Sometimes in life, you just have to get back on the horse. Eden knew this, though she was understandably cautious about climbing back in the saddle. She had been thrown hard.
Figuratively, it hadn’t been that hard a landing. She had met a guy. They had played video games and fooled around before she realized it wasn’t working for her. She cut out before the red circles of death came crashing.
But literally, she had taken a serious spill. While working as a summer camp counselor, Eden had been thrown into a tree when her horse stopped suddenly. Her leg was damaged and she was laid up, having learned, she told me, never again to bottom to a pine.
Her recuperation lasted into the fall and she found herself with little time for anything other than convalescence and building her portfolio. We corresponded to stay in touch but she rarely had free time in the city. It had been a while since we had last seen one another when we were able to make a date to catch up.
Looking forward to seeing Eden again, I reflected on the time we had spent together in the few years since our kinks first brought us together via mutual friends. Some of our relationship had played out in public. She kept a blog in which she wrote about our dates, my parties and her turn as a demo bottom for classes I taught. In one class at Floating World, I had pursued her recalcitrant orgasm before a large expectant audience. When finally it came thundering, her screams echoing through a vast dungeon, we were loudly applauded, as though those watching had needed to share in her release.
But much of our relationship was private. I wrote about it now and then, alluding to our kinks as well as our intimacies. When we met, I realized that we had been involved in BDSM for roughly the same amount of time, though she had started at a much younger age and been involved with much heavier play. I respected her experience and appreciated her guidance as she submitted to me. I knew I was lucky to learn dominance with someone who would forgive my mistakes while encouraging me to go further. For my part, I hoped to expand upon her sexual pleasure; in this, I had the advantage of being the more experienced partner.
Our friendship offered comfort even when we weren’t together. A couple of years ago, while I was researching properties in advance of a move, I stumbled across a large isolated house located upstate that could be had for half the price of apartments I was seeing in the city. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to be able to afford both? My family could use the house as a wooded retreat. On weekends without my children, I could tie nude Eden to trees and hit her with whips. Oh, I mused, for such a country idyll.
When Eden heard that my ex-wife had discovered my blog and sued for custody, she offered her sympathies and asked if she could help in some way. I needed to close my blog, so while I focused on researching attorneys, she took on the tedious administrative task of taking down my blog, post by post. I didn’t hesitate in providing access to her. I knew I could trust Eden.
All of these experiences—kinky and vanilla, public and private, online and off—combined with our correspondence, conversation and the simple enjoyment of one another’s company to build between us a solid, loving friendship. Even after some time apart, neither of us questioned the trust we had established.
Eden buzzed from the street when she arrived for our reunion. Ringing her in, I suddenly recalled our old standing rule: she was to undress on arrival, as her clothes were not welcome in my home. We hadn’t revisited that requirement in planning to get together—catching up was our only agenda item—so I decided not to bring it up now. She could do as she pleased. We could talk whether or not she was dressed.
We smiled and hugged our hellos, chatting as she dropped her bag and peeled away outer layers of coat and hoodie. She fell still when she was down to a short-sleeve pullover and looked at me expectantly. Was she waiting for me to undress her or to offer her a seat? I opted for the latter. I kissed her and said how great it was to see her again. We settled in to talk.
I asked Eden about her accident and recovery. She asked me about my custody case and its aftermath. She told me about her new job and the workload at school. I filled her in on my various writing projects. The discussion led to conversation about blogging.
“I stopped blogging a while ago,” Eden said. “It didn’t really seem to matter anymore. I may do it again someday—I still write about life and school and stuff in my Livejournal, sometimes—but the fun kind of died when the drama started.”
“I have to say, my sabbatical from sex blogging last year was enforced by circumstances more than preference,” I nodded. “But even before the custody case, I was feeling worn out by it. It can be pretty wearying to deal with people conflating me with my online persona. It can be fun doing things and meeting folks as Jefferson, but when people get upset or act out online, it’s like . . . I dunno.” I searched for the right words before going on. “When people fail to distinguish between reality and its representation, it’s harder to be excited about making art. Being targeted in Dacia’s flame war that summer was a little like finding a mob storming the gates of Warner Brothers, angry that Bugs Bunny shot Daffy Duck. It was a cartoon universe, having little to do with the real world. And even in cartoons, a mob takes on a mentality of its own.”
“That was really sick,” Eden said. “Weren’t you and Dacia friends?”
“Dacia and a lot of people were once friends. But we were especially close, even while I was still married. When my marriage ended, she was one of the few people I felt I could talk to openly. That was before she took on the Dacia persona, though, and by now, that seems long ago.” I thought for a moment. “Her flame war about my custody situation got out of hand and people were being hurt and even outed as a result. Dacia allowed that to happen and, in fact, she seemed to encourage it for the sheer drama of it all. A lot of people backed away from her then. I still don’t know why she turned on me as she did.” I pursed my lips. “Why she turned on any of us, really.”
“She never talked to you about it?”
“Nope.” I shook my head. “But that’s not atypical. She tends to burn bridges, particularly in her relationships with men. I remained friendly with four of her former boyfriends after she broke up with them. There's often confusion about just how she felt affronted by them. When this all went down, one wrote to welcome me to the club.”
“At least you’ve got company.” She blew out a puff. “That’s fucked up.”
“Yeah, I suppose it is.” I paused, thinking. “Dacia was one of the first people I called when I was served papers on the custody case. We didn’t hang out then as we once had—she had her life, I had mine—but I trusted her advice and knew I could count on her. As we hung up, she said, ‘I’m so sorry this is happening to you.’ Then, next thing I knew, she wrote what she wrote in her blog. It wasn’t accurate and it was potentially damaging, and I wrote to tell her so. She replied, essentially, that I could go fuck myself.”
“We had never had a fight or a falling out, so I didn’t know what this was about. I suppose I must have disappointed her in some way, or maybe even angered her. Or maybe she was dealing with her own feelings about something else; she had just broken up with her boyfriend due to his addiction, and then, maybe by transference, she conjectured that my drinking might be the reason for the custody case. It had nothing to do with it, actually, and as she later noted in her blog, we hadn’t hung out in, I dunno, three years or so. She hadn’t read my ex’s motion, and she basically admitted she had no idea what she was talking about. But whatever it was that motivated Dacia to attack me, you know as much about that as I do. The only indication I have of her feelings about me is what she’s blogged. She hasn’t spoken to me since telling me she was sorry this was happening to me and I could go fuck myself.”
Eden scratched her head. “Doesn’t sound like much of a loss, really.”
“It’s always sad to lose a friend,” I said. “But you’re right. I was involved in a fight for my family. Dacia wrote something rash knowing it could interfere with my real life, and she didn’t give a fuck.” I looked up. “You know, with some people—not many people, but like with you and me, Eden—I feel that no matter what, you’ve got their back and they’ve got yours. You know? I felt that way about Dacia. Right up until she put a knife in my back.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Eden said. “Real friends wouldn’t.”
“I can’t imagine you would,” I smiled. I pushed aside her sandy blond hair and kissed her cheek. She smiled back, her green eyes on mine.
“That’s all such a weird story. I read what you wrote about those two old ladies . . . ,” Eden began.
“Tess and Dee? Well, they’re just six or seven years older than me, so I don’t consider them such ‘old ladies.’”
“Sorry, I just forgot their names,” Eden replied. “I hadn’t heard of them before you wrote about them.”
“Yeah well, they were pretty peripheral to my life, so there was never any reason to bring them up with you. Especially Tess. I barely knew her.”
“They may not be super old, but damn, they’re old enough to know better. That kind of shit went out with middle school.”
“Yeah, though you know, I only had nice friends in middle school.” I tapped a finger on my jeans. “Speaking of them, here, get this. I was talking the other day with this friend I first met in May, at a conference called Sex 2.0. Another friend of mine had organized it, and a lot of friends were going, so I went to be a part of it. I’m interested in the topic, of course: it was primarily about the intersections of feminism and technology.”
“Sure, right? Now, Dacia was going and by this time, Dee was following her around. Dee had never in her life been to such a conference, or even thought about feminism or women’s issues or gender or any of that prior to meeting Dacia, so she took to parroting anything Dacia said with the fervor of an acolyte. I mean, right down to the way Dacia says things are ‘awesome.’”
“So word gets out that I’m going and Dee starts to write me frantic emails. We had broken up, oh, eight or nine months before and I hadn’t heard from her since. Now, she wrote me several times a day. She told me I had a lot of nerve going to this conference because everyone there hated me, and I knew nothing about the plight of women, and so on and so on. I didn’t reply to her, so she kept writing with more and more reasons why I shouldn’t go, and threatening that she was going to tell people what a dickhead I am.”
“Dickhead! Now, that’s middle school.” Eden laughed. “Yeah, you know nothing about feminism.”
“How could I? I’m a man. But seriously, you know, I wrote letters to newspapers supporting the Equal Rights Amendment when I was in middle school. I got hate mail in reply. When I was sixteen, I held Pro-Choice signs at a Reagan campaign stop as jeering adults held pictures of bloody fetuses in my face. I’ve marched for gay rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights; volunteered for a year at a shelter for homeless women and children and for three years at a drop-in center for GLBT youth; written more than a few articles and a book about sexuality, and let’s not forget my blog. I don’t really need feminist credentials from Dee or anyone else to attend a conference.”
“Okay, I don’t mean to sound defensive, but Jesus, right?” I took a breath and exhaled. “Now, where was I? Oh, so this friend of mine. She went to Sex 2.0 and ran into Dacia. My friend was immediately ushered into a hotel room with Dee and one or two others, sat down and told—told!—that she should shun me at the conference. She sat there, listening. She had never met Dee, who was now giving her an earful of my supposed awfulness. At the time, my friend had heard of me, but never met me. So naturally, with all this negative energy being directed at me, what did she think?”
Eden shrugged. “That you’re awful?”
“That was certainly the intent. Instead, being a thinking person, she realized this was an awful lot of effort spent to make someone look awful. So she decided to do some research. She asked around about me, talking to people we know in common. She introduced herself to me. She read my blog and looked into the flame war. She found it all pretty fascinating.”
“So now she’s your friend?”
“Yeah, we met. She’s smart. She thought this all seemed over the top. She decided to get to know me a bit and whattya know? Turns out that I’m a real person. The thing of it is, most grown ups do not appreciate being told who they are allowed to be friends with. Sitting someone down to give such a directive is a presumption of influence that speaks to a skewed sense of power. Did Pope Dacia believe she had the authority to excommunicate me? Did celebrity-seeking Tess and embittered Dee believe that gossip should displace an individual’s reality? If so, what kind of community do the three of them imagine they are part of?”
Eden was quiet for a moment. “You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you?”
I laughed. “Now and then. It’s all fodder for a memoir, I suppose. Sometimes it interests me just because it happened to me, but other times, I see a bigger picture in it. The ways people behave online becomes more interesting to me the longer I have an online persona. And I have a long-held aversion to the notion that communities should coalesce around ostracization and scapegoating.”
“Yeah. All of that makes me angry. When I hear about bullies, I want to gut them like fish.” Eden grinned at the unexpected violence of her imagery. “But then I’m from Jersey, and that’s what we do in Jersey.”
“The swamps are full enough of bodies,” I replied. “Look, I’m tired of hearing myself talk. Thanks for letting me vent. Now, tell me more about what you’ve been up to.”
Eden settled back and returned to talking about her portfolio. After all the pettiness of my conversation, it was a relief to hear her talk so positively about her enthusiasm for her work, like a bracing dose of reality thrown after the narrow confines of gossip and meanness I had described. I realized that I was actually pleased that Eden didn’t seem all that interested in the story I had told. She didn’t know the people involved and it had nothing to do with the things in life that mattered to her. She listened because she cared about me, and as I talked, I found myself moving more and more in the direction of what I found interesting in the story I told. It wasn’t that the actions of these others had much impact in my life—after the conclusion of the custody case they had failed to influence, I was rather content in my life, actually—but rather that they seemed so intent on having a negative impact on my life. These people seemed to find power in attacking me, whether or not these attacks had significance for me, and did so from the cowardly bunkers of gossip and keyboards. None had the bravery to deal with me directly as a real person. Eden had called them “bullies,” and that seemed a good word.
Eden had returned to talking about her recent boyfriend, saying, “So, that’s where that ended. I haven’t had sex in six months.”
“Six months? That’s a long time.” I tilted my head. “Eden, is that one reason you wanted to get together today?”
“Oh, no . . well, not really . . .” she stammered. She caught her breath. “I mean, that’s not the only reason I wanted to see you. I really did want to see how you’re doing.” She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t want to be one of those women who just uses you for sex.”
I smiled. “For reals? Honey, you don’t use me.” I leaned forward to kiss her. Her lips parted slightly. I held close, touching her lips with my tongue. I sat back and smiled. She looked relieved to have her desire out in the open. “You,” I said, standing. I parted my legs and lowered myself onto her lap, facing her. “You, Eden.” I took her head in both hands and lowered myself to kiss her again. “You, Eden,” I whispered. “You are nothing but good and kind to me. I trust you.” I turned her head slightly and lowered my lips to hers. Her mouth opened to mine. I grabbed her hair more firmly in my hands. We kissed slowly, languidly, two long-time lovers getting reacquainted with the taste of one after too long apart. Memories loosened in my mind. I recalled the longing that had once led me to imagine slow weekends, alone in the woods with Eden in my hands, in my bed, at the end of my flogs.
I gripped her hair tighter, pressing her face into mine. “I want you in my bed,” I said gruffly. “Now.” I released her and stood, holding out my hand. “Now, Eden.” She took my hand and stood. I took her kiss again, forgetting my own command and wanting to keep her where she stood, my hands roaming her clothes. The cotton was soft and Eden’s smell was filling my lungs. I pulled the shirt over her head, grabbed her shoulder to turn her and unfastened her bra. As it fell forward, I reached around to take her breasts in my hands. I squeezed hard. “I said bedroom. Now.” I turned her roughly, pulling her forward by her breasts, my body following, pressed close against her back.
I turned her to push her back on my bed and yanked off her jeans and panties. I kept my eyes on her body as my own clothes fell to the floor, taking in her familiarity. Our former understanding that she should always be undressed in my home had ensured that Eden was far more familiar to me nude than clothed. To see her again was like revisiting something as ingrained in memory as a childhood walk to school. I could find my way around her body with my eyes closed.
I lowered myself over her, barely allowing our skin to touch. When did I learn this about her? That barest touch sends the light hair on her flesh up in search of me. When did I learn to crave this scent? Infused in her hair, her skin, her sweat, her scent is from no bottle or tube, but pure and clear and carnal.
I kissed, I bit, I chewed my way down her body, settling my mouth onto her clit. Her back arched, prepared. I knew it would. She would come in my mouth in moments. No one, she has told me, can cause her to orgasm like this. But I can. I learned how.
I knew I should fuck her for a long time before I made her come, but I was greedy.
When she did come—loud, hard, thrashing—I had what I needed. Inside her, I knew I would come soon. I wouldn’t try holding out, I wouldn’t push for longer. Not this time. I needed to give back to her what she had given to me. As I came, I turned to see her eyes watching, her lips smiling. She shared with me the power we each have, the power we earned from all our time together, of the moments much like this one preceding this one, the moments that made this one possible and inevitable. Our shared power, our gift to one another, is the pleasure we give to one another, and the pleasure we derive in doing so.
I held her in the crook of my arm, both of us on our backs, talking low and gently, for a very long time. We dressed, agreeing to another date that would—barring riding accidents or custody battles—lead us back to our routine. We look out for one another, Eden and I. We have each other’s backs.
A few days later, a friend sent me an article in which Dacia was among sex workers and former sex workers who blog about their experiences. “Initially I didn't really care about what the people I wrote about thought about it and that applied to my personal life, too,” Dacia said. “I didn't consider their feelings at all. That was a very different time in my life . . . I did not feel limited though maybe I should have.” My friend attached a note, wondering if perhaps Dacia’s treatment of me—and her cavalier destruction of our relationship, like so many relationships in her life—now weighed heavily on her mind.
I shrugged it off at first. If Dacia has something to say to me, I thought, she’s always known where to find me. I don’t need to dope out her feelings from blog posts or online interviews. I left my desk to start preparing dinner.
Still, as I assembled ingredients and cookware, I thought: what if I reached out to her? Not in the interest of renewing our friendship—I can’t trust her as I once did—nor to gain anything, as she has nothing I want. But if she had regrets, and if these regrets dogged her conscience, I could let Dacia know that she can be forgiven. If I had somehow disappointed or angered her, perhaps she could forgive me.
After reading it over a few times, I sent this note to Dacia.
A friend sent me the article in which you expressed regret about having previously been inconsiderate of the feelings of others in your blog. The friend wondered if, reading between the lines, this indicated remorse about your treatment of me.
I’m not great at reading between lines. Maybe you feel remorse, or maybe that’s all a bridge you consider well burned. But if you do revisit your actions with regret and ever want to talk about it, I’m here. We used to be very close and loved one another. For those reasons if no other, I prefer forgiveness to rancor.
Hope all is well.
I haven’t heard back from her, but perhaps, one day, I will.