Eventually, I found him at my side, his arms engulfing me. I let him. I was always seeking shelter in the people who hurt me the most. My mother. My father. Caleb. Like a battered dog begging for love from a malicious master. It was all I knew. And still his arms felt safe, warm, meant for me to seek sanctuary within. The cycle of damage would never end because I couldn’t tell the difference until it was too late.
“I made them pay.” He whispered again, his tone cold and final, but his words meant nothing to me, though I suspected they meant a great deal to him. Only his arms mattered, only the tangible feel of hard, sturdy flesh surrounding mine. His embrace said all the things his lips could not or would not, they said, you’re safe and I will protect you, maybe even some semblance of caring about me, however fucked up, but everything was fucked up. Through it all, his lips only repeated, “I made them pay,” and I felt something different that still felt oddly real to me, more real than anything.
I hated him, but I didn’t either and I didn’t understand anything anymore, least of all myself.
I cried for a while, taking solace in the comforting lie of his embrace. The illusion, the fantasy, it helped. I never wanted to leave. I wanted to stay here forever, held tight to his chest, his fingers stroking my hair, his heart beating against my ear: you’re-safe, trust-me, love-you. Love. Did I want him to love me? Yes. I wanted someone to love me. And what was love if not someone risking their lives to save you? Caleb had saved me. Did it mean he loved me? A part of me wanted to think so. To believe in a romantic ideal that didn’t exist. I wanted to believe the lie. But more than that – I wanted it not to be a lie.
After a while, I forced myself to pull away. The longer I stayed, the more I doubted I could keep my resolve to escape and that was dangerous. I was torn, constantly, between emotions that continued to fight each other. Caleb was dangerous. And not just because he was bigger, stronger, and more sadistic than I cared to think about. “Can I see a mirror?” I asked warily, sniffling. It wasn’t about vanity. I needed to see just how close I’d come to losing my life, and I wanted it to mean something real for me. A harsh dose of reality to shake me free of all my stupid fantasies.
He was very slow, dare I say, reluctant, to release me. Even as I tried to put distance between us, his fingertips wiped gently at the corners of my swollen eyes and the look on his face said the hurt, pain and superficiality didn’t matter. His words echoed the sentiments I read on his face. “It’s not necessary. The damage isn’t permanent.”
“That bad, huh?” I asked, but the look in his eyes shifted, turning harder, colder and it told me all I needed to know. Those sons-of-bitches had done a number on me. My arm bent behind my back. Pain. Laughter. A cock pushing against me, looking for a way in.
“It’s not necessary,” he repeated firmly. “The damage isn’t permanent.” He paused, the hesitation odd in his otherwise firm and confident demeanor. “I made them pay.” Caleb was not a man who hesitated or questioned anything. And yet, I felt him doing so at that moment. There were things he wanted to say and wasn’t. “I know you’ve been through more than enough.” He reached out and tilted my chin gently, meeting my eyes, “But promise me you’ll never do it again.” I turned my head slightly away. He was telling me, not asking me, to never run away from him again. Without saying it, he was chastising me, letting me know that by taking matters into my own hands, I’d just gotten into deeper trouble and all on my own. It was a bitter pill to swallow...because he was right.
“Yes, Caleb.” I paused, “Yes, Master,” I whispered dully, feeling hollow again. Caleb frowned but nodded. I didn’t know what was more frightening, that in that moment I meant it or that Caleb had expected it.
His fingers continued to play softly across my jaw. He was tentative, pensive, and wary of causing me any pain or discomfort. I couldn’t stand it. There was always confusion when he was near. A conflict over what I should do and what I wanted to do.
I thought about my life, the history of my existence, a past that revolved around my mother who’d ushered me in this world. About the way my wants had led to this moment. Just the same way her wants had led her to hers. As hard as I’d tried to not be like her, I felt like I was becoming exactly like her. It was so unfair, and as I stared at Caleb, and his fingers danced across my lips so delicately and intimately, I reaffirmed that life was anything but fair.
I pushed his hand away, not roughly, but firmly issuing my denial of his touch, and oddly, I knew, in the corner of my mind, that it was my denial too.
There was a flicker of something primal in his eyes before he schooled his features into an impassive mask. He sat up straight with his back against the headboard. The foot of space between us may as well have been an ocean. Our silence, an uneasy calm before an impending storm. He did have a plan for me. And he still wasn’t telling me what it was.
“It wasn’t, you know.” He must have read the confusion on my face and expected it because he pressed forward seamlessly, “In your sleep. You said it wasn’t all your fault, and it isn’t – none of it is your fault. It’s…. It just isn’t.”
There was a hard knot in my throat. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t swallow it down. It was just stuck there, choking me. Caleb’s fingers slid across the bedspread toward my leg, then faltered and returned to his own personal space. Why couldn’t he just keep being an evil, soulless bastard so I knew what his role was and I knew mine? Why did he have to continually switch back from cold and unforgiving, to comforting and warm?
“What did they do to you Kitten? Can you tell me?” His eyes slid closed and I wondered at what he was hiding. Was this about me? It hardly made sense. He had tortured me, kept me prisoner, beat me, forced me into situations beyond my imagination. And now, now he felt...something for me?
A voice in my head reminded me that despite everything he’d done to me, there had always been some semblance of mercy. Yes, I was still alive, and he hadn’t tried to do what those animals had tried. I had not been a person to them. I understood the fine line between what Caleb was doing with me, and what he could have done so easily to me. He was always in control of himself. Had always explained why he was doing one thing or another. He kissed and caressed me, brought me ecstasy.
I was as real to him as he was to me and it struck me just then that I meant something to him. In whatever capacity he was able, I meant something. The irony of that epiphany made my gut twist. Now that I knew what real horror felt like I knew I had never felt it with Caleb. Even when he hurt me, when he made me feel shame, he was there to massage me, hold me – take responsibility for me. He would never do the things those motherfuckers had done. I knew that. But did any of it matter? I didn’t know. Perhaps nothing really mattered.
I had tried so hard to be something, someone. I had tried to make my life mean something. But, sitting here at this moment, desolate, empty and still held hostage, I knew I was never going to write a screenplay, or a book, or direct a movie. I felt like I was never going to be anything more than what everyone presumed I would be. Nothing I did mattered. Never did. Never would. And I’d been completely naïve in assuming otherwise, but hoping and dreaming had never seemed such a bad thing.
I finally answered his question. “It doesn’t matter anymore Caleb.” I sounded brittle, tired. “Nothing does.”
He was quiet for a few seconds but I could tell he was angry. But so was I. Even in my numbness, I was seething. I watched him. Subtle changes that I wouldn’t have noticed in the beginning were completely visible to me. What window did I now have into him? Did he know I saw him? Worse, could he really see into me? “You and I both know the truth. What they did to you matters.” There was no anger in his voice, only certainty. “Everything matters. Everything is very personal. You know that just as I do. Don’t act so defeated, we both know it isn’t like you.”
I laughed, but it died in my throat and it came out as a ragged choke. “How would you know?” He had never answered me fully before and his words often smacked of half truths, but in some odd way, I sensed it was because he didn’t know how to answer. In other words, he wanted to answer me. “You don’t know me. Not the simplest things, not even my name.”
More silence. I stared at him intently, waiting for his rage, wanting it. I needed to pick a fight with someone I knew wouldn’t really hurt me. I needed to rail. In that moment I knew Caleb was right, giving up wasn’t like me, no matter how much I wanted it to be. He remained calm, kept his eyes closed. His beautiful golden hair was tinged reddish brown, there was blood caked in his hairline. I shuddered. I made them pay. Delicious, beautiful words, something I’d never hear from anyone but a man like Caleb.
There was a shift in his body, muscles in play but he remained utterly still. His expression was cold, stark but it wasn’t directed at me. “You’re right. I don’t know your real name. But I don’t know mine either and it’s never stopped me from knowing who I am or taking what I want.”
His words were the last I was expecting. I sat dumbfounded and confused. He was telling me something important but I wasn’t sure what to do with it or if it’d ease my pain. I understood it was something few people knew and by his expression, it mattered to him greatly. It made my heart speed up to know he’d just opened up to me in some way. I realized I wanted to know how he’d become the person sitting next to me. Caleb. It wasn’t his real name. He didn’t know his real name.
What happened to you Caleb? Who did this to you? And why are you now doing this to me? I watched his face, the lines hard but not cultivated to project his usual demeanor. I felt it then.
There is a moment, in all my studying of movies and scripts, that I’d realized something elemental about human beings and why I’d been attracted to that imaginary world. Each piece of work was attempting to describe the human condition, in all its good, bad and ugly glory. At first, it’d been an extension of my own life, strangely mirrored in this world of ‘fiction’.
Each story wanted, no—needed—to reveal a human fragility, a human bondage which tied people to the things they did and to be the person they held in their heads. Those stories were something true and sometimes horrific but people were people and the parts didn’t just tell the whole story. I’d seen parts of this man, Caleb. What was the whole man, unshielded, and vulnerable? Who was this man that could do this to me, to anyone, and live with himself? And what type of person was I, to see some light in him that was somehow redeemable? Why did I try? But then, more importantly, why did he?
He waited. I waited. I wanted to press him, to dig for more, but I knew it would only push him away. He had thrown down a gauntlet. He would only give as well as he got and if I wanted to know more, then it would be up to me to make him beholden to me. Perhaps the more we knew about one another, the closer we would become and maybe, possibly, I could convince him to stop hurting me.
Surrender, he had once said. He had wanted me to surrender. Not just my body. My mind. I would try. I would try for him. Not for the sadistic, confusing man sitting next to me, not for Caleb. I would try for the handsome stranger underneath. The one I had met on the sidewalk that fated day – the one with no name. I was willing to try and understand him, piecemeal, and what came of it, I’d let fate decide. I made the first move because he wouldn’t. Maybe he couldn’t.
“Part of me thinks I’m actually glad – to be away from my old life.” I could tell he was surprised by the detour of our conversation and it felt nice to surprise him for a change. “Not that this is much better, but at least you wanted me back...I don’t think my mother would.” I licked my dry lips and forced myself to continue. “She thinks I did all this to myself. That I ran away...that I’m a whore. But she’s always thought that.” The lump in my throat moved down instead of up. Surprisingly, my muscles loosened. It felt good to say things out loud. I had said things about my past to Nicole, but this was different. Caleb was strong. He wouldn’t flinch. Somehow I knew he could bear the weight, and not feel the burden and uncomfortable unease associated with it, like Nicole had. “She hates herself, and I’m a part of her, manifested.”