shoebox. I thought about the different emotions I felt whenever I was in its presence; fear, loathing, excitement, disgust, disbelief and now sexual passion. It was if the box itself was alive and causing all these emotions.
As I ran, I tried to formulate an approach to deal with Joe's problem. Although therapy is a process which is conducted almost entirely by the patient and facilitated by the therapist, I still required a methodology to approach his situation. All these thoughts collided as I ran my usual path through the park and back up our street.
Before I knew it, I was heading down my winding, tree lined street. The time had flown by and I realized that I must have finished my run at least five minutes faster than usual. I stopped outside the back door, bent from the waist and tried to catch my breath. I was sweating and physically exhausted but feeling quite alive.
I recovered and walked into the kitchen. Sid was at the table with the shoebox in front of him. He looked up when I entered the room.
"Hi. How was your run?"
"Invigorating! What are you doing?"
"Finishing what we started last night. Listen, did you look at all these pictures?"
"Yes, I told you I looked at them and was quite disturbed."
"Did you notice anyone familiar?"
"Yes, Beth Powell. Why?"
"Of course Beth Powell, I mean someone else. Someone you know!"
"What are you talking about?" I asked as I walked around the table to look at the pictures Sid had in is hands.
"For instance, this woman."
Sid's meaty finger stabbed at the picture he was holding. He pointed to a woman's face in the background. She was dressed in black leather, a leather bustier, black stockings and high black leather boots. I stared at the picture.
"I know that woman?"
"You should, she is one of your former patients!"
I looked at Sid with a dumb stare then looked back at the picture. Nothing registered.
"I know she didn't dress like that when she came to therapy with her husband, but God Susan, look closely."
It may have been the hair or the context but I only had a vague tinge of familiarity with the face; or maybe I was distracted by her pert nipples peeking out over the top of the leather bustier.
"Pricilla Block! You remember, Ray and Pricilla Block. Now she is Pricilla Williams. They used to be your clients."
I was dumbfounded. Just yesterday afternoon I had pulled out the Block file after Joe Powell had told me that Ray Block had referred him to my practice. Of course, Pricilla - prim little Pricilla - the secret temptress. Why hadn't I noticed that yesterday? I grabbed the picture out of Sid's hand and moved it to the window to get a better view in the bright morning sunlight. It was definitely Pricilla Block!
"Didn't she turn out to be quite the tart?" Sid asked.
"No better or worse than her husband, Ray. They apparently had an "open marriage" only they didn't tell each other about it. Each thought the other was oblivious to their extra-marital shenanigans. In therapy it came out that they both knew what the other was doing and thought that their own little escapades were the big secret. Talk about lack of communication, it was almost comical."
"The most surprising part was that Ray was mostly talk and bravado. He liked to grope the women that worked for him and fancied himself a real ladies' man. But it was Pricilla who was actually having most of the fun. There was an endless stream of men at the Block house; pool boys, delivery men, plumbers, carpenters, all manner and kinds of men. Pricilla never met a man she didn't like, or at least wouldn't try out! When I first met her, I thought she was all starch and tight as a drum. As their story unfolded I learned my lesson, never judge a book by its cover."
"Well apparently, your Pricilla has added a new page to her book - Dominatrix!"
Sid handed me another picture. A woman who appeared to be Beth Powell was on her hands and knees, her bare behind facing the camera. The woman in leather (whose face was not visible) was whipping her with a short black crop.
"Looks like your Pricilla. Recognize the get-up?"
"Yes, you're right. The face is not visible in most of the pictures, but it is the same woman. Pricilla Block!
"And look at this."
Sid handed me another picture. In this one, Beth was wearing a skimpy outfit and had a black leather collar around her neck. There was a dog leash attached to the collar and it was held by the woman we identified as Pricilla. Again, her face was not visible. The picture was at a bar at which other "masters" and "slaves" were standing. Apparently, this group of photos was taken at some kind of kinky, bondage club. Sid pointed to a sign over the bar. Although it was barely legible, I was able to make out the words "Eizenspritzer Society".
"Have you ever heard of the Eizenspritzer Society?" Sid asked.
"Yes, it's vaguely familiar."
"They are like the Kiwanis Club of the BDSM set. The Northern New Jersey Chapter meets at the Starlight Lounge in Sparta. Apparently, Beth Powell was the entertainment at one of their meetings. She took quite a beating from the looks of this one."
Sid handed me another picture, one which I did remember quite well. It was a shot of a woman's bare behind, red with welts from being whipped or beaten. It was apparent from the sequence of pictures that the whipped buttocks belonged to Beth.
"It's hard to believe that people actually enjoy that kind of pain." I said staring intently and the red welts on display in the picture Sid was holding up for me to see.
"Oh, they do doctor, endorphins you know. Their endorphin levels get so high that they don't really feel the pain, just excitement, pleasure and then, bam – orgasm. Kind of like you runners!"
Sid gave me a sly wink. I thought back to my run this morning. Was that enjoyable? I did feel more alive! However, a dispassionate observer could look at me as I finished up outside my kitchen door, skin red and blotchy, sweat pouring off of me, bent over in pain trying to catch my breath and postulate that I was nuts! In fact, if someone had forced me to do that it would probably be considered "cruel and unusual punishment."
"I think I understand what you are getting at." I mumbled sheepishly as I gazed at my husband. "What you are saying is that everything has a context. If you take something out of context, it seems absurd, or depraved, or downright crazy!"
"Exactly Dr. Sharp! Let's consider a simple example. We see an attractive woman in a bikini, a very revealing bikini. She is on the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. We conclude that she is a hooker. Now put her at our local swimming pool at the church outing. She is a jezebel, perhaps a slut! Now put her at the Jersey Shore. She is one of thousands of women dressed this way. We don't even give her a second look, she is quite normal. Finally, we see the same woman wearing the same bathing costume, only now we are at Fire Island at the nude beach. She is now a prude! I rest my case!"
"Sidney, certainly you are not trying to tell me that if I just put Beth Powell's behavior in the correct context, it is perfectly normal and acceptable?"
"Susan, you are the psychologist. Far be it from me to tell you what is "normal" or even "acceptable". All I am saying is that you must defer judgment in this whole matter until you know all the facts. And as we all know, the "facts" are also colored by context and perspective. One man's truth is another man's heresy."
"Sidney, now you are confusing me. What you say makes sense but it puts me no closer to a clinical approach in the Powell case than I was last night."
"Zu-Zu, all I am saying is try to be open and not so judgmental! Keep an open mind and don't let it run in the background while you are trying hard to listen!"
Sid packed up the shoebox and slipped on the lid, handing it to me. Then he kissed me on the forehead and announced that he was leaving for his rounds at the hospital. As he shrugged on his sports jacket and moved toward the kitchen door, he turned toward me:
"I almost forgot, I have a lunch date this afternoon with Dr. Harley and coincidentally, we are meeting at the Starlight Lounge. I think I'll get there a little early and speak to one of the bartenders that I know. Maybe he can give me a little "deep background" on your clients."
After my shower, I decided to do some research on the Eizenspritzer Society and on BDSM in general. I was surprised to say the least on how mundane some of the websites appeared. If you didn't know what "BDSM" meant, you might think some of these clubs were the Ancient Order of Hibernians getting together for fellowship and good fun. I had to dig deep into the web sites to get to the pages showing the various bondage paraphernalia; the cuffs, harnesses, ball gags and all kinds of strange aparati those practitioners of the BDSM lifestyle need to be completely outfitted. I once read that the area were most patents have issued is golf. After browsing through the BDSM catalogues I guessed that bondage must be a close second!
As I browsed through several sites my husband's words echoed in my mind. "Everything must be seen in context." To the BDSM lifestylers, all this stuff I was looking at must seem mundane and common, whereas for me it was quite shocking. I tried to imagine how shocked they would be to learn that I had never even dabbled in their beloved pre-occupation. Then I began to think how narrow my focus of sexuality had always been. I had never even been curious about how someone could be drawn to this type of sexual expression.
Had I missed something? Was there a hidden "submissive" somewhere inside of me? What about Sid? He seemed pretty knowledgeable about this stuff. Maybe he had some deep longings that he never shared with me? I began to imagine my big, hairy, bear of a man with a collar around his neck, attached to a leash, with me holding the other end. The picture I conjured up in my mind made me giggle! Now that would be interesting!
My afternoon sessions flew by that day. As each face appeared at my office door I remembered that Joe Powell would be in at 4:30 and my heart jumped into my throat. Luckily, my 3:30 appointment left early and I had a full twenty minutes to relax and prepare for Joe's arrival. The shoebox was on the corner of my desk waiting for him. I had decided that he should take it home, since its contents belonged to his wife. As it was, I had played voyeur with its contents long enough. Explaining my snooping through her shoebox would be hard enough.
There was in eerie silence in the house after my last patient left. The sun was setting and a warm orange glow was painting the curtains of my office. I heard Joe's car quietly stop in the driveway and the door close as if it were in another world.
Joe knocked briskly at my office door.
"Dr. Sharp," Joe stuck out his hand to me in greeting, "Good afternoon. I hope I'm not late."
"No Mr. Powell you are right on time. Please sit down and make yourself comfortable."
I sat down opposite the couch and crossed my legs. I always wear ankle length skirts for my sessions and today I was wearing a one piece, dark-brown dress that hugged my upper body but flared out at my legs. Joe looked almost chipper as he leaned back into the couch and flashed me a toothy grin.
"Well young man, you look pretty upbeat today!" I said smiling.
"Well, in fact, I am, doctor. I know you are going to help me . . . help both of us get our marriage back on track. I'm grateful that you gave me this appointment."
Joe looked at me and then at the yellow Shoebox at the edge of me desk. I saw a cloud come over his face. He struggled to maintain an upbeat smile but it seemed to be a loosing battle.
"So Joe, tell me, what has happened since you last saw me yesterday? Have you told Beth that you are seeking counseling?"
Joe gave me a nervous smile.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I told her that I had gone to see you on a recommendation and that I wanted the both of us to see you to work out our problems.
"Oh, and what did she say?"
Joe smiled nervously.
"She said, 'What problems?' I told her that I had found the shoebox and that I had given it to you."
"You did! That was brave Joe. I commend you. What did she say when you told her that?"
"She just smiled at me. She told me that she would come to see you if that is what I wanted."
"That's all she said? She wasn't angry that you looked in her closet and found the shoebox? She wasn't upset that I was looking through her personal belongings; that you found out these terrible things about her?"
I looked a Joe skeptically. He swallowed nervously and a strange look came over his face.
"No, she was actually quite understanding. She hugged me and told me that she loved me and she would do whatever I thought was best.
"And that was it?"
"Yes, that was it!"
"I don't understand how that can be "it! That's all you two said?"
Joe began to look like he was trapped. There was obviously something he had failed to tell me. I glared at him waiting for him to explain what he was obviously keeping from me.
"You see doctor, I knew . . . what I mean is, Beth and I had an understanding, an agreement about her . . . I guess you would call it her "submissive needs".
I just looked at him and maintained my silence.
"You see, before we married, I knew that Beth . . . this is really hard to explain Doctor Sharp. . . "
"Take your time, Joe."
"When I first started dating Beth, she told me that she was in a relationship that was very . . . I think she described it as "possessive". We were in college at the time and she was dating an older man, a man who was not a student or connected to the college. Apparently, he was her "Dom". As we got to know one another better, she slowly revealed the extent of her relationship with this guy. The way she described it, she needed . . . she craved, the release she got by being submissive to this man, by letting him control her in every way."
"Including sexual ways?"
"Yes, in particular, when they had sex. I told Beth that I just thought it was a phase she was going through. I mean, we were both young, in college, trying to find ourselves, learning new things. Doctor Sharp, believe me I was no angel in those days. Some weeks I had a different girl every day."
"At first I was kind of intrigued by Beth's "lifestyle". I must admit, I was flattered that she found plain old "vanilla Joe" attractive even though she was dating an older, more sophisticated guy. We hung out after class for several months.
One day she told me that the guy had dumped her. I consoled her and we started dating on and off. I guess you could say she was on the rebound. As for me, I was openly dating other girls, and Beth, well she seemed to have no problems with that. God, it was so refreshing. She treated me like a person, not like a "boyfriend"; you know the way young women are, "If you want to go out with ME, you better not . . . "fill in the blanks."
"I knew Beth genuinely cared for me, but she wasn't possessive or controlling. She let me be my own person, and you know something Dr. Sharp, she still does! We didn't really talk much about her "former life" as a submissive, but at the same time, she never promised me that it was over, or that she had left it behind. In the same way, she never insisted that I change or modify any of my behaviors. I was free to be me. I gradually fell head over heels for Beth. I couldn't stand to be away from her. I knew I wanted to be with Beth for the rest of my life."
"You would think that with a girl like Beth, a guy would have his cake and eat it too. She wasn't jealous of other women. Not that she was a doormat mind you, but if I told her I was dating another girl, she was cool about it. I treated her right and let her know that she was more important to me than they were. You know what I found out? With a woman like that, I actually lost interest in chasing other women! I didn't need to prove to myself that I could have them if I wanted to. I knew that I could, and I just didn't need it anymore."
"Right before we graduated I proposed to her. That was one of the worst days of my life. That was the day she told me."
Joe looked down at the floor and started to blush.
"What did she tell you, Joe?"
"She told me that she needed a man that could "dominate" her sexually. She told me that I wasn't that man."
"God, I was shattered. We talked until late into the night. I told her that she was crazy, that I could be whatever it was that she needed me to be. I knew that the sex between us was good, hell it was great! I could make Beth cum just by touching her the right way. I knew she loved me and I knew that she loved to make love to me. I just couldn't understand."
"I told Beth that if she needed whips and chains I could give her whips and chains. She laughed at me. She told me that I was sweet, but that I didn't have a dominant bone in my body. Now, let me tell you Dr. Sharp, I played varsity baseball in college and was scouted by a minor league team. I was no wimp or pansy. I was as manly as they come. But that wasn't what I was missing or what Beth was looking for."
Joe had finished his explanation. I could tell by the tone of his voice, by his passion that this man really loved his wife. I looked at him with sadness in my eyes.
"Did you try to give Beth what she needed, to play to her submissive side."
Joe blushed and stammered.
"Yeah. It was pathetic. I asked her what to do. She told me, kind of gave me instructions. "Tie my hands, tie my feet. Do this, do that." I noticed that the more she told me what to do, the more annoyed she got. Finally she got so frustrated she just got up and walked away naked. Some submissive! I just didn't have it in me. I could play-act, but she wasn't looking for play-acting. She wanted a man who reveled in the gift of her submission; someone who craved a submissive as much as she craved a person to dominate her. That night I found out that I just wasn't that person."
"How did that make you feel?"
"I was angry. I was frustrated. I felt inadequate and cheated; cheated out of a pleasure I couldn't share with the one I loved. It was like I was an alien and was missing a sex organ I needed to make love to Beth. She was giving me a precious gift of submitting totally to me and I just didn't know what to do with it. It's not that I didn't want it, I just . . . . ."
"You just didn't have the tools to deal with it, perhaps?"
"No, not that. Imagine that your husband writes you a beautiful poem. It is hand lettered on Japanese rice paper in traditional Japanese characters. You know this is a special gift, but the writing means nothing to you! You just stare at it dumbly not knowing what to say, not know what he has said in the poem. You are touched by the beauty, by the art of the characters. You long to know what the poem says. Your husband starts reciting in Japanese. You ask him what it means. His eyes tear up. "It loses all its meaning when it is translated into English," he tells you. In fact, the characters themselves have multiple meanings and part of the subtlety of the work is the play on those similar characters. You think to yourself, "I must learn Japanese so that I can appreciate this great gift."