This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for BDSM and consent violations.
Imagine if you can the bar of a budget city centre hotel in the years before budget hotels became Travellodges. The hotel is owned, managed and styled by a provincial brewery, the kind of company that could only succeed in the brewing trade by selling beer to people who didn’t often travel very far.
He’s been away from home for a week, and he’s tired. It’s been a difficult week, and he’s wondering how long he can keep doing this life of working away.
He knows he’s drinking too much, and he knows he can’t face the loneliness of the bedroom and the television,and the half finished novel that he doesn’t understand.
He knows that he has a deal with his partner, and that she doesn’t mind if he plays while he’s away. He knows she will if she gets the chance, and that they’ll enjoy the story telling on Saturday night.
He knows he has his own rules and standards too. Why wouldn’t he? He’s proud of what he is, vain even.
The bar is upstairs in a city centre, so it’ s a popular stopping off point for couples looking to start their Thursday night out in style, if style is a place where some of the drinks have olives in them, and there are complementary peanuts on the bar. There are singles too, and more than one or two who look as if they’ll settle for a quiet night in with a sales rep if he stands them a few drinks.
After a mediocre dinner in a restaurant more famed for its view of a multi storey carpark than its cuisine he’s back in the bar, and the guy who was also dining alone is making small talk at the bar with him. Gaydar has yet to be invented, but both of them know the other is open to offers. They both laugh about a line from a Cliff Richard song playing on the muzak loop; Miss You Nights, the bit where Cliff sings the line about nights when he’d trade innocence for company.
He’s twenty five years younger than the guy who’s joking about trading his innocence for company a long time ago, and suddenly, unprompted, he half slurs at the guy that he’s not interested in innocence, just obedience.
That’s how he ends up in the bedroom three floors below the restaurant, beating and punching a man twice his age, for whom he feels no desire at all, besides his submission. Sometime past midnight, as he’s swigging from a half bottle of whisky provided by the night porter, who’d wrinkled his nose at the dirty socks smell of poppers pervading the room, he notices the man’s wedding ring, as if for the first time.
He takes hold of the polyester tie he’s knotted around the man’s scrotum, and tightens it. Does he want to be castrated and left to go home to explain to his wife exactly how he ended up a eunuch? The man is out of it, eye rollingly intoxicated, but he says ‘Anything.’ Our anti-hero cant parse the nihilism that is lurking behind the pinhole pupils, the way this man who is old enough to be his father seems completely unconcerned by a threat of irreversible harm.
In the News of The World it used to be traditional in exposes of the seamy underbelly of Britain’s inner cities (or some such cliche) for the journalist to make his excuses and leave. Our anti hero didn’t. He fisted, and beat, and pissed on a man who at some points couldn’t even have named his wife, or the boys he’d mentioned at the bar, one at Oxford, one at Sussex.
It would have been a neat denouement if our anti-hero had made his excuses and left, but he didn’t. Similarly there was no point on the road to Damascus where he realized that he had gone wrong. Somehow he became comfortable with the idea that he hadn’t castrated that man, that he had seen something that told him there were boundaries that he shouldn’t cross. Like so many things in life, the theory, about consent and intoxication, followed the experience. He had the comfort of knowing that the man hadn’t complained, had given him a business card, had sent him a postcard to his office that said ‘If you’re ever in Romford…’
He also knew, he knows, he fears, that the boundary was not as clear as he pretends, that he can kid himself not going too far was some affirmation of an inner moral core, but that in reality it was just as possible that it was luck, not judgement that meant he left a happy, bruised and bloodied man rather than a corpse in that hotel room.
On the Saturday night, after he’d told the whole story to his partner, post sex, quiet, relaxed and less needy of each other, our anti-hero told her he couldn’t do the miss you nights, that he knew he’d trembled on a tight rope and had to change what he did in order to avoid going to that particular well of loneliness again.
Looking back, if I knew then what I know now, that I was setting in train a chain of events that would lead to the breaking of that relationship, I would still do the same again. Better that than to keep on taking the same risks and hoping for safe outcomes. Or, as Einstein put it, clever people solve problems, wise people avoid them.