Here are two chapters from No End Of The Bed to entice you. Chapter 13 takes us back to adolescence, with my struggles in the church. Chapter 36 is the complete antithesis, or is it? By this point, I am trying to figure out who I am, while my lover consistently prods me into situations that are way over my head.
“People will believe anything.
Except, it seems, the truth.”
Growing up, my mother’s entire social life was within the faith. Besides church on Sunday, she attended Wednesday night services, ran a Senior Citizen’s Bible study the next morning, and went to Praise night at Mrs. McMaster’s house on Friday night’s. But her Women’s Aglow meetings really took the cake. They met up once a month in various banquet halls. The only man I ever saw there was a handsome African American pastor. Everyone was in love with him. At the time, I was about six years old, and he told me that he liked the dress my mother had forced me to wear. I felt ridiculous in frilly things with bows and petticoats. But the tights were an even worse torture. I couldn’t stop scratching my legs.
At these meetings the energy would reach a frenzy, building to a climax until around twenty women would go up front. Amidst howling and shrieking and blubbering sobs, the pastor would shout, “By the power of Jesus’ blood you are slain in the spirit!”
Instantly they would all fall, flat on their backs. It was very funny to watch. It wasn’t as though they would sit on their asses and then fall back. It was more of a complete backwards faint. A long row of over-weight women in potato sack dresses just lying there, some of them passed out, others speaking in tongues.
One time a woman came with a neck brace claiming it was a permanent injury. The pastor laid his hands on her, along with five women praying out loud in a din of nonsense. Eventually the woman couldn’t take it anymore. She busted off her brace and started yelling that she’d been healed. Women’s Aglow was always good for a show.
There were other meetings like this one. One night we went to see a traveling evangelist who was a faith healer. Two parents brought in their screaming three year-old and told us he was possessed by a demon. It seemed to me he was just tired or sick or maybe had a psychological problem. But the pastor started yelling, “Release him from this torture! Set this boy free! In Jesus name!”
The boy screamed even louder. I had to admit, it was eerie. And it went on and on, until finally the boy stopped crying, and they walked off the stage. Yes, the stage. Everything seemed staged. Like theater, like an over-abundance of emotions, like hypnotism. The pastors all used that same rhythm in their voices, as though they were all from the south. It lulled you into believing what they said.
“You are getting very sleepy,” pause, “When I count to three you will close your eyes. One… two… three,” pause, “I will use the Bible as mind control. And because of the all-knowing tone of my voice you will never question me, I will use the pulpit to be high above you, and the words that I say will be the words of God. I will be like God to you. I will comfort you, but I will also fill you with fear. Because you would not want to falter in front of God, just as you will be your best for me. And you will give me your devotion, your money, your life, and your will. As a congregation you will grow, and feed my ego. And we will grow in strength. We will take over the world in our spiritual revival. We will spread to the far reaches. And I will be your leader. I will be your father. When I count to three you will be free from your own weakness, and will understand the strength in being my flock. One… two… three!”
My mother wouldn’t question the pastor, or the Republican president, because she was told their words were the word of God.
Throughout childhood I went through an inner battle that no one else could see. Pretending to be good was so stifling. At four years old, in church singing hymns, I thought it would be funny if I sang in potty talk instead. No one could hear me. But I felt liberated from all the staunch repression, free as I could be in my pee-pees and pooh-poohs and on and on in my own personal mantra. The boredom of the following sermon never mattered after that. I had committed my first act of rebellion against being made to sing words I did not feel.
I was sixteen and my mother and sister took me on a women’s retreat. Maybe I could finally prove that I wasn’t a failure at being a Christian. They asked if anyone would like to come up to receive prayer. I went up and asked to receive my prayer language. Three women laid hands on me. I closed my eyes hard in concentration, desperately wanting to feel something. Their touch sent a chill down my back. I looked over to the right and could see my mother prostrate on the ground through the crowd. Turning back, I zeroed in on my attempt to feel the presence of God. But there was nothing. Only my own mind telling me that now would be a good time to begin speaking gibberish.
When I opened my eyes, everyone was so happy for me. I had grown in maturity as a Christian. Their hope in my future was replenished.
“I don’t love people I can dominate.”
At the Vogue nightclub, a stale stench of sweat, urine, and spilt liquor made the air feel dense. Black walls and curtains made the room seem larger than it was. A lanky man in hot pants and a boa danced around a pole. His muscles glistened under the strobe lights as he thrust and swayed to the repetitive beat of industrial music. The pulsing bass was overlaid with rhythmic whips slapping down on a treble beat.
A woman with cropped bangs strode past the dancer as though she were on a catwalk, wearing only fishnets, a black thong and two pieces of black tape that covered her nipples. I tried my best not to stare, though I was completely enamored. I stood watching behind a high rectangular table that surrounded the dance floor. I wore hot pants, a black woven bikini with fringe, fishnets and six-inch platform peep-toe heels.
When we had arrived, Nico bought me a Long Island and disappeared. I could see him now, not far off, talking to a woman. She fondled his arm and flashed her eyes at him with her fat cheeks bulging as much as her breasts. I mused over Nico in his tight spandex tube dress and combat boots, and smiled over how the feminine attire enhanced his masculinity.
A bear of a man walked past me and grasped Nico by the arms, kissing him forcefully. Nico tensed up and shrank back. The man said something I couldn’t hear. Then Nico dodged away, and swooped over to me. It was the first time I ever saw him without control over a situation.
“How does the basil I put in your little pants feel?” he asked me.
“Refreshing. You could start a trend and call it herbs in undies. Enhance your natural flavors.”
“That’s my girl,” he said, slapping my ass. I put my hand on my hip and pursed my lips at him.
“Listen,” he said, “I have someone I want you to meet. He likes to be beaten and goes by the name Community Carl. He needs to be put in his place. I want you to dominate him.”
“I’m not sure I can handle that.”
“Of course you can! I’ll teach you! He’ll love it. You’re just the sort he likes.”
Nico took my hand, and I tottered behind in the very tall shoes. He was like a crazy little elf guiding me to the netherworld. We came to the back of the club where a doorway was covered with black curtains. I was afraid to enter. Who knew what was going on behind. Nico pulled the curtain aside and guided me in where an older man with a mustache was tied to the wall by his wrists. His shirt was off, and he seemed like a remnant from an old porno film. His bare chest was leathery, gravity pulling his skin down crease by crease.
“Please, I need to be beaten,” Carl begged, head hanging down towards the floor.
Nico abruptly slapped him in the face, “Does that feel good?”
“I need more. I want it to hurt.”
“Lauren he’s begging for it. You can do whatever you want to him. You can twist his nipples, slap him, or punch him. Just don’t hit his kidneys in the lower back, here and here,” he instructed, placing his hands across the sway of the man’s back. “Any damage to the kidneys could be fatal. But the rest is yours.”
“Okay,” I said, hesitating as I stared at Community Carl.
“You can do anything you want to him.”
“I need to be beaten down,” whimpered Carl. I whaled into his chest with my fist, and my strength surprised me.
“Oh fuck!” he yelped.
I whacked his thigh then twisted his left nipple tight between my fingers.
“Good girl, Lauren,” said Nico, as though I were an obedient canine. “You just keep at it, and I’ll be back soon,” he said, patting my shoulder.
I looked at Nico with a touch of panic, but after his exit, my aggression turned on Carl. A man handed me a crop and I whipped Carl back and forth across his stomach and chest. His face pinched in pain and he sucked in air with each sting of black leather. He twisted and flailed against the wall. I hated that Nico always left me. What was he doing? Why did he need so much attention?
Carl looked gruesome in his pseudo submissive state. I could see beneath his act that he had spent a lifetime on a ruthless treadmill of self-importance. Physical pain seeped through his body, erasing the emptiness of his emotions. All the things he had believed in at a young age eventually became a lie. Blood vessels bulged in his neck as he cringed. He wanted it all to be beaten out of him. The crop in my hand zipped through the air and came down on his skin with a loud whap.
His eyes rolled back into his head as he whimpered, “I need more.”
“Do you?” I whacked him once more across the thigh. An audience had gathered at the door. I felt taken up into another existence. The vinyl had been a costume for me, but now my appearance was being interpreted as fact. I surveyed all the people watching the role that had gone past pretend. My mind was a cloud of manufactured fog and neon beams of light flipping to the consistent sounds of a lash.
Nico came bursting through the curtains, “Lauren! Don’t you think you’re getting carried away?”
“Not at all,” I replied, whacking Carl again.
“Come with me.”
“Yes!” Nico commanded, taking my hand. “I want you to meet a man. He’s very rich. He could be good for you!” he spit into my ear, over the loud music. “You could live on your own. He could set you up.”
“I don’t want to meet anyone else. I’ve found you, haven’t I?”
“No, you must meet Franco. He’s been asking about you.”
Nico led me out to the bar where a rotund man in a bow tie sat. He looked like an opera singer.
“Franco! This is Lauren. She’s quite good with a whip.”
Franco laughed jovially as I held out my hand. He kissed it while I distractedly sipped my Long Island.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he said.
“I didn’t know people used phrases like that anymore,” I replied.
“You have a beautiful smile. You know you are going to make an amazing mother with a smile like that,” mused Franco.
“A mother?” My eyebrows creased together in confusion.
“Some little boy will be raised well because you exist in this world. You’re a rich woman, and any boy would love to have a mother like you. Easygoing and artistic, I can tell,” he added.
“You are a strange bird,” I said, laughing. “A strange, strange bird.” I shook my head.
Maybe Franco had a mother fetish, but I certainly wasn’t the motherly type. Nico told me I had the body of an adolescent boy. I began to shimmy and moved backwards, edging away from the two men who suddenly seemed foreign and strange and faraway. They watched me move as I closed my eyes and ate up their stares. I traveled into another dimension, beyond the creatures that circled like extras from a sci-fi film. I was a voyeur of my own life.
• • •
It was the time of year when the season turns grey and brisk with crystals of frost that form before dawn. I closed Nico’s red front door gently behind me and walked past the strangely configured broken white reproduction statues from various sites in Rome. Exiting the wind-torn curtains obscuring the entrance to the porch, I walked down the stairs. I breathed in, and the thick wet air seeped into my nostrils. Turning the key in the lock, I stepped into my aging hand-me-down car. The transmission was dying due to the time it was towed in second gear.
I felt poetic, nostalgic, and pure, like a virgin ready to be sacrificed to Dionysian delights or death itself. I turned down the street and drove through slumbering neighborhoods. The whole world seemed to be drowsy with hibernation. But amidst all the deadness I felt so awake.
My long monotonous shift at work would have little meaning in the knowledge that I was living an extraordinary life. I took risks that my friends would never dream of. I couldn’t care less about protecting my emotions if it meant it would hold me back from really living. But I wanted the parallel life to stop. I was tired of all the people from my past that shook their heads over things they didn’t understand. Though I loved them, there was nothing between us anymore. And I hated regressing back into the Lauren I had left behind, the one who faked everything just to be accepted. Then I thought of the costume I had worn the night before, and realized, that too was an act.