Another night of coat check. It’s mid May. Total guests for dinner: 650. Total coats collected: 14. Talk about a time waster, huh? (We’ve even got a function on the 26th of May with a coat check.) I’m estimating tonight’s tips at $12. Split six ways with my crew, and we’ll each have enough to splurge on the vending machines for snacks tonight.
Which is not to say coat check is boring. When I know in advance, I come to work prepared. I get a lot of reading and writing done. Like tonight. I just finished a book called House Rules by Heather Lewis, Doubleday High Risk Books, 1994. The cover has an S&M collar with crossed riding crops beneath it. The first blurb on the back cover, from Gary Indiana, Details, says “…This utterly unexpected book dives straight into the chaos of an American adolescence, echoing the infernal laughter of William S. Burroughs as it probes the messier forms of sexual awakenings.” The next one down mentions it’s lesbian fiction. That’s why I bought it.
I should have read further down. “…grueling, its view of humanity devastating. House Rules is brilliant and ugly, a nightmare for any reader.” (Kerry Fried, The Boston Review.
Wow. Talk about dysfunction! It’s the world of show horses, primarily jumpers, as seen through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old, an extremely messed up kid. The parallels between Lee, the protagonist, and Torrin from Warlord Metal are intriguing. Now that Lee has worked her way under my skin, I’ve got the desire to ramble along a comparison.
When I wrote Warlord Metal, I didn’t know where Torrin came from or what I was doing. Most of the novel is seat of the pants, no outlines, just a logical progression of scenes as I got to know the characters better. It’s not like I have surplus of knowledge regarding the depth of severe abuse that Torrin suffered. I’ve known women who do, but like the novel, it’s all seat of the pants for me. Regardless, Torrin is her own character, not a conglomeration of other women’s stories. I think the main reason I didn’t run screaming, leaving the book unfinished forever, was Susan Mullarky’s psychoanalysis of Torrin through each chapter I posted online. (Thank you again, Susan!)
Lee has been violated by her father for most of her childhood. Her mother is quite aware of it, and does her best to protect her marriage . . . by finding ways of sending Lee away. I get the impression that her mother doesn’t blame her for Daddy’s molestations, but that they have an unspoken agreement that she will run interference whenever possible. All cut and dried. The family’s well-to-do, of course; old money. The scandal of Daddy’s actions are too horrendous to consider leaving or having him arrested. As a child, Lee is sent to learn how to ride with the best of the tutors. Eventually, she becomes involved in the shows as a jockey. That and boarding school keep her away from her father enough that everyone can pretend their family is normal. All the time away from parental discipline (and you have to wonder how much of that she truly had even at home) results in a kid on the edge of trouble.
Lewis does such a great job with the voice of this character (it’s all first person.) Lee never feels. When someone is friendly, tender toward her, she comes close to feeling. Gets jittery inside, can tell she’ll start crying. Of course, she pushes people away. Even when she has a crush on a woman, when things get too gentle, too tender, Lee purposely complicates things to keep from feeling. She wants to feel and fears it so much. Additionally, she experiences a sense of safety with older men who are somewhat threatening.
Lee is also passive when people make sexual advances toward her. It’s a classic case of not knowing her boundries, not being able to say no. She’ll not want to do whatever it is, but will only turn away. If pressed, she succumbs, never understanding why, never trying to discover the reasons for her behavior.
It’s odd that I find reading someone else’s fictional character clarifies my understanding of my own. I mean, I already know why Torrin does the drugs and alcohol. That’s a given. I know why she pushes people away. It’s simply that Lewis’ character has laid it out in a way that puts Torrin into a different perspective for me.
There are two differences I see between Lee and Torrin. One, that Torrin has a hel of a lot more anger. She not only directs it at herself but at those around her, brandishing it like an antenna broken from a car – whip thin and ice sharp as it whistles through the air. Torrin is a lot angrier at fourteen than Lee is at fifteen, guaranteed. Is it because her mother disappeared when she was small? Lee’s mom is still important in her life, at the very least because of her interference between Lee and her father. Torrin didn’t have that option. For better or worse, Lucien ‘Lucifer’ Chizu was her only support. And the story is that her mother abandoned her with him to live her own life.
Another difference is the whole passivity of Lee. In most of her sexual encounters (and they are many,) she takes it with little emotion. There are a couple of times she gets into it on her own, helps things along, but this are really instances of her pushing tenderness away. (She likes it rough, but doesn’t actually register the desire . . . just that the tenderness isn’t enough.) This is really what got me comparing Torrin with Lee, because Torrin is far different.
Torrin wasn’t raised in an abusive home by a child molester. She was raised by a sadistic man who trained her in all manner of pain. Lucifer, as she calls him in her mind, had his own basement dungeon, invited select friends to join he and his daughter is messy fun. He taught her the greatest gift about pain – it in better to give than to receive.
Which brings me to Torrin’s interaction with her love interest, Sonny.
Sonny is sweetness and light, inexperienced, trying so hard to get Torrin’s attention. The more she pushes, the more Torrin backs away until the only way they get together is for Sonny to dupe Torrin. Sonny is a virgin prior to bedding Torrin. She lost her parents when she was ten and has been raised by her brother. She doesn’t know what’s truly acceptable in an adult relationship; besides, Torrin’s brashness, her ability to take supreme risks, her brusque attitude all turn Sonny on. So her boundaries are muddy.
While I’ve never written it, by extension Torrin should have caused some pain for Sonny during their sexual play. It’s the natural way of things for Torrin. It’s what’s done between sexual partners. It’s obvious Sonny won’t do the same to Torrin, which means my little sadist will have to take the lead.
Hot on the heels of this thought is the research I’ve done on alcoholism. Warlord Metal ends with Torrin going into rehab, trying to work through her addictions, learning to love herself as well as Sonny loves her. One of the points raised in recovery is the lack of a sex drive. (And that would be cataclysmic in Torrin’s case.) It’s not so much that the libido isn’t functioning, but that prior sexual encounters invariably occurred under the influence. The sober alcoholic has forgotten how to seduce, to follow through without the crutch of their substances. (And, yes, I know this isn’t always the case with every recovering alcoholic!)
So, in any proposed sequel, I’ll have to deal with this issue. What will Sonny do? Become more forceful? She knows of Torrin’s abuse. She might have to be pushed into that direction to overcome her squeamishness at causing Torrin some sort of emotional flashback. How exactly could Sonny take matters into her own hands?
What would be Torrin’s response? Anger? Relief? Self hatred? Since Torrin han a mind of her own, I don’t think I’ll know until I write the scene.
When I asked for smut suggestions, my friend came up with one where Sonny is the master to Torrin’s slave. Maybe that’s another reason for my rambling here . . . I honestly can’t see that happening either before Torrin admits to having a drug and alcohol problem or after her rehabilitation.
It would make an intriguing scene, wouldn’t it?
I guess the whole point of this isn’t just to run a character comparison, but for me to work out Torrin’s character a bit more. I still think House Rules is a fantastic book, though!
Coat check is over. We have to break it down and then reset the ballroom for tomorrow morning’s functions. And I was wrong. Final tip tally: $5. Split six ways. You do the math