(This entry is a continuation of the Earl soap opera about my relationship with an older man in my teens, and of the complications caused by a peer named Topher. It's a direct sequel to Lost Boys, from December.)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about taking the young man I like calling ‘Runt’ to a pet store, where I bought a collar that I placed around his neck. The incident brought him a great deal of pleasure; I don’t think he’s ever before had a guy objectify him, to treat him like fuckmeat.
There’s nothing potent in meaning about a strip of leather, whether it’s a bookmark or a headband. There’s nothing particularly meaningful about a scrap of cheap metal, like the flip-top of a carbonated drink. A collar is only a strip of leather with a metal fastener. In that respect it’s no different from a belt, or a buckle on a backpack.
The collar itself isn’t degrading, though your Pekinese might act like it is. It’s no more magical than a wedding ring, which is simply a circlet of precious metal. But as with a wedding ring, when two people decide (whether tacitly or explicitly) to imbue it with a meaning above and beyond its function—well, that’s when the object acquires significance.
For the Runt, the collar meant that while he wore it, he was owned. He belonged to the man who bought it for him. He knew I’d hook my fingers beneath that strip of leather while I fucked him, and that he’d feel the chill and bite of that buckle against his tender skin when I pulled him around as I pleased. He could look at the collar and imagine the way it would choke his windpipe, and the pressure it would exert around his neck when I fastened it around him. The collar held mutual meaning for us both. It was an unspoken contract, that for a time, he didn’t have to think, that he didn’t have to make decisions. That I would be doing those things for him.
I know how he felt because, for a time, when I was younger than he and in my mid-teens, I wore a man’s collar myself. I’d had that collar on my mind for a couple of weeks, since I was trying to figure out how to write about it in my journal—what I’m doing today. It was because I was thinking about that collar that I decided to get one with the Runt.
The collar that my mentor, Earl, placed around my neck had been bought new from the local pet shop; it had belonged to a dog he’d owned, a dog that had been put down of old age and poor health a couple of years before I got involved with Earl. The dog had been a big breed. I’ve forgotten what, exactly. Its neck had been bigger than mine, though, since I had to wear the buckle on one of the innermost holes. It was heavy, and the leather was thick and warped and cracked from years of hard use. When I wore it, I felt weighted down.
Earl put the collar on me the very first time he used it, shortly after I started visiting his house. I remember my cock pulsing with heat and fear when he approached me with it, and stood behind me before the mirror in his bedroom as he fixed it around my skinny little neck. I understood what it meant, even without discussing. I was his. I belonged to him, as surely as the collar’s previous occupant. I might go roaming on my own from time to time, like any dog. But in the end, I’d always find my way home to him.
After that, we had rules for the collar. He’d leave it either on the kitchen table near the back door where I usually entered his home, or hanging on a hook for coats by the rear porch. Donning it would be the first thing I did when I visited. I did it automatically, my fingers learning how to manipulate the thick, stiff leather and to fasten it around my neck, leaving enough room for Earl’s thick fingers to slip beneath.
I don’t know whether he used that collar with other men. I didn’t care. All I knew is that when I wore that strip of leather, and usually nothing else, my skinny little body belonged to Earl. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to be the son with the high grades, or the good boy. I didn’t have to worry about what I wore, or how I looked, or what I said, or attracting the wrong kinds of attention. All I had to do was obey, and serve.
It was a relief.
I wore that collar willingly from the time I met Earl until my senior year in high school. And then one day, I simply didn’t.
It was shortly after the whole affair with Topher that I stopped donning that symbol of ownership. Topher had been the same age as I, had served the same purpose to Earl as I did, though he’d been passed on to Earl’s boyfriend, Jim. But Topher had robbed Earl of his watch collection, his at-home cash, and a number of other little petty valuables, and Earl had sent me to his house to find out what the hell was going on. I’d found out that Topher had run away from home, and had been the one to carry back the news.
I hadn’t been to Earl’s place all that often since, right at the beginning of the school year. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time. I’d like to say that my high school senior year kicked my ass, but I wasn’t taking school too seriously. I wasn’t even attending school, a good lot of the time; I was so firmly on track to being my class valedictorian than nothing could dislodge me. I turned in homework assignments and showed up for tests, but I rarely went to most of my classes, and my teachers assumed a good boy like me wouldn’t be doing anything awful, or unlawful, so my truancy went unchallenged. By the time I was accepted to two colleges, late in the fall, my regular routine was to show up for government my first period, then my dreaded trigonometry class after, orchestra for third period, and then I’d wander off the school grounds either to return home and play cards with my mother, or to hit the park and suck cock all afternoon.
So no, my reluctance to visit Earl had nothing to do with school.
At the time, I couldn’t have articulated my reasons for not visiting my mentor sometimes for a week at a time. But at heart, I simply didn’t trust him any longer. When I put on that collar, I had to trust him. I had to know that the decisions he made for his pleasure coincided with what was best for me. After watching Topher disappear—and no one had heard from him for weeks, by this point, nor did anyone ever hear anything—I had difficulty believing in that core essential.
In a way, Earl had betrayed me by making me visit Topher’s house to do his dirty work for him. I felt exposed, and at risk, and not in any pleasurable way. Even at the time I realized that the consequences for him wouldn’t have been pleasant if he’d shown up on Topher’s mom’s doorstep to announce he’d been sodomizing her son and was wondering where he might be. They wouldn’t have been as hysterical and shrill and out of proportion as they would today, but there definitely would’ve been consequences.
I had a juvenile sense, though, that those consequences should have been Earl’s. Not mine. With a chink of that blind faith chipped away, the whole rest of the foundation began to crack and weaken. I started to feel not so much like Earl’s special boy, but simply as his favorite boy of the moment. I knew there had been others. I knew there’d be more in the future, to replace me.
Even that collar hadn’t been mine. Earl might have loved me, in his way, just as he loved that dog. But he still gave that dog’s collar away. He replaced him. And I never felt so expendable as I had the day that Earl had sent me to do his dirty work for him.
So one day that autumn, when I gave in out of guilt and need and went over to Earl’s place after school, I hung out in the living room watching TV until he got home from his work. He seemed surprised and pleased to see me there, and settled down on the sofa to put his arm around me. I was wearing my clothes, except for my sneakers, which lay nearby. The familiar scent of him made me want to give in, to go back to the way we had been for years at that point. But when he made small talk with me, my answers were short and perfunctory. My throat couldn’t open enough to say more. It was as if the leather band I wore now was invisible, and had cut off my windpipe.
“You’re not wearing your collar,” he said, finally noticing.
After a long silence, I said, “No.” I couldn’t look at him.
We sat there for a long, long time. His arm was still around me. I could feel his chest rise and fall as he breathed. Everything was so still, and so quiet. “All right,” he said, very softly. “You don’t have to.”
I nodded. “I know.”
Again we sat still for a while. And then I felt him squeeze my shoulder. The squeeze turned into a hug, as he pulled me into him and held me tight. We rocked back and forth together for a few moments, me limp, him holding me with all his strength. Then his hand burrowed between my thighs.
I responded automatically, as only I knew how—by spreading my legs to allow him access, and by giving in to his kisses, giving in to his hands roaming to unbutton my shirt, giving in to his fingers snaking down the back of my jeans to slither into my hole.
I gave into him that afternoon, but I knew—we both knew, or at least admitted to ourselves for the first time—that one day when I went roaming, I wouldn’t come home to him ever again.