Despite the seeming isolation from the natural world, tree-lined streets and the green heart of Manhattan as it manifested in Central Park gave me some sense of connection to something besides man-made edifices and unforgiving sidewalks. And as the seasons rolled around, they each had their own unique personality, and brought out a unique facet of the personality of my beloved hometown.
Winters in a city can be deceptively easy. That is until nature gives a great big “Fuck you, buddy!” to all of our efforts to control our environment and a blizzard takes out your power. Fall foliage was one of the ways that reminded you that nature is everywhere, as the trees you often ignored sent out gorgeous flashes of livid color even as the year’s leaves passed away in an entropic orgy of full-spectrum beauty. Spring was my favorite time of year, bringing as it did a renewal and freshness, and an opportunity to shed the heaviness of winter and exist outdoors in lovely temperate temps.
But summer? Not my favorite. I loathe humidity, and there would often be many, many days where I would watch the weather report with a jaundiced eye, dreading the point where the summer temps and the percentage of humidity danced uncomfortably close to one another. 90° and 90% humidity was your lot for a couple of months a year, and living in a tenement with wiring so weak as to make having an air conditioner – even if you could afford to purchase and pay for the electricity to run one – an impossibility. Often, a fan and a spray bottle of water was the best you could do on steamy nights, and when it was particularly muggy and hot, my Mom would sometimes let me sleep curled up in the tub, which was the coolest place in the flat.
Despite my aversion to heat and humidity, there are aspects of summer that invoke some of my favorite aspects of sensual sexuality.
Most of us grow up in a system where we are institutionalized for ten months out of the year, only to be set loose when thermometers are blushing deeply red over the majority of their surface. Summer evokes freedom: freedom from school, from rigid time frames, from the authoritarian constraints of the educational system. It feels so very, very good to close your books on that last day of school and realize that there are two whole months where you may focus on other pursuits.
That sensation of freedom, the idea that I have grasped the reins of my life, resonates with the feeling I had when I discovered myself in the alternative universe of alternative sexuality. I had learned a great deal about myself before I came into kink, and that discovery, opening that door, was my own welcome into the fervent heat of sexual pursuits previously unexplored. I had earned the freedom to love differently, and was able to take everything I have learned up until that point in my life, look over what I needed, and leave the rest. Schooling is vital, as is taking what you have learned and jumping off into the vast unknown of life that is your path.
Of the forces of nature that leave us vulnerable, heat is one that frustrates me personally. Once I’m overheated, it takes me a long time to return to my normal temperatures. When it is cold, you can always layer on more clothes, but when it is hot and humid, not even full divestiture can get me back to where I wanna be! I hate sweating, I despise being sticky, and for fuck’s sake, don’t let me be sweaty hot and sticky because that is the perfect storm of fail!
Except when it isn’t.
There are some times where that sensation of sweatiness, an inability to escape the oppressiveness of weather overwhelms the senses into a frenzy of sensory input that pushes us beyond. My first boyfriend and I once took a long, long train ride from the upper east side of Manhattan to Coney Island. A long trek to be sure. But it was mitigated by the air conditioning afforded by the A Train as it wound its way from Manhattan through Brooklyn and eventually into Queens. Emerging from the chill of the cars into the heat and the smell of the hot sidewalk, cotton candy, grilled hot dogs and pretzels being hawked on the boardwalk – all of this underscored by the marine tang of the Atlantic – was an opulent overload of sensory input.
And even though it seemed too hot to want to touch at all, something would override that aversion as I found myself acquiescing to lips pressed against sweat-dampened skin, and tasting the salt and coppery warmth of his skin. A mouth cooled by bites of Marino’s Italian Ice became momentary oases of shivery deliciousness; the base of my neck became a target for a chilly kiss which relieved, even if only for a second, the oppressive temperatures. That the head slowed down your actions only sped up the sensual exchange of skin-to skin contact, and a languorous touch became invested with another layer of sensuality. Skin slicked with sweat evokes the heat and contact of sex even without the intimacy, and being in that state for hours at a time often blurred the lines between annoyance and arousal. Making out on a boardwalk bench with your skin reveling in the evening’s cool zephyrs has its own sweet sensuality.
The oscillation between discomfort and relief conjures the cycling of pleasure and pain I experience in SM play. While being hot and sweaty, even as a result of a gorgeous fuck, can be satisfying, there is a lovely sensuality to the shower afterward, feeling the coolness of water renewing and refreshing your flesh. After a day slogging around in heat and humidity, walking into an air-conditioned space becomes an environmental benediction. It is often through experiencing extremes that we come to appreciate the exhilaration of navigating between them.
Years ago I realized that my masochistic tendencies have pretty specific criteria that need to be met before I can enjoy intense sensation. I experience pain in three phases: the anticipation beforehand, the intensity during, and the sweet sensation of cessation.
That last is most evocative for me. I do not process pain while it is happening, only in its aftermath. The strike of a whip is so fast, information pours into your body at the speed of sound, and only so much of it is conscious. But after the whip strike, my whole body soaks it in, breath resumes, blood surges, my synapses fire information faster than one might believe possible. I realize how much I love pain only after the pain is past. Fleeting are the moments where I can fully understand intense input as it happens, but in the wake of these emotional lightning strikes, I can unpack the feelings at my leisure. Pain is the heat, stress and fear the humidity, and that cool bath after the hot boardwalk is the breath.
image by Substantia Jones