“I can take a hit.”

That was the subject title of the Craigslist ad I posted at the age of seventeen. In the ad I explained that my pain tolerance was high, and offered to let people hit me with anything, so long as it was on my ass and not anywhere else. I often wonder how I came to the conclusion that this would be a good idea. Maybe it was loneliness that drove me to it, or my burgeoning appetite for pornography. Whatever it was, I received almost a hundred responses in the first hour.

I deleted most of the responses – the one liners, the vulgar tongues, and the people who couldn’t spell. I even received a response warning me, telling me that this was a dangerous ad to post, that I should delete it and get counseling. I didn’t mention my age but I guess something in the ad indicated that I was young.

I corresponded with Benji, who seemed experienced and smart. I don’t remember much about his first emails to me. When we met, he was in a button-down shirt and jeans. I was in awe because he was a “pretty boy” with his brown hair and blue eyes, in his late twenties. I knew he was white but I didn’t know he would be this much of an impressive specimen. I hopped into his fancy car, a silver Mercedes. We drove from Brooklyn to Mahwah, New Jersey. I remember thinking how weird the name of the town sounded when I tried to pronounce it.

As he drove, I began to doubt myself, even as I was sure that I was too smart to get in a serial killer’s car. He seemed nice enough but I withdrew. This wasn’t the first time I had gone off with a strange man to be spanked, just the first time I’d planned it. Before I left, I had told one of my friends via text that I was going off with a guy and forwarded his email address just in case I got killed. As I was nervously looking out the window and fumbling around with my phone, I made sure to tell Benji that someone knew where I was. “Good,” he said.

“Just in case you’re a serial killer,” I added.

“I’m not going to kill you,” he laughed.

“Yeah, right.”

“I am, however, going to spank you good. I’m going to lift your dress and take down your panties and spank you very hard. I have paddles. I have canes. I have all kinds of gear.”

“Is this supposed to reassure me?”

“You’ll live. I promise.”

* * *

By the time we got to his place, I was mute with panic. His condo was very organized. The first thing I noticed was that he had a fireplace. I stood awkwardly in the doorway until he motioned for me to sit on his leather couch. He tried to make small talk but I was unable to speak. So he told me to wait while he disappeared into what I assumed was his bedroom.

When he reappeared with a small mahogany paddle I thought I would faint. He took a seat next to me on his leather couch and pulled me over his lap. He told me to remember to breathe. He started spanking me over my clothes with his hand. I grabbed his ankle, clung onto it with a vice grip, and tried to breathe.

When he started spanking my bare bottom with the mahogany paddle I couldn’t help but cry silently. It was painful, but I felt endorphins flood my body. I was enjoying this. He saw silence as a challenge and increased the intensity of the spanking. I was proud that I wasn’t crying out in spite of the pain. He remarked that I was bleeding, almost as an afterthought. He paused and when he looked like he would resume, I swallowed my pride and whispered, “Stop.”

He continued anyway. He didn’t go on for a long time but I got the point. He was in control.

When I was pulled upright, I lunged at him, not to enact violence but in need of comfort. He wrapped me in his arms and reminded me to breathe. He was gentle and made soothing motions on my back. I didn’t want to let go of him. He gently deposited me on the couch and went to his bedroom. When he got back, he pulled me over his lap a second time. I grunted in disapproval but he didn’t spank me again. Instead, he rubbed lotion onto my ass. When he pulled me up again, I had tears in my eyes. I was overwhelmed by how gentle he was. I had no experience with tenderness after violence. It was a refreshing difference from being abandoned afterward, like when my father would leave the room as soon as he was done disciplining me. My father and Benji shared many qualities: higher education, good looks, and a mean temper. Benji, however, was sweet after lashing out. My father would remain angry. Benji hugged me while I sat on his lap. I don’t know how long we stayed like that. That was my favorite part; this thing he called “aftercare.”

I had found what I was looking for: home. His show of affection after the spanking led me to a place inside myself where I was free from other people’s opinions, but I was not alone. I lived with my parents at the time, and my house was an oppressive environment. My mother constantly commented on my weight and the portion size of my food. My father was an over-achiever who couldn’t stand the thought of me getting an A- or a B when I could get an A. Top it off with the austere religion like Seventh Day Adventism that didn’t allow for dancing and jewelry-wearing and all I wanted to do was get away. I felt like I was suffocating. I had read literature that described how people felt good, welcomed, and loved at home. Benji never told me I was fat. He never gave me the silent treatment. He let me be me.

I started seeing Benji once a week. I knew there must be something wrong with me if I willingly submitted, with no safe word, to a man with a closet designated only for canes. I felt like I was all wrong and I needed to be punished. Guilt had been indoctrinated in me from my religious childhood. I was always being told what I was doing wrong. I was so micromanaged that if I got a single mark on my white dress while jumping rope I felt like I had sinned. When Benji punished me, I knew what it felt like to be forgiven, to be cleansed. It was like a Christian conversion experience.

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I fell in love with Benji. I didn’t want him to love me back. I wanted to belong to him, like a piece of furniture. I wanted to be something precious that he would never throw away. I never once wanted to be his equal. He called me a nigger bitch and it didn’t even break my stride. I didn’t want to be alone again.

As time passed, I began to redefine love to fit my relationship with Benji. Sometimes we had dinner together, and this encouraged my romantic fantasies. But mostly I decided that to be loved is to be owned like a pet. I’ve seen the admiration and worship people have for their pets. I’ve always wanted to be loved in that way. It’s a fierce love. I want to be loved like a prized possession, fiercely and delicately, never to be thrown out.

One day, Benji came to pick me up from the New Jersey Transit station, and he was annoyed because I was late. I let it slip that I’d gotten drunk at a party earlier in the week, which I knew would upset him. I’d missed a college class due to drinking and I felt guilty. He was my priest and I wanted to be absolved. He lectured me for the entire drive to his place. When we arrived, he didn’t just spank my bottom. He took a cane to my inner thighs. I was impressed with how much it hurt.

I screamed, “OK, OK, I won’t drink ever. You’re killing me. You’re killing me!”

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I still remember the intensity of this scene fondly. As a budding potential alcoholic, the idea that I would promise never to drink again was a testament to the amount of power Benji had over me. He was my god and I worshiped him. I didn’t realize how strong a control he had over me until that moment. I quit drinking for several months just because he decided that’s what I needed to do and because I never wanted to feel the sting of the cane again.

* * *

Six years after I met Benji, full-blown alcoholism and reckless behavior drove me to therapy, where I began to reexamine my relationship with him. But it was four more years before I gave Benji up. As I developed self-esteem in therapy, I stopped enjoying the ways Benji degraded me. I became Afro-feminist because of my admiration of certain women on Twitter. I began to read what they read. I didn’t even know the term “Afro-feminist” existed until I started to read blogs and tweets. I didn’t want to be a nigger bitch. I didn’t like the way he spoke to me, or the way he treated me.

I had become a part of the larger BDSM community by joining an online community called Fetlife and had experienced play that was safe-word guarded during parties at BDSM clubs. I knew I could get that feeling of home elsewhere, without the danger and lack of respect. I also became a non-denominational Christian after visiting a church with an AA friend and having an actual conversion experience. I had a new god that I was passionate about and it left no room for me to worship at Benji’s dark altar. I was changing and my relationship with Benji wasn’t compatible with my new ideas about myself. I struggled with the decision to abandon Benji, and in the end I couldn’t even do it face-to-face; I sent him an email that said I no longer required his services. I don’t need to be disciplined. I’m not guilty.

After I stopped seeing Benji, I continued to search for ways to jump out of myself and erase my thoughts and feelings. I’ve tried to capture the high of that first aftercare experience with drugs and alcohol, with self-harm, with obsessive coloring, and with mixed martial arts. That high was nowhere to be found. The safety and security I felt in Benji’s arms is still unparalleled.

I still identify with wanting to belong to someone. It’s a feeling I can’t quite shake. However, I know now that I am a worthwhile human being all on my own. I know now, ten years after leaving Benji, that I don’t have to feel guilty all the time. The freedom I have found in being owned by myself is tremendous. But I still wonder, if Benji offered me a collar today, what I would do. Would I give up my freedom in order to be his?

Sarah Francois

Sarah Francois is from Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Long Island University with an MFA is Cross-Genre Creative Writing.
Margherita Barrera is an Italian illustrator based in Rome.