The Manuscript is the Secret

contributed by EDW

Standing in front of the door he could hear the clicking of her heels as she walked down the corridor.

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He always moved to the desks in the back of the classroom. He waited with dread for the sound of the teachers approach and the door opening and he/her walking in and the class would settle down. Sitting in the back he hoped he would not be called on.

Of course, that strategy never worked.

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When she would ask to put up his left, or his right hand, he had to think.

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He never learned right from left automatically. He finally did it by understanding that a baseball hitter batting left hit to the right side and a right-handed hitter to the left side. He always did that “trick” in his mind when people said left or right. Unfortunately, it always took a few seconds so he was always a bit late.

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She adjusted the black leather cuffs to his right and then his left wrist: What comfort!

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In the 7th grade there was a spelling test every week of a hundred words. If you got the words right 3 times in a row you were excused from taking the test for the rest of the term. He looked over the shoulder of the boy sitting next to him. He hated doing it but the amount of words missed each week was humiliating. The boy, who grew up to be an admired novelist, knew him well and instead of covering the paper with his elbow, pleaded with him silently not to look.  He looked away, but the following week, he looked over his shoulder again. The pattern was repeated with whoever sat next to him.

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After the Flogger came down in repeated strokes she soothed his back with her leather- gloved hand. He asked her – them – if they could use their naked hand so he could feel her/their flesh.   

Some of them took their gloves off, some did not.

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After his mother died he found a box of his “report cards” and old papers going back to middle school in one of the closets of the Cape Cod house. In one of them the report said, “He keeps putting 21 into 7 instead of the other way around.”

Now he could make a rueful smile when he read the words but why did he have no memory of this? He tried to go back. His muscles tightened, his mouth opened like a jellyfish to get breath, no words came to him. A “terrible” feeling of anger was in him but that afternoon he held it down.

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She put her fingers on his nipples and instructed him to count to ten increasing the pinch as he counted. Sometimes there were clothspins, sometime clamps, sometimes other apparatus that created the pain that swept through his chest so no other feeling existed. The blood rushed to his nipples as the fingers were removed, the clamps came off, the other devices let loose and, with a few people, a sudden bite down of the teeth, and then the breath, the touch, and with a few, a tongue, only for a few seconds, soothing the flesh….soothing the mind….soothing the ego….holding the anger.

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His mother had been a specialist in learning disabilities. She tried an experiment using the Gillingham method to teach him spelling. There were cards with words spelled out phonetically. We would meet in the kitchen after diner and before homework. The frustration was unbearable and one night he grabbed the pile of cards and threw them in her face and left the room and stormed into his bedroom. His mother was very smart: she knew the experiment had failed and she let others try instead.

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He liked to be tied, strapped down really, tightly to the bondage table, or the horse, or what ever there was to be tied down too. Whatever happened after that was enhanced by the body being unable to move. Of course, the mouth was free to breath and to let out those sounds that came without thought.

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He continued to sit in the back desks but now he would stare out the window and began to talk to himself. Alas, his lips moved to the words though no sound came out. Teachers began to see him in the back, his lips moving, staring out the window. Everyone said they were worried. Psychotherapy was recommended. The therapist managed to “calm him down” but to this day he still talks to himself and his lips move. His fantasy life began in earnest about that time. His fantasy life: a curse for the time wasted, a blessing for the adventures it led him too.

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At the age of 35 he was in charge of a clinic. An old college friend managed a book store across from Carnegie Hall and one night, after a concert, he dropped in to see him. In the magazine rack was a copy of Screw Magazine. He had never looked at it. He thumbed through the pages and came across the ads in the back. One stood out. She wore a hood but her legs were covered with fishnet stockings. For a few weeks, when he passed the newsstands he found himself thumbing through the magazine’s pages to find her ad.

She was the first.

Her sessions were always only a half-hour. After undressing alone in a back room off her apartment she came in and immediately blind folded me. They only did “one thing” a session. He remember a device that he was put into in which his knees pressed down on wooden edges. He was stroked with a variety of instruments. He was instructed to put his head between her legs and to service her. Sometime he heard a low moan, other times not. He was instructed to masturbate for the final 5 minutes. It was a while before he could come in that short a time. The blindfold came off and he was ushered outside. He saw her about once every three months for a little over a year before she announced she was moving. He never saw her again and he never had a session quite like it again. But, to use the common phrase, “she turned him out.”   

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Where he went to high school there were 3-hour midterm and final exams in every subject. If a student flunked one course he was thrown out.

He would sit before each exam on the stairwell that led toward the library. He was not alone. A few other boys and one girl would huddle together in collective fear. He remembered that the muscles in his abdomen were clenched as tight as a sailor’s knot, his breath came in short, involuntary spasms, and he experienced overwhelming exhaustion.

Was this more than anxiety? The word seemed too tame.

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When he started out there had been “The Gates of Hell”. Nowadays people seemed not to have heard of it. The rings, smaller and smaller, were attached together, one on top of each other.  She pulled them down the shaft.  The smaller rings moved down with great difficulty. When they were all attached there were other things she did before she grabbed the leather rope that held them and with one jerk pulled them off.

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The little blue books came back on the last day of school. Instead of relief he felt the familiar sensation of disappointment at the continual string of C-, occasionally C, that was always penciled in at the front. He never actually flunked out. But once:

A Spanish exam had clearly failed. The teacher explained to the class that everyone had done poorly but had managed to pass. He called me up after the others had left. He had debated all night on my grade. I had managed to get almost completely right the translation of Spanish into English. The translation of English into Spanish I had failed almost completely. I had a 48 in one part and 5 or 7 in the other. 65 past. He liked me. It was obvious I was smart.  There were, he searched for the words,  “technical difficulties”. It was not my fault. I got one part right: he would pass me.

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After a while everyone knew about his learning disabilities. It was not a secret. Did that make it worse?

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Dream Number One

He was on the subway headed into the village.  He had been unable to sleep the night before and as the subway left 242nd street he began to drowse off. He had never fallen asleep on the subway.

A woman dressed in black stood in front of him. Below her flames darted out between her legs and around her boots. She seemed to speak but there were no words he could understand. The room was becoming increasingly hotter. There was some unheard music in the background.  The heat from the fire intensified.  

He woke with a start. The subway was half filled. He was somewhere near 96th street station. He felt shaken. He almost never remembered his dreams and that remains true to this day. As he was walking in the village he suddenly realized that the women resembled The Dragon Lady in the Terry and the Pirates comic book. He was about 14 years old.

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She stopped the session in the middle. She saw I was reading “Remembrance of Things Past”. She asked me about a section in “Swan’s Way.” She was a Comparative Literature major at Barnard. I told her what I thought it meant. She said:  “You’re really smart, you know.”

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They always said that. Everyone. Did I believe it?  What was wrong?

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20 years later I was driving up the Jersey coast and my Spanish teacher came out of a diner with a container of coffee.  He did not recognize me and I told him who I was and we embraced. They never gave me the words until later: Dyslexia – the worst case they had ever seen he said  – General Learning disability – the worst case they had ever seen he said. He smiled, but you have turned out all right, he said. He had always been such a nice man.

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He was accepted to college on probation: he had to pass in the first semester or he would be let go.  He suffered through.  At the college he went to there was a final graduating project that had to be at least 75 pages. He was finally caught. The three-person committee failed him. He had to go home to tell his parents.

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His arms were stretched over his head and a rope that attached to the spinning wheel tied his hands. His legs were stretched and cuffed at the bottom of the table. She turned the crank and he felt the pressure in his arms. She leaned over him, “I was violated when I was young and you suffered humiliation.” As she continued to turn the crank she tenderly ran her fingertips over the skin underneath his arms: restorative touch!

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He took a job at a radio station in the record library and rented a furnished room off upper Broadway on West 94th street. He tried to rewrite his graduation thesis. His concentration, since he had started to talk to himself way back in middle school, was terrible. There were nights that he walked up and down Broadway unable even to sit down. He masturbated to stop the anguish. But still, he could not sit down.

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Dream Number Two

The brutal, humid, summer heat of New York City in 1963 had drained the population of Manhattan of any energy they had left.  He had finally gone to sleep in the single furnished room on West 94th street.

He awoke in the middle of the night. He left his room and made his way out onto the street. The heat was overwhelming. He found the doctor’s office just off Broadway near the Thalia movie theater. The doctor saw him in his office. He took down his pants and showed him his extended penis. It was open down the middle. His hands took the flaps and he showed the doctor. There was nothing but an empty canal inside. 

He awoke with a start. His whole body was covered in sweat. He poured himself a glass of water. He was trembling.

The dream remained a secret until the beginning of 1980 when he finally found the brilliant therapist he had always hoped for. R had discounted the dime store interpretation of castration: the dream signified a loss of power, after all the penis had been erect, but inside there was nothing to push forward.                                                                           

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He was graded with a C-. One committee member would have flunked him but the two others voted to pass him.

He was finally free!

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All this happened 53 years ago. He become a political activist, directed a clinic and had a private practice, published a few reminiscences, wrote and directed a feature film that won a few festival awards for fiction feature.

But…. those early years had cost him points…. and he always knew it.

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When they warmed up she would alternate her hands and then fingernails down his back and legs. He leaned over and did the same to her legs and arms. He would hang by two ropes as she flogged him, alternating the pressure on his back. He no longer took marks that would last more then 24 hours. Stretched on the bondage table she would run the pinwheel over his body. Standing she would pressure his nipples with her fingers and then apply cloths pins to his thighs and snap them off with a crop. Sometime she would stroke him with firmer instruments. In between every part of the experience he would feel her hand on his flesh, her near naked body against his back, her breath on his skin, her voice quietly murmuring soft words in his ear.

Paul Goodman, paraphrasing Wilhelm Reich, writes “it is not the pain that is wanted but the release of the dammed-up instincts…. the wish to have it done to one, to be forced, broken, punctured, to let loose the inward pressure.”

He would massage their backs, their buttocks, and their legs with his elbows. He would embrace their feet, their knees, their thighs, their arms, with his lips and fingertips. His tongue found their armpits, their nipples, their full breasts.  Her finger, recently between her legs, was placed near his face. Perfume to his senses. His release was the coda to the grand experiment.

All the women he met combined elements of his imagination. No one did the same thing and no one did everything. They chose what they felt comfortable with.

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It is evening in the city. Fall has returned and the wind has swept most of the leaves onto the sidewalk.

Of them all, wonderful and kind, in their own way, a few were truly important to him in different ways.

P worked out of a small apartment on Bleecker Street, then moved to the building next to the jazz club before retiring.

J had been in a two-story house in Chelsea. She was now a psychotherapist.

E.C. was off Harold Square, up on the 30th floor. Visually, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

A was in Providence, first in a house in the old section of town, then in a massive three-story factory building where she had decorated every room – there had been nothing like it before or since.

In Oakland, the 1989 earthquake had brought down the thruway and a bare series of roads had replaced it. One building stood out among the low level factories and in October Burning Man sculptures could be seen in some of the vacant lots around it. Here was C. Moving from city to city, on plane after plane, K, with her one-piece luggage, travelled the world.

The leaves have turned brown and yellow. He was now in the last act. He was 75.

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His early life could not be a secret. His life among “the players” he had allowed to gradually be known to a few. Others just guessed.  Was there a secret? Only initials signed this manuscript.

This manuscript is the secret.

                                                             

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