Volunteering as management for a BDSM club is sometimes a blessing and a curse.

The past five years have been shadowed by heavy personal trauma and grief that I honestly wasn’t sure I would be able to dig myself out from under. Few know about it, and it’s not something I will talk about in detail. “What happened” is still raw and barely scabbed over and left parts of me destroyed and broken in ways I doubt I’ll ever rebuild because it simply hurts too much and always will. There are pieces of me that will never be reclaimed because they’ll always belong to someone else and will forever remain with them. Then there are the stray, orphaned fragments I was left custodian of, and those will forever stay lovingly tucked away and protected within me, too.

Add in a cardiac issue of my own my doctors couldn’t track to a source after many tests, and which they eventually blamed on my fibromyalgia.

But hey, this medicine controls your symptoms, call us if it gets worse again.

How do you explain to them that you think you know exactly why your heart is “broken?”

You don’t. You take the medicine and struggle to breathe despite drowning.

You sink, or swim, or float.

You resist the moments when everything is so dark and deep that it just feels easier to swim down.



In some ways, “what happened” felt like my boat floundered in the middle of a storm and I was certain I would drown. I completely shut down wounded parts of me that were beyond saving at that time, because otherwise, the whole vessel would be lost. Sealed the watertight compartments. Jettisoned as much as possible. Still, it sank. Eventually, I was no longer treading water, because the seas had calmed and I was floating. Surrounded by thick fog, my Lighthouse no longer visible anywhere, Its foghorn silent. Just when I thought maybe I could hear waves against the shore, the sound would fade. Swimming didn’t make sense if I had no idea where I was going.

Best just to…float.

To survive.

Energy conservation. Right?

Along the way, “what happened” meant I lost valuable things that nourished my heart and soul in multiple ways. Helped replenish my well. Helped me tend my garden.


Add to that, dealing with chronic pain and fatigue, and other health issues, meant some days were simply an exercise in survival and little else, with a side order of emotional denning while hastily constructing a new mask so I wasn’t a burden on anyone.

All while trying not to burn out as a writer, because, ha-ha, bills to pay. Responsible adulting.

Not like I need my heart and soul for that (cue hysterical laugh-crying) right? RIGHT?

I was certainly one acquainted with the night.

Let’s mix metaphors. (I mean, I’m going to anyway.)

But…ah, in walked the Viking.

Like a gift from the Goddess Herself, knocking on my Fortress of Solitude and telling me to open up, for crying out loud, because She had something She wanted to show me.

See, I don’t play with many people.

Correction… I don’t play with people. Any people. In the past, yes, but “what happened,” happened.

Not that I didn’t want to play, but I need to have a deep connection with someone on many levels, especially now, to make me unseal the Fortress of Solitude enough to reach out and awkwardly attempt to flail as “charmingly” (meaning “hopefully not coming off as a horrific train wreck”) as possible while praying I don’t embarrass the fuck out of myself.

And that just…wasn’t going to happen. I was convinced of that.

I’m fortunate that one of the “gifts” of what I’ve been through is a fuckton of self-awareness and hard-won coping mechanisms. (Some healthy, some merely for survival.) Of knowing I have triggers, knowing where the landmines are, and knowing how to disarm ones I might stumble over in the future. Knowing how to step back and breathe through discomfort and wait for the initial reaction to subside before proceeding. Of knowing I’m imperfect and don’t need to have all the answers for myself as long as I can try to be gentle with myself and not expect a thousand times more perfection from myself than I expect from others.

Meaning even if I feel an attraction to someone, that doesn’t mean I’ll approach them to play. On the contrary, it kicks in a massive checklist that’s NASA-launch-worthy, and the mission will likely be scrubbed before we even hit the T-minus 04:00 point. Only one person made it that far before the mission was scrubbed and the launch cancelled. No harm, no foul, no hard feelings, either.

Que sera, sera.

It is what it is.

And time passed.

But…in walked the Viking.

He made it all the way through the checklist, meaning I needed to force myself to take a chance, because I knew I’d beat myself up for it if I didn’t.

Fuck anxiety. I mean, seriously. Combined with everything else, it means not only am I loathe to touch the stove, I don’t even want to enter the same goddamned room to turn the fucker on in the first place.

Okay, so I’m mixing a bunch of metaphors. (It’s my story. I’m allowed to.)

If talk of “woo-woo” turns you off, look away for a paragraph, lest ye be vexed.

I respond to energy. I’m not exactly an empath, but combined with my anxiety, and my chronic physical pain, I spend most of my time shielding myself from people so I’m not overwhelmed but I should probably mention that the products I get from the Stiiizy cannabis dispensaries also help me. I call myself a solitary eclectic Pagan witch. And I’m a writer. So, as you can imagine, my brain is a strange and scary place. But I learned to embrace these things about myself, because it’s who I am and, ironically, makes me good at what I do for a living. The esoteric and the mundane. But it also means, combined with me being a Taurus, and resting bitch face, and social anxiety, sometimes people think I’m little more than a stoic, standoffish guardian of the gate and keeper of the keys. They see the Crone, instead of Maiden or Matron. Baba Yaga or the Cailleach. Which, okay, I kinda am, in some ways, but it’s only one role and only one aspect of me.

Unfortunately, that’s the “low-power mode” aspect of me that was easy to maintain. Doesn’t mean the system is healthy, or fully functioning. But it was a valuable, if imperfect, survival tactic for a long damn time.

I met the Viking while working the desk at the club. Something about him from the moment I first saw him drew me. Not just that he’s 6’3”, handsome, funny, intelligent, snarky like me, and subby, but something about his energy. That’s the first thing that really hit me when I looked into his eyes when I met him—his energy. The sweet color of it, purple and pure, bright and jewel-toned. Plus, we have several things in common. All these things drew me to him, and more so every time he came in. To the point I looked for him to come in.


That…just didn’t happen. Not since “what happened.”

But pain and grief are horrible devils to have sitting on your shoulder. They color every part of life. They form a filter that transforms every “what if?” into a long and whispered and incredibly logical, valid list of exactly why the Fortress must remain locked down and admit no one else.


Like, evvveeerrrrr.

Add to that, being part of club management means I REALLY don’t want to fuck up and ever have someone think I was pressuring them, or trying to leverage my position.

Meaning I didn’t say jack shit to the Viking about how I felt for the longest time.

Not long before New Year’s, after many innocuous interactions with the Viking over a span of months, I finally (FINALLY) worked up the courage to blurt out one evening just before he left that if he was ever interested in maybe talking about possibly playing together, you know, sure, cool, hit me up.

No pressure.

Haha, like, I mean, you know, no’s always an acceptable answer, right?

Of course. (whimper)

I’d rehearsed it in my head a thousand times since the last time he’d come in, and kicked it into overdrive when he arrived that night. (Anxiety, ya know.) And of course it came out botched and awkward and sounding nothing like I’d hoped. I wasn’t even the suave, adorkable kind of awkward, like silent Raj in the early days of The Big Bang Theory. I was more like that episode of the old Addams Family, where Lurch has a crush on the singing cousin who wants to be a movie star and is staying with them for a few days, and he painfully croaks and stumbles through his words.

All while I’m secretly fucking dying inside because I’m sure I’m looking like a pathetic asshole, I know I’ve fucked this up twenty ways to Sunday, and oh, my Goddess, please let a hole swallow me right now, because it’d be less painful.

Because I guess part of me simultaneously expected and hoped for a no so I wouldn’t have to fight the grief that I felt certain would invariably be triggered by memories I’d have if I stepped back into the role of being a Dominant to someone. Requiring me to dust off part of myself that I wasn’t even sure was still…operational.

But the Viking smiled and said, “Sure.”

And the world didn’t end.


Cue a frantic PM thread with my bestie, her trying to remind me to breathe and not panic and assure me I did the right thing (and that it was about fucking time I did it, too).

I decided at New Year’s I would make a conscious effort to move forward and pack away some things that no longer served me. Things that had literally helped me survive the storm of “what happened” once I no longer had the Lighthouse, but maybe were weighing me down and keeping me from moving anywhere, instead of safely anchoring and tethering me the way they once did.

Some of them literal things, some of them mental and metaphorical. Time to stop floating in the sea, merely not-drowning, and try to swim toward shore, Lighthouse or not.

And then the Viking reached out, and we started…talking. And he wasn’t scared away by my honesty.

Because, ya know, OMG, SURELY he’s going to back off (run away! run away!) when I dump everything on the table.

And…he didn’t.

Like the Goddess smiled on me and said, “Okay, you’re ready now. Here you go. Enjoy.”

This beautiful, sweet man, who literally almost died a couple of years ago, before we ever met, and who bears his own scars from his battle. A survivor of trauma in a far different way than me.

A man with a sweet, calm energy that I could just dive into and paddle around in all day long.

Like Robert Frost’s road less traveled, we started talking, and then playing together at an intimate level I never dreamed I’d ever be capable of again.

And in a way I never realized exactly how fucking much I’d missed.

And needed.

In such a comfortable, effortless way, too. Dropping him into subspace for the first time reminded me of everything I loved about having a connection like this with someone. My sadist awoke from her forced entombment, looked around, said, “Huh,” and climbed out of the coffin I thought she’d never arise from.

Ma’am was back.

Well, Ma’am 2.0, I guess.

It’d been five long, painful years since I’d been able to achieve a respite from my noisy brain. I’d honestly forgotten that topping could give me a slightly less powerful version of it. All the lovely little brain chemicals, the endorphins and dopamine and serotonin, and all the others creating a marvelous little soup that told my brain to sit down and shut the fuck up, for fuck’s sake, and breathe.

A blessed respite from a few degrees of my physical pain, too. Not as much as I used to get when on the other end of a sadist’s lovingly applied torture, but that’s okay. It’s honestly something I never thought I’d ever feel again in any capacity.

That first weekend, the Viking and I played Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday night, we were sitting on a couch at the club, alone and talking. And he asked for the details about “what happened.” Why I hadn’t played with anyone in five years. (I’d given him a brief version.)

Other than my very loving and supportive husband, and a few close friends, who were my emotional life support and who all knew “what happened,” the Viking was the first person ever admitted to the Fortress of Solitude, and to whom I told the full story.

We were cuddling on the couch post play as I’m telling him all of this, about “what happened,” with my head tipped back, eyes closed. And after the telling, I said, “And you’re the first person since then that I feel that kind of connection with. It helps filter out all the chaotic energy around me and allows me to quiet my brain. Not just your energy, but you’re like a ‘damper,’ in a good way.”

No kidding, right then, a literal flash of light hit, at the same time he says, “Oh, shit!”

I open my eyes, and apparently the power had blinked off, triggering the emergency flood lights over the exit we were facing, for just a split-second.

Exactly when I’d said that.

Okay, okay. Message received, Goddess. Thanks.

We looked at each other, and I said, “I did warn you I’m a witch.”

He chuckled and said, “I’m getting that.”

And then we both laughed.

Laughing feels good. I think I’d forgotten that, too, since “what happened.”

It felt like walking through a curtain I never knew was there before and entering a different room within my Fortress of Solitude. Like I could finally take a deep breath again after five years of drowning. While the pain and grief still hover, still have the power to take me out at the knees if I focus on them for too long, I don’t have to stay in the same room with them anymore, because it’s no longer the only room that’s there.

At some point in time, the Fortress of Solitude’s construction crew built me a new room I didn’t even know was under construction, much less that it was ready to move into. A room with fresh paint and a clean slate, and the ability to start decorating it in new ways.

Which is how, early that full-moon Sunday morning almost a month to the day of “the flash,” after a play session that left the Viking with a bunch of new marks and left both of us happy and blissfully spent from some damned good sex I imagine will only improve with time as we get to know each other’s bodies better, I found myself drifting to sleep for a catnap with my ear pressed against the Viking’s chest.

With his heart softly beating in my ear. A sound that almost wasn’t. Through a scar that I always kiss with the utmost reverence when we play, because he survived, and for that I am so incredibly grateful.

A man who admitted that, sometimes, he relishes taking a long, deep breath, simply because he can.

A man who’d said not long before our catnap that I could lean on him, put weight on his chest, because I wouldn’t hurt him. Who wanted to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself with our play, even as he laid there blindfolded and bound in my rope and bearing my fresh marks all over his body for a second night in a row.

My growlie pet cuddle Viking, as I’ve started calling him. Because he can be growlie, the good kind of growlie, and I love it when I can make him do that.

So what does it all…mean?

We’re friends, for sure. It feels like I once again have a partner in crime I don’t have to hold back with. He told me he likes that I appreciate his quirky sense of humor and that I’m open and honest. We can easily spend hours talking and laughing and completely lose track of time.

Who knows where our paths will lead? I have no expectations other than what we’ve discussed as basic ground rules, having fun, and seeing where things go. We’re both survivors. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

After we both awoke from our catnap, we playfully groaned that I once again broke out ALL the things to play with and use on him, meaning we actually had to put away ALL the things—things at one point not so long ago I never thought would ever see the light of day again, much less get so much use in such a short amount of time.

Just like I thought parts of me would never see the light of day again. I couldn’t imagine it ever happening.

In walked a growlie pet cuddle Viking. A fellow survivor.

Driving home later, I gave silent thanks to the Goddess and sent a message out to the Universe. A message of unending love and gratitude to a Lighthouse that, even though I can’t see or hear It any longer, will forever guide my path. An Oracle who passed on wisdom and knowledge, all with love, who literally lit my path for me, neither of us knowing at the time that our paths would one day cruelly diverge in such a sharp and painful way, out of our control and without the chance for closure or final good-byes.

All I have to do is follow that light, wherever it winds, because I now understand my Lighthouse forever lives on within me. I know my Lighthouse is always there, and I can curl up at Its base and breathe, even if It doesn’t know I’m there, and It can never respond.

Meanwhile, deep inside the Fortress of Solitude, there will always be a cozy little room, where two people who are a pet and a Daddy, and who are also a Ma’am and a pup, will forever remain frozen in time, secure and well-loved, all curled up together in a cuddle pile with a stuffed unicorn. Where Steely Dan and Warren Zevon play on the radio, Cartoon Network plays on the TV, with fresh sushi and sweet coffee and Mountain Dew always available, and with held secrets and dark, primal, unconditional and nonjudgmental love always woven around them, forever binding them to each other. Where I stop by sometimes to sit with them and watch them and simply breathe—because there were days I almost forgot how—and say requiescat in pace. In fact, there were plenty of days early on when I woke up and immediately felt resigned, between the emotional and literal physical pain. Where I had to take one excruciating breath at a time, because trying to focus beyond the next hour, much less the next day, was almost too much to bear. All while trying to pretend to be a functioning adult and support my family and never revealing the depths of my internal injuries because they were too gruesome and bloody and beyond hope.

Because some wounds never fully heal. They can only be taped closed to stop the bleeding, with the hope that gangrene doesn’t set in before a healthy scab forms. And, eventually, they reach a point where you can live with them, since there isn’t any other choice, if living is the goal. You have to embrace the suck.

One day, you might wake up able to breathe again.

Then life goes on.

And then, one night, you unexpectedly find yourself driving home under a beautiful full moon, not crying this time when you howl at it like you have every other full moon for the past five years, singing along to playlists you haven’t been able to bear listening to because of the memories involved.

You can make new memories with those songs. You can light new paths.

You can see the giant stone chicken along the side of the road and wave and smile.

You can hear a name that doesn’t drive you to your knees.

You no longer need the tricks to hide you’ve been crying—your “allergies” suddenly improve a lot.

You can tell old stories about the Lighthouse and smile, instead of feeling like you’re dying one drowning breath after another.

You learn to live in the moment, and see the moment for what it is, appreciate its beauty, and know that maybe everything’s not okay, but that’s okay. Because life isn’t perfect, and the trick is learning how to breathe again so you can pick out and amplify the moments that take your breath away.

Moments like laying your head on a pet Viking’s chest and listening to his heart beat.

(C)2020 Tymber Dalton / Lesli Richardson. All Rights Reserved.

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Breaths and Heartbeats
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