Sadie picked up the phone on the third ring. I had missed my bus stop, and I was standing in front of a sports bar. It was Friday, mid-March, not even six, but it had been dark out for almost an hour. The last claws of winter dug through my overcoat and ripped at my skin. I could see myself in the reflection of the window, the wrinkles and creases and sagging skin, the thin greying hair. I had turned fifty a week ago, but I hadn’t felt like celebrating. I still didn’t know how to celebrate without booze.
An array of flat screen TVs stared at me, footage from half a dozen basketball games glowing through the glass windows. It must have been the opening weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. I wasn’t sure if I knew that already, if I’d absorbed it from a newspaper or a TV at some point, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the TVs, and the taste of Jim Beam crawled across my tongue as distinctly as if I’d just taken a shot, but my throat was so dry I couldn’t swallow. I was thirsty and cold and tired, and I was almost a mile from my apartment. I might have missed more than one stop.
I was supposed to call my sponsor, Benji. He’s forty but looks a decade younger, with a square jaw and sharp dimples. He wears a gold chain with a cross on it over tight-fitting t-shirts. He does CrossFit and hasn’t had a sip of alcohol in fifteen years. I’ve never related to anyone less. I go to meetings because the judge ordered me to. My lawyer argued that my drinking fueled my gambling, even though I’d say it was the other way around. But it got me out of a jail sentence. Felony embezzlement of more than $70,000 can get you up to twenty years in Illinois. I got probation, mandated AA, and Benji.
Benji likes to talk about his higher power. He loves to tell me to “let go and let God.” I’ve never asked him what he means, because I can’t think of an explanation that would make sense. I don’t believe in God, but I’ve never told him that either.
So I didn’t call Benji. I called Sadie.
“Hi, Petey,” she said when she picked up. “I didn’t expect you to call so soon. Back from work already?”
I tried to think of what to say, how to explain. Every atom in my body pulled me towards the door of the sports bar, urging me to sit on the closest stool, sink into the cracked vinyl, and drink. And drink and drink and drink. Order a shot and let it rip through me like a chainsaw, spilling my guts all over the floor. Then another. And a beer to go with it. And when I was drunk enough that I really, truly didn’t care anymore, I’d call my bookie. I still had his number memorized. And I’d pick one of the games on TV, it didn’t matter which one, and tell him to put everything I had and every cent of credit he was willing to lend me on the underdog. I’d tell him I was feeling lucky. A drink and a bet. Shot and chaser.
I’d been jumping from one temp job to another for the last year, since nobody wanted to hire a fifty-year-old with a felony embezzlement conviction on their record. Target and Walmart hadn’t even called me for an interview. For my entire adult life, I’d been an accountant making a good salary, and now I was barely making more than minimum wage. My most recent job, the one I had been on my way home from, was as a legal assistant. It had ended that day, the same as all the other ones had. I’d been doing good work, the lady from HR had told me, but they couldn’t take the risk. It didn’t have anything to do with me. Corporate policy. The little box I had had to check on my application. And now there was nothing to do but wait for the temp firm to find me another position and start the whole cycle over again.
“Peeeetey,” Sadie said, stretching out the first syllable. Nobody else called me Petey. I’d always been Peter as far back as I could remember. But Sadie wasn’t like anybody else. “Are you there?”
“I’m here,” I said. “I’m not home yet. I—I missed my bus stop.”
Nothing was ever going to get better. There wasn’t any point in even trying anymore. Maybe that’s why I’d missed my bus stop, why I’d ended up in front of this sports bar. I was powerless over my addiction. Wasn’t that what they told me in AA? It didn’t matter how much of a normal life I’d be able to scrape together. One day I’d convince myself that one drink wouldn’t change anything, one bet wouldn’t matter, but it wouldn’t be one drink or one bet. It would be a few, then a dozen, then I’d lose count. They said it like a warning, but it sounded appealing, especially on nights like tonight. In meetings, I’d said that sitting in court in my wrinkled suit, with a hangover so bad I could barely make sense of what the judge was saying, was my rock bottom. But I knew it wasn’t. I knew I could sink lower if I let myself.
“What’s wrong, Petey?” Her voice oozed condescension. “Are you feeling lonely? I was just looking at my fresh new pedicure that you paid for. Want a picture? It’ll cost extra.”
I found Sadie by accident, or maybe it was fate. I had bought a laptop to look for jobs, but a laptop and an internet connection meant I could go to sports betting websites. On nights when I desperately wanted to go to ESPN, just to see what games were on, I told myself, what lines were available to bet on, I distracted myself with porn. I wouldn’t masturbate, because if I came, the urge to gamble would come back. I’d just watch video after video of comically endowed men and women, slick with sweat and lubrication, pounding away at each other. But eventually the repetitive insertion felt mechanical, less akin to erotica than animal husbandry, and I needed a more powerful distraction.
I found it when I discovered dominatrix porn: women hitting men with paddles or riding crops and making them beg not for an end to the pain, but for more of it. It didn’t make sense. My whole life I’d been obsessed with order and control. It’s why I’d majored in finance and become an accountant; I’d found comfort in a world in which every number had a place and a purpose and every equation added up. I’d tried to apply that same principle to my gambling, coming up with can’t-lose systems. And when I lost I would hate myself for it, and throw myself into perfecting my system, constantly tweaking and updating it. Except the harder I tried, the more I lost, and the more I hated myself for it. I told myself that I was in control of my gambling and my drinking, in control of the bets that I placed and their outcomes, in control of my life, so when something went wrong, I would spiral into self-loathing, and the only answer was another bet, another drink, another chance to take back control.
But when I started watching videos of men giving their bodies to women and reveling in the pain and the abuse they received, I couldn’t look away. The crueler the women were, the more the men loved it, the more perfectly blissful they seemed in their powerlessness. I envied these men and the torture they were not just enduring, but embracing, and I wanted to experience it myself, to give control of myself like that to someone who promised to abuse it.
I found Sadie on one of the fetish websites I would go to. She called herself a “Findomme,” which wasn’t a term I’d heard before. The men who hired her, her “paypigs,” would never meet her in person, or even see her face. All they would do was send her money.
Do you fantasize about having your wallet emptied and your bank account drained by a cold-hearted bitch who doesn’t give a shit about you? Do you want to be punished for jerking off by having to send me $50 with your cum still pooling in your lap? I have expensive taste, and I love to send pictures of what I spend my money on. And by my money, of course, I mean yours.
I read that paragraph over and over again, night after night, for weeks. It made even less sense than the videos I watched. Losing money had destroyed my life. I’d gotten deeper and deeper into debt, always losing more than I won and drinking away what I did win. One night, I called my brother while blackout drunk, in tears, and told him that I needed $10,000 for an emergency surgery. A month later, the money and my memory of the conversation both lost, I called him again and told him the same story. Nobody in my family has spoken to me since. That’s when I started stealing money from the company I worked for, a few thousand at a time, fudging numbers in a way that I hoped nobody would notice before my luck turned around and I won enough to pay it all back.
So the idea of paying a woman for nothing more than verbal abuse and a few pictures seemed like the worst, most self-destructive thing I could possibly do. Maybe that’s why I wanted to do it so badly. Maybe it was what I needed. All my life I’d tried to be in control, and I’d almost ended up in prison for it. What if I gave control to somebody else, let them do whatever they wanted with my money? They couldn’t possibly fuck it up worse than I had.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Sadie, about reaching out to her, and then one night, at two in the morning, when I couldn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I imagined myself in a casino, a drink in one hand and a betting slip in the other, and I couldn’t figure out why I was stopping myself, I messaged her. I sent her $20 to let her know that I was serious, but I couldn’t think of what to say, how to explain what I wanted, because I didn’t even really know it myself. So I told her about my addictions, my embezzling, my criminal conviction, my probation. Everything. It felt like I was confessing my sins to a priest, like she could offer me absolution by making me send her money instead of telling me to say hail marys. I finally fell asleep, sure that I’d never hear from her.
She messaged me back the next day, saying that she couldn’t tell if I was trying to scam her or not, but that she was intrigued. I told her that I was serious, and sent her another $20 and my phone number. That night I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize, and when I answered, it was her. She sounded young but mature, or maybe it was just that everyone under fifty sounds young to me these days. She asked me what I fantasized about when I read her profile.
“You taking all of my money and leaving me without enough to pay my court fees and my debts,” I said. “Without enough to pay for a bus pass to get to work or a pay phone call to my probation officer. Being sent to prison because of you.” She asked me if I had gotten hard while saying that, and I told her that I had, so she made me send her another $20 for being a disgusting old man, and said that if I came within the next four hours it would be $100.
“I can’t afford a hundred,” I told her.
“Then I guess you better control yourself,” she said.
I did. I called her again four hours later, and she let me cum while she taunted me and told me how much fun she’d have spending all my money while I was locked in a cell somewhere for being a degenerate gambler and a pervert. I was in heaven.
A lot of addicts swap one addiction for another. They quit doing drugs and start drinking, or quit drinking and start smoking cigarettes. Sadie became my new addiction. I told her how much I made at my temp job, what my living expenses were, and how much money I owed, and she told me how much she wanted me to send her every week. Sometimes she would text me that she was going to lunch and needed twenty dollars, so I would send it to her. She would respond cruelly to my payment, or she wouldn’t respond at all, and I would have to wallow in the shame of being ignored. I stopped buying coffee on my way to work, and started making all of my meals at home, so that I would have more money to send to her. If I had any leftover money at the end of the month, she ordered me to put it into savings or towards my debts, and for the first time I was able to pay more than just the interest on my loans. I never said no to her, and I loved not being in control, not having to worry about money. Because it wasn’t my money. It was Sadie’s.
“Are you there, Piggy?” she asked. “My nails are practically still wet. I’m sure you’d love looking at them.”
I fought through a lump in my throat and said, “I would like that very much.”
“Then tell me how you did this week and I’ll decide if you deserve it.”
“I’ve been trying my best.” I hated admitting my weaknesses to her. Hated it and loved it.
“Your best?” I could hear the mocking disappointment in her voice. “I don’t like the sound of that. Do I need to take away your jerk off privileges?”
I wanted to sink into the humiliation of Sadie’s threats, but the televisions in the bar were fighting for my attention, growling at me like hungry wolves. A couple walked past me on the sidewalk and went into the bar. They looked happy.
“I’m trying, I promise.” I took a deep breath, fighting back tears. I couldn’t find the words. I watched a basketball player fly through the air on one of the screens, the ball in the palm of his hands like he was Atlas holding up the earth.
“What’s wrong?” The sharpness in her tone yanked me out of the bar and back onto the street and my cold dark thirst.
“My temp job ended today, the one I had a good feeling about. And I’m standing in front of a sports bar, and I need to go inside and have a drink. I don’t think I can stop myself.”
I knew what Benji would have told me. He would have said that it was going to be okay, that I was strong enough to resist temptation, that I needed to let go and let God.
“Of course you won’t be able to stop yourself,” she said with a laugh. “Because you’re too fucking pathetic, aren’t you?” She was right. I was pathetic. I couldn’t control myself. It felt good to admit it.
“Yes, Miss Sadie,” I answered.
“You’re my pathetic little Piggie, who can’t keep a job, who can’t stop himself from throwing his worthless little life away, who’s going to end up in prison where nobody will ever give a shit about you. Isn’t that what you are?” The humiliation burned white hot, harder than a shot of whiskey sliding down my throat, sharper than a player sinking a three-point shot at the buzzer to help his team beat the spread. It burned away the urges that were infecting me and cauterized the wounds, leaving me clean and purified.
“Yes, Miss Sadie,” I said.
“Are you a piggie?”
“Yes, Miss Sadie.”
“I’m a piggie.” Just saying it felt dirty, like I was wallowing in my own filth for her amusement.
“Oink for me,” she said.
I froze at the command and looked around, as if somebody might have heard, even though nobody was near me. “I’m in public,” I said.
“I don’t give a shit, Piggie,” she said. “Oink for me.” I said “oink oink” as quietly as I could, my face hot with shame, but I knew it wasn’t enough, that she was going to demand more of me. “You can do better than that,” she said. She sounded like she was getting angry, and she started getting louder, almost yelling. “The one thing you should be able to do is oink, you disgusting old man. You pathetic loser. Fucking snort for me.”
Without thinking, I did it. I let out a rip of a snort. It didn’t matter if anybody heard me; Sadie wanted me to snort, so I snorted. I snorted as loudly as I could, over and over again. Nobody mattered but Sadie. She laughed gleefully at the sound, which made me start to laugh too. I realized how ridiculous I must have looked and sounded, but I didn’t care. I felt good.
“That’s my Piggie,” she said once we both stopped laughing. “Now, do you still want to walk into that sports bar?”
I looked up at the TVs. I’d spent my whole life lying to people, to my bosses and coworkers, my parents and my siblings, my lawyer and my sponsor, but I didn’t ever want to lie to Sadie. “Yes, Miss Sadie,” I said. “I know I shouldn’t, but I do.”
“How far are you from home?”
“About a mile.”
“How much money do you have in your wallet?”
I didn’t need to check. “Sixty-two dollars.”
She spoke slowly and clearly. “We’re going to finally play that game you’ve always wanted to play, Piggie, but only if you’re very good. Go home. Walk or take the bus, but don’t stop anywhere until you get to your apartment. Pretend that none of those TVs or silly sports teams or bottles of alcohol exist. If you don’t call me within half an hour, you’re going to be in trouble.”
“Yes, Miss Sadie.” I didn’t know when the next bus would be coming, but I could walk home if I needed to. I would walk across burning coals if Sadie told me to.
“When you get home, you’re going to call me, and you’re going to give me your bank account information, your login name, and your password. And I’m going to let you masturbate while you tell me, but I’m not going to let you cum. And then I’m going to log into your account, and I’m going to change your password, and I’m going to turn off your debit card. You’re going to stay at home and look for jobs all weekend, and after forty-eight hours, you’re going to tell me what you’ve found, and you’re going to ask me, very politely, to let you have access to your bank account again, and I’m going to let you cum. Is all of that clear?”
I let out a low, guttural moan. This was everything I’d imagined since I found her profile. Part of me had always known that the fantasy wouldn’t be enough, that I’d need to make it a reality, and now I finally could. “Yes, Miss Sadie,” I said.
“Are you hard right now?” It was her favorite question to ask, because she knew how much my erections embarrassed me, how humiliated I felt when I couldn’t control my urges. I told her that I was. “You’re so fucking pathetic. Go home, Piggy. Call me in half an hour.”
I walked back towards the bus stop, the sports bar receding behind me. The TVs and the liquor bottles disappeared. None of them existed anymore, because Sadie told me they didn’t. I didn’t know anything about Sadie. She could take all my money, drive me further into debt, and disappear, and there would be nothing I could do about it. It didn’t matter. This was beyond sexual. I wanted her to control me, not just financially, but completely. I wanted to give her my soul, and if she wanted to destroy it, then I wanted her to do that too.