By James Prenatt
After I proposed to my wife everyone kept asking if they could see the ring. But there wasn’t a ring. There was a collar. A collar, like a ring, is a sign of ownership usually used in a Dominant/submissive relationship. Its history is manifold, not something we can trace back to one specific culture, time period or meaning. But in the context of S&M subculture it is usually worn by the owned, who may take on the role of consensual slave, submissive and a variety of other roles. To us it meant a lifetime commitment, for me to be Master, Owner, and Husband.
I never thought I’d find, let alone want such a relationship. It was one of those “once you see it, you realize you want it” kind of things. At first S&M was all about the sex, but once I saw people in D/s relationships it awakened a desire in me to own, to engage in protocol, to understand what it meant for someone to surrender themselves unto me and, in turn, for me to surrender myself unto them.
When my wife and I met, I told her I’d never marry again. I screwed up the last marriage too bad and this stripped me of any belief that I was a good person to be in a relationship with. As we got closer, these feelings changed. My wife said she had dreamt of the man she wanted to marry every day since she learned what attraction was. I didn’t feel that way because I had been with the same girl from the time I was seventeen until I was twenty-three. I thought love was about sacrifice and accepting that the person you spend your life with isn’t going to be your dream girl. But when I met her, that girl I once dreamed of crept back into my consciousness and I remembered what it was I wanted all that time.
My dream girl had a Gothic sense of style. She liked dark clothing and dark things. She knew what it meant to struggle against suicide, depression, and anxiety. She was kinky and depraved like me. She liked the same angry music and didn’t complain that it sounded like a bunch of screaming. She had a cynical view of the world (imagine Wednesday Adams meets Darla from Fight Club) and a morbid sense of humor. She was filth like me.
Flash forward to a few months later. I had just gotten out of a mental hospital after breaking up with my girlfriend. It was a whole new happy world, one I was excited to remain single in. I went to a kink club one night and the next day I found a message on Fetlife—a social media site exclusively for kinky people. It came from a woman who had seen me the night before. She flattered me and I took her questions and curiosity as just that, not any kind of romantic interest. I guess she felt discouraged because I didn’t seem very interested.
A week later I was browsing OkCupid when I came across a striking woman with red hair, fair and freckled skin, and a witty sense of humor. She liked books, horror movies, and videogames. I messaged her and she responded, “Don’t remember me?” It was the woman who had sent me the message. I still feel bad about that.
We traded numbers and I convinced her to come to a happy hour that night. I made a joke about plastic utensils and not being allowed a knife. She knew this meant I had been in a mental hospital and confessed she had too. The mutual bond put us at ease and we talked until well past midnight. It wasn’t long before we were texting all day, every day, even though we were trying to take it slow. Later she told me that she almost didn’t come to meet me. I’m thankful she did.
Each weekend we spent together we pushed ourselves deeper into a dark place no one else would get to know, a place where she could feel owned and I could be Owner. We could explore desires we hadn’t dreamed of telling anyone about before. This was also a place we could express our fears. I was afraid of screwing up another relationship by my own self-destructive behavior. She was afraid of vulnerability. This was a woman who couldn’t hold my hand or deal with any kind of intimate touching beyond sex. She kept herself emotionally guarded in fear of being hurt. I respected her limitations and she respected mine. But those limitations didn’t do much because we both shared a mutual pain and understanding of depression and that brought us closer.
During this time I was still going through a divorce and she was willing to help me through that frustration and the guilt that hadn’t left me. She listened better than anyone had before and never treated me like a burden, as I had felt in my prior relationships. She too, knew my limits: that I said I’d never marry again, that I was possibly moving across the country in several months, that I had wounds that hadn’t healed that she was willing to help sew. She didn’t care about any of this. She loved me selflessly and I loved her selflessly, a feeling neither of us had experienced before.
I didn’t believe in soul mates. The term made it sound like somehow people can be predetermined for each other and not being a religious person, I wasn’t a fan of the idea. She changed that. To her, a soul is the part of us that loves. Perhaps souls can be split among two bodies and that is why people can spend their entire lives together, fearing death, but in a way longing for it so that their souls might join again. These souls must be irresistible to each other because eventually she started asking to hold my hand. Oh, and we started cuddling. Finally. I like cuddling.
I planned the proposal carefully. I wanted to get it right, to take my time and enjoy the excitement in the waiting, the feeling of being undercover because I knew something she didn’t, something she needed to know. I remember searching the internet every day trying to find the right collar, the right combination of noticeable and inconspicuous, yet something she could wear in public. When it came in the mail I remember feeling how light it was but at the same time feeling what weight and meaning it had. It meant a lifetime with her.
I wanted to find the right place to do it and the right time to say it. We both like old churches and haunted, abandoned places so I searched around, trying to think of somewhere I could take her and get down on one knee. I knew she was still worried about me leaving for grad school, but I had already given up on the idea. I was more sure that I wanted to marry her than I had been of anything else. Nothing else mattered.
I couldn’t wait long. We had shared our first traumatic experience together. We had lost a loved one and it left her in a sea of anguish and self-blame. She deserved to know my intentions.
We had just gotten back from a poetry open mic. It was dark and cold for April. We had a rough scene that took us deeper into that place where we could be ourselves. It was just too much. By the end she broke. As she shook and shivered, cold and in tears, I got up and took the collar out from my dresser drawer. I sat down next to her in bed and asked her to marry me.
“Every day,” she said.
I put the collar around her neck.
“I don’t have to worry about you leaving anymore?” she said.
On the 21st of December, 2016 we went to the courthouse by ourselves and said our vows. We wore all black.
For more great Wild Word essays see:
The Stain That Trump Has Left on America by Maria Behan
Why the Morality in Wonder Woman Matters by Reverend Rachel Kessler
Let’s Stop Shaming and Start Supporting Moms by Jami Ingledue