Gotham teacher Melissa Febos has just seen the release of her memoir Whip-Smart
. The book recounts the author’s experience as a professional dominatrix. If you like reading about sex and drugs, yes, you’ll like this book, but you’ll also like it if you enjoy a beautifully written and gripping personal story. The Economist
says “no salty detail escapes her eye,” and New York Press
says the book “should be right at home on the shelf next to Mary Karr, Nick Flynn, and Alex Lemon.”
Here’s a peek:
An hour can be a long time. Hell, a minute can be a long time. The minute before your first kiss with someone is a painstaking collection of seconds, each one more bloated with anticipation than the last. The first minute of a tattoo is a long one as well. Pain has few rivals in its ability to slow time. Fear, excitement, elation—these are kissing cousins, all with the sensorial power to render each second humming with every tick and gasp of our bodies, the whirr of insect wings and distant car engines.
Sometimes, I could savor these moments, relish them as opportunities to walk straight into the fact of being alive. In the seconds that crept into the minutes of my very first domination session, I had no idea what I wanted. The $75 certainly, but beyond that? Character-building life experience? I would have confidently named these motives right up until the moment that the door of The Red Room closed behind me. With the clasp of its latch, all bravado and ideology dimmed with the light of the hallway behind. It was only me, a naked old man, and sixty minutes of palpable expectation. An hour alone with a naked man with whom you do not intend to have sex can be a very long time.
On my second shift ever, and after only Mistress Bella’s example, I teetered over my first client in a borrowed pair of seven-inch platform stilettos. Anxiety, and a corset that cinched my waist six inches smaller than nature intended, confined my breath to the shallow region of my chest. My bosom literally heaved, straining against its lacy contraption and obstructing my view of the naked man who knelt at my feet. Cold tears ran from my armpits. The darkness smelled of stale incense and the briny tang of bodies past and present. It was hot, and the red walls seemed to breathe slightly, as if I were inside a great belly.
Despite the fact that I was high on heroin, I felt only fear. It snuck up on me as I stepped into the room, and my confidence lifted like a flock of startled birds. I couldn't stop thinking about my mother. What was I, my mother's daughter, doing here? It suddenly didn’t make any sense. But that's what the drugs were for: to keep Mom out of moments like this. Narcotics create distance, and I only needed an inch to turn away from that question.
I knew I had to say something. My mouth was gummy with 99-cent lipstick from the all-night drugstore down the block. Opening it, I prayed that the waxy paint would bear some talismanic power and bring the right words to my lips. Instead, I burped.
“Yes Mistress? Are you all right?” I felt his breath on my fish-netted knees, and fought the urge to back away.
“Yeah,” I croaked. My gut—displaced by the corset to somewhere near my bladder—clenched in panic. I itched to turn and slam the door behind me on this naked man and the politesse affected to camouflage his entitlement. Everything about him, from his hunched back to the quaver in his voice, was a demand phrased as a question. But I could not fail at this, much as I wanted to flee the shadowy room, my own image in the mirrored walls, and the inquisition-style cage that dangled from the ceiling. My urge to escape was met with an equally familiar will to persist. It was this second urge that had both rescued me from failure, and damned me to finish every game in which my hand was called. Language had always saved me: from ever being arrested, attacked, caught in a lie, or with my pants down. I would not allow words to fail me now.
Reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. For more information on Melissa and her book, visit www.melissafebos.com