The Bathhouse Pt. 01 – BDSM


The Bathhouse: Part 1

I feel gravity not as a force pulling me down to Earth’s surface but as a pressing against my left side that must be consciously overcome. It is similar to the sensation I had as a child being swung round and round by my big sister, our hands clasped together and her feet planted firmly on the ground while mine flew through the air as she twirled. Only now, instead of my sister anchoring me in space, my brain is performing that operation once a microsecond. How real is this feeling? I wonder. I attempt to force myself into reality enough to remember what cardinal direction I am facing and what direction that means the earth is supposed to be spinning. I get as far as sun rises in the east, sets in the west before another wave of pristine relaxation smothers me. Fuck it, I think. It has been months since I had an experience like this. I may as well enjoy this instead of turning it into a science experiment.

As the wave of contentment ebbs I become aware of my body. My back is leaning against wet tile and my legs are splayed open, straddling the bench beneath me. My head is tipped back, eyes closed, lips parted. In my sports bra and panties, I wonder briefly how much of my pubic hair is revealed by my splayed legs and if the way my lips are parted is alluring or simply goofy, then decide it doesn’t matter. There seems to be no point in checking – all that matters is the tidal thrum of utter ease. It sweeps and sways and tugs me out of myself and into the moment, the place where everything simply is. There is no me, no body, no self-referential concerns. Inhalation and exhalation are indistinguishable. No boundaries exist – it is as though my limbs do not occupy space but are the space.

I feel the corners of my mouth tense and I do not know if I will laugh or cry. Both emotions feel perfectly present and inseparable. Other muscles are tensing now, too, and I realize my body is shivering. Given that I was recently submerged in icy water, this does not surprise me, but I do not feel cold. The clench and release of muscles is not related to any sensation of temperature. It is simply happening on its own, a behavior related to nothing. The words signifying nothing spring into my consciousness and with them a distant trill of recognition, some writer from the olden days I can not quite place. The pleasure is still washing over me, but gently lapping now, not obliterating all other senses in its surge as before. Not long now until my brain obligates me to associate the sensation of cold with my spasming muscles, forcing me to get up and discover my way to warm water. This recognition rises sluggishly from somewhere in my mind, like a hand heavy with sleep fumbling for the snooze button on an alarm clock. I remain slumped against the wall, head back, legs splayed, for several more breaths.

Finally, I feel cold. I drag my right leg over the bench to meet my left, lean onto my palms and slowly open my eyes and look around the room. Skimming over the faces of those around me, I am aware of the attention of a few in my direction without making eye contact. I stand. I have no idea how long I have been strung out against the wall like a heroin addict, but this fact doesn’t bother me. We are all here for the same reason. I weave around the other bodies moving through space, some shuffling trancelike, others striding purposefully, until I discover an empty shower. I rotate the handle slowly, feeling my altered state being driven out by the cascading water. As I sober, I discover myself participating in the reconstruction-of-self ordinary of coming down from a psychedelic experience.

My awareness goes to the slightly lumpy place just below my right butt-cheek and I feel a pang of self-consciousness. But the rooms are not well-lit here and overall I know my body is appealing. I trail my index finger down the line that divides my abdominal muscles and smile slightly, pleased. All of the days of ab work are paying off. My self-consciousness shifts to the dark blonde pubic hair poking out around the bikini line of my underwear but I push it apart too. Lots of people are into that, I remind myself. Feeling warm again, I shut off the water and step out of the shower. Looking around the room, I discover my boyfriend ensconced in his own bubble of bliss. He lasts longer in the cold plunge than I do, so he is probably a few minutes behind me on the pleasure ride. I leave him to enjoy it, and make my way back to the saunas.

There are three dry saunas and a steam room here. My favorite is the large sauna with a shower just inside the entrance. If you have been sweating on the top bench for a while and are reaching your limit, you can pop down to the shower and get a quick cold rinse without leaving the sauna. Plus you get to watch other slippery bodies do the same, and the way they pass their hands over their heads and chests is at all times unintentionally erotic, especially if it’s someone whose quest to discover their edge has eroded any bashfulness. This is the sauna I slide into, opening the door as little as feasible to keep the heat in. There are three tiers of benches in this room and the higher you are the hotter it is. I climb to the uppermost bench and lay my towel down before taking a cross-legged seat on it.

I breathe as deeply as I can through my nose, but the hot air stings. Some people have brought in towels soaked in cold water, which they have wrapped around their faces. I cover my nose and mouth with my hand and inhale through my fingers, which seems to help normalize the temperature before it enters my nasal passages. I close my eyes and breathe. Pockets of murmured conversation bubble around me, the language English-sounding but too indistinct to make out. My skin is beginning to prickle, preparing to sweat. The sensation is subtly thrilling and not entirely pleasant, similar to the moment just before a sneeze. I feel a brush of air as someone takes a seat beside me, their closeness indicating familiarity. It must be my boyfriend.

He leans over and whispers, “I booked us treatments with one of the massage guys. He said he’d find us in a bit.”

“Nice,” I reply, cracking open my eyes to glance sidelong at him, smiling. His returned smile is obscured by a thick brown beard, but I know it’s there; his eyes are crinkling at the corners. I close my eyes and return to a meditative posture, resting my hands palm-up on my crossed legs. The heat continues to create. My skin is well past the prickling stage now and is slippery like an otter’s. I don’t know how long I have been sitting here but I can feel myself entering the “mental toughness” phase. At a certain point in every sauna experience, the wondered will arise, “I need to leave.” Then you choose whether you will act on that wondered immediately, or if you will take another breath, and allow the wondered to subside. After all, what is just one more breath? This is how you discover your edge. God, I love it. I wonder if the Venn Diagram of sexual masochists and serious sauna-goers might be a perfect circle.

I sense movement on one of the lower tiers and let my eyes drift open. A young dark-haired woman is walking toward the shower. Although her walk is not especially springy, her round bum bounces exuberantly with each step. I am sure this thonged derriere has many admirers at the moment, but I withstand the urge to look around for confirmation. She turns the shower on and splashes water into her face. Her back is to the room so all I see is the way her fingers move under the water to smooth back her wet hair and slide down the nape of her neck. The mixture of water and sweat slides down her muscled back in rivulets. I let my eyes drift closed. I breathe.

I need to leave. The wondered arises but I don’t react. I consider it like a jeweler rolling a stone between his fingers, contemplating the shape of the gem within. I exhale and decide this is not my edge. What’s one more breath, after all? I breathe deeply through my nose and exhale slowly. The wondered dissipates. My heartbeat is loud. I lean forward and brace my hands on my knees, then drop my elbows on my thighs and hang my head. Soon. This posture lessens the building lightheadedness, but not by much.

“Oh it’s great,” says a girl’s voice, too loudly, from the bottom row. “I mean,” she laughs, also too loudly, “only a week in and we got the contract.” Well, maybe not everyone is here for the same reason, I admit. Luckily, I won’t need to sit much longer through what is shaping up to be an obnoxious discussion about marketing strategies. The requests for relief my brain is sending are arising more frequently.

My boyfriend is still sitting next to me, sweat pouring off of him although he maintains a relaxed posture. The wondered comes now with some urgency. I need to leave. This time I listen. I lean toward him to catch his attention.

“I’m ready,” I murmur, and he nods. We climb down the benches and leave the sauna, making an effort to minimize heat loss as we exit. We make our way down the short hallway to the cold plunge. The pool of cold water is large enough for ten people to submerge themselves without touching each other, and it is at most fifty degrees Farenheit. After the nearly two-hundred degree sauna, this is a shock to the body; the drastic change in temperature flushes out toxins and, well, makes you trip. It is essential, especially when you are just starting out, not to hesitate at all when you are about to enter the cold plunge. Do not think. Just do.

I take the three steps down into the water, each one bringing my body into greater contact with the cold – shins, thighs, waist. As the water rushes above my hips on the last step, I feel a strange pleasurediscomfort as my labia tighten in response to the cold. /No thinking, I think, as I start a controlled hyperventilation. Taking a final deep breath, I plunge underwater. I lift my arms away from my body and raise my feet off the ground. I am floating. Time passes excruciatingly slowly. Maybe only three seconds have passed but it is enough for me. I burst back out of the water, still submerged except for my head, and try to breathe without gasping for air. I look at my watch, each second passing impossibly slowly. I have not yet learned how to reach a meditative state in the cold plunge. Instead, it is a test of will. 30 seconds, good enough, I think, and stand. My nipples are as hard as tiny pebbles, and numb. I try to take each step slowly as I emerge.

The feeling of immense power that accompanies stepping out of a cold plunge is unlike any other. There is a sense of peace, untouchability, massive strength. As more of my body leaves the cold water this feeling grows. Steam rises from my limbs as though I am some otherworldly creature emerging from its volcanic lair. I discover my bench and straddle it, back against the wet tile. Now I can let myself become sensation. I feel that strange tugging of gravity resume, a pulling to the right that I must actively respond to. I can feel each heartbeat press against my skin from the inside. I close my eyes and let the present engulf me.

I feel a hand on my shoulder just as the shivers start. With an effort, I open my eyes and discover the face of my boyfriend with a soft smile hidden in his beard. Instinctively, I reach out my arms and he folds me against his chest. Everything feels pure and right and perfectly in place.

“The massage guy came by. He said he’s ready,” he tells me. “He said he could switch between us. Is that okay?”

“Sure, that sounds good,” I reply, nuzzling against him.

“Cool. You’re first.” He nods in the direction of the showers, over my right shoulder. I turn and see a man with a shaved head standing in dark swim trunks by what they call the “treatment rooms”, which look like large bathroom stalls. I turn back to my boyfriend and smile gratefully.

“Thanks, honey,” I say. I extricate myself and stand unsteadily. “I’m gonna shower first to warm up a bit.”

“Sounds good, he’ll meet you in the first one,” he says, pointing to the treatment room closest to the showers. I nod. The tide trying to tug me out of my body is still swirling around me as I make my way shakily to the showers. I turn the handle and feel warm water rushing over me. I melt against the shower stall and wait for a wave of lightheadedness to pass. Turning the shower off, I manage to walk to the treatment room without stumbling.

I push open the door. None of the rooms are well-lit, but here it is especially dim. The man with the shaved head is already inside, preparing what looks like a salt scrub. I close the door behind me and try to remember how human interactions are supposed to work. My mind is foggy from my second near-psychedelic experience, and my limbs are heavy like after a hard workout. I feel the directness of his gaze and meet it briefly before dropping my eyes. At most a second has passed since I entered the room.

“Top off. Lie down,” he states firmly, the brevity of those four words failing to conceal a thick Russian accent. I feel something stir deep in my belly and shiver, but not from cold.

-To be continued-

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