At 4pm yesterday afternoon I submitted my PhD thesis. At 4pm today I was setting out plates for celebratory dinner, anticipating the caning I was going to get to mark my last evening as a student.
Two of our friends were coming over, one of whom happened to be the first person to cane me after I arrived in England for grad school. Abel thought it was fitting that should also deliver the last strokes of my student life. At first I was appalled by this idea: Mr Friend canes hard, and this dinner was supposed to be a *celebration*, for God’s sake. However, as I cleared piles of my papers off every surface in the house, and set out place mats and shiny cutlery, I gradually began to see the ultimate fairness of this suggestion. I believe in marking milestones in an appropriate way.* A caning to round off fifteen years of full-time education (and I do count the primary school) would give me the sense of closure. I still dreaded it, but I was beginning to accept it.
Abel cooked a beautiful dinner; the four of us polished off two bottles of wine and got started on champaign and cherry liquors, and I started to think that maybe the caning wouldn’t happen today after all – nobody mentioned it, and we were sitting on the sofa, chatting about pervy things (to come in future blog posts, I’m sure) when Mr Friend’s wife (who has expressed a wish to be known as K.) leaned close and whispered: “I want to cane you.” If either of the men initiated it, I might make a great show of protest and fear, but here I was disarmed: she wasn’t suggesting that I somehow deserved it – just that she want to cane me, and who would refuse a beautiful girl who wants to paint tramlines on your bottom? I didn’t.
I went upstairs and fetched a cane. Abel and Mr Friend were happy to wait for their turn. K squeezed my shoulder in encouragement, and guided me over the arm of the sofa, where Abel could hold my hands and stroke my hair to help me get through it.
K is excellent in warming you up with the cane: sharp taps over my jeans which bit, but didn’t burn me. An occasional harder slash made me kick up my foot, but I tried to be stoic. Something about being caned by people who are nice to me throughout, brings out in me a need to be brave for them.** The strength of the cuts grew; even my jeans were beginning to heat up. K pressed her hands against my bottom, and only then did I feel the ridges rising on my flesh; she ran her nails across them, and I felt like screaming. But I wanted to be brave, too. Abel stroked the side of my face, and K said she wanted to see how much damage she was doing. I pushed down my jeans and settled down over the arm of the couch again.
K leaned to me, put her lips against my ear and whispered: “Can you take 6 hard ones?”
I wanted to take six hard strokes from her, even though I knew that when she was finished, Abel would take up the cane, and after him Mr Friend would step up to deliver his share. I braced myself, digging my nails into the upholstery.
They hurt, every one of them, and I couldn’t keep count for anything, though I could probably tell you where each stroke landed. Yet, every rush of pain made me stronger. By the time those six were over, I knew I could take my licks from the men.
It was Abel’s turn. K took his place on the sofa, holding my hands. I don’t think there was an unmarked spot on my bottom by this time, so every time the cane touched my skin – even when Abel was addressing it with light taps – I felt it as a separate, stingy stroke. Again, I lost count. And again, I tried my best to be brave. I failed only once, when instead of delivering the stroke he slashed the cane through the air; if K wasn’t holding my hands, I would have leapt up halfway to the ceiling. Abel gave me his six, alternating reassurance with painful squeezes of my bottom. K offered me my glass of champaign while the cane changed hands.*** “You’re such a good girl,” she whispered. I squeezed her hands in gratitude.
Finally, Mr Friend came to deliver his strokes. I’m sure he would have liked me to be apprehensive, but I was flying. Despite struggling to cope with each stroke – I couldn’t help kicking out and yelping any more – I needed this last caning of my student life to be hard. I had been 21 when I started grad school; I had been frightened and often sad, and, because people often told me that I was wise for my age, I had thought I was done growing up. At 26, I know better.**** I often wish I had a way to tell that sad girl far away from home that it would all turn out well; that at the end of that rainbow there were rewards she couldn’t imagine. Tonight we had the pain in common. There’s no going back to the girl I used to be (and thank God for that), but there was closure for me, which meant more than I could have imagined when I was setting out the dinner plates a few hours before.
When it was done, I had a hug and a kiss from all three, and I pulled my jeans back on. I couldn’t – and still can’t – comprehend not being a student any more. It’s true, though: it’s done, I’m done. There is still a defense to go through before I’m allowed to graduate, but in about ten minutes I forever lose my claim to discounted movie tickets, and that means it’s real: it’s finished.
I mean, the tax man says I’m an adult. The tax man and about 35 cane strokes make for a very convincing argument whenever I’m tempted to think otherwise.
* You should see what a big deal I make out of my birthday
** Whereas if a top shows a tiniest bit of meanness, I kick and thrash around, and generally show zero intent to cooperate.
*** It was my first sip of alcohol while bending over. I should do it again; it’s quite nice.
**** Not being a virgin any more also helps.