Charlie has a favourite song. He has two favourite songs. One is old and one is new.

The old one, that he has loved for years and years now, is New Year’s Day by U2.

Charlie, who is not friends with words, listens to the words of songs. Not always the whole thrust of the lyrics, but a line will grab at him. A phrase will seem to fit with his experiences.

In this song, it is “I will be with you again.”

Sam asks, If I die, can I be with Nata again?

It is not a despairing question. He just wants to know. It’s a consideration. If death will reunite them, then he has something to look forward to.

I would give anything, I would do very nearly anything, to be with Natalya again. I think I would not go as far as to murder anyone. I think I would probably commit suicide. I would certainly steal or lie or cheat or do 100 other things I consider to be morally wrong. I would submit to trafficking again. I could not have left that world without her.

So when Charlie remembers sex, and he remembers it now in a more rich and complex way, that’s a consideration.

What would I have done to be with her?

We had sex when there weren’t cameras around and we weren’t forced to. When we were forced to, we still in some way chose it.

Sometimes, many times, submitting to exploitation and abuse was the only way to be together. Put another way, we could be abused separately or we could be abused together.

When we were younger, we played. There was some down time between what we had to do and my leaving to fill with colouring, with playing jacks, with hopscotch in the hotel parking lot. After we became lovers, there is a sense of this time disappearing. We are only performing and having sex. Or we are only performing and holding each other because we are too bruised inside and outside to do anything more than try to give each other some comfort. But it becomes an almost entirely physical experience to be together.

There is a sense of innocence about my earlier memories, as if I can still be a child there with Natalya in that world even given what it is, and this feeling of innocence disappears later. The innocence only recurs in my sense of wonder at her body, at her beauty, at the trust she has placed in me to touch her. She has to allow me to touch her, but she also invites me to. She wants me to touch her when she does not have to let me. I am good enough and kind enough and caring enough to be allowed to.

It is special and wondrous to be trusted so much and to be trusted by someone who has been hurt so much.

Mostly, the innocence is replaced by a sense of terrible urgency, and I think this is partly because I am so much more angry. I understand more clearly the wrongness of what is happening.

I understand myself as an object, as something to be used. My lover I can’t understand that way and so, by proxy, I start to understand myself in a different way. The different way makes me angry.

The desire to assert my right to ownership of myself—the right to autonomy, to choices, and to feelings—is like a conflagration. I want to do these things we are doing together—I want sex, I want physical desire, I want the sense of union I have with it—but I don’t want these things to be stolen from me and sold to others.

I don’t know how to reclaim them.

My later memories of performing seem to be entirely about this conflict. Whatever I do is going to be stolen from me. I keep searching for a way to do it where it can’t: I keep trying to establish a sense of privacy within myself.

I think in a way I did.

What seems to have been arousing to the consumers of what we were producing was our desire for sexual gratification.

What was arousing to us was the sense of being responded to. There are things we couldn’t choose. It didn’t matter what felt good to us or—it didn’t matter that the fact of the camera itself did not feel to us. We had to do it anyway. We had to perform certain acts anyway, even if we did not like them.

But there were other ways we could respond to each other. If Natashka tensed in one way, I could intensify what I was doing. If she tensed in a different way, I could slow down or stop and do something else. I could listen to her and say something back.

There is an immense sense of freedom in this. I could be indifferent in doing this. I could proceed mindlessly, running through the acts we have to engage with the necessary expressions and noises and nothing else. But I am not.

I am choosing to respond to someone authentically.

The world did not respond to us. It used us. It was brutal and it was indifferent and we weren’t allowed to tell it how we felt unless it was the approved feeling. To one another, we could say how we felt. We could communicate and we could respond. It is a choice to do that.

This morning, Charlie is remembering doing things to Natashka he can’t really understand. The same acts, done to him, hurt. He knows this, but he doesn’t know if they hurt Natashka. I am looking at her face in my memory and I cannot quite tell. If it did, Charlie might find it too painful to see. I am not sure if I entirely trust the memory anyway.

There are physiological differences between us: I am remembering how it felt to my six- or eight-year-old body and trying to imagine how it felt to her 17-year-old body. They are not at all the same. I could compare my experiences as a 13-year-old to hers and they would be closer but I cannot, for some reason, remember them. It is Annoushka’s province and she remembers things in a nonspecific way that does not really tell me exactly what is happening. She knows when things hurt and when they feel good and she has more specifics about what hurts, but few for when they feel good. Mostly, she remembers things in her body, but it is like someone else has the movie instead.

The question, for Charlie, is always, Would I hurt her just to be with her?

Yes, the answer is yes.

How badly?

I don’t know.

Did I?

I don’t know.

It’s not a choice I should have ever had to make.

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