I see what you did there.

There were a few contributing factors in my decision to start work as a phone sex operator. The first was I couldn’t find anything better to do, the second that I hadn’t tried it before, and the third that I was concerned about the toll my absence was taking on my relationship with Stanley.

During our whole relationship I lived in fear of being away for too long. My most vivid memories from our first year together were all his jealous rages and–though he seemed to have calmed down a bit by the time I was working at Paradox–the damage had been done. I was constantly afraid he would decide I was unfaithful to him with either my fellow dancers or with a customer or five and forbid me from working there.

As awful as it is to admit it, I would have left Paradox, my only real source of support, before I left him. At first I saw phone sex as the magical solution to all of this. I would be at home, safely away from any imaginary threats to my fidelity. Stanley might have been crazy, but he certainly couldn’t be crazy enough to think I actually enjoyed any of these calls. I would be perfectly safe. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything.

Yes, I went into phone sex with bright, cheerful hopes, but all that changed within the first week.

I was only three or four days into my new job when disaster struck. I hadn’t received many calls during the night and decided that the answer to this problem would be to stay up later than was even somewhat reasonable, in order to cram a few morning callers in before I was forced to call it a night. It was eleven in the morning, and I had been up since that time the night before. I hoped I didn’t get any complicated calls that might require me to think about what I was saying, but by that point everything had been fine. I was halfway dozing off during calls, punctuating everything the guy said with a half-hearted moan and as few words as possible, but miraculously it seemed to be working. I felt like a genius.

I was feeling so confident in my sleeptalking abilities, that I even decided to do an entire cuckold fetish call while taking a little catnap. This sounds significantly more difficult than it actually is. Most cuckold callers would probably be perfectly happy to just have someone repeat ‘big black cock’ over and over and over again with a few ‘you wife loves…’ thrown in for good measure. It hardly matters what else you say.

I had just started the call when Stanley woke up. He went to the fridge, got something to drink, and resumed his usual daytime spot in front of the television. As he started up his video game, I kept sleeptalking my way through the call, describing to this guy exactly how his wife was cheating on him with a member of her band and how awesome she thought that was. At first it was all well and good, but after about fifteen minutes I started to really grasp at straws. Particularly in my sleepy state it was hard to know if I was repeating myself, and I was pretty sure I was so tired I had begun to slur my words. I was grateful for the length of the call, but it was obvious I couldn’t possibly do another one.

I’m not sure if exhaustion legitimately gave my voice a sensual quality, or if Stanley was just imagining things again, but when I hung up and went about the business of checking my ratings and turning off my lines, I noticed Stanley was staring at his television screen in the stony manner he used when he was angry about something.

“What’s wrong?” I asked

“Nothing.” He replied, using the tone people use when they actually mean, Everything, and it’s probably all your fault.

“No, seriously, something is obviously wrong,” I stupidly pressed on when I should have been washing my face and going to bed.

“Nothing,” he repeated, “it’s just you seemed to really enjoy that last call.”

“What?”

I was genuinely confused, but more than that I was scared. My stomach was suddenly full of rocks and cold hands were twisting the parts that weren’t contracting over its petrified contents. I was far too familiar with this sensation, and it almost always preceded one of the bad times: Stanley screaming in my face, accusing me of unthinkable things, insisting I did not love him, calling me all kinds of names, and leaving me to cry the bitter, bitter tears of a breaking heart until I either fell asleep or he decided he was tired of being angry at me. The fact that I was so exhausted really didn’t bode well for me. Like any terrorist worth his salt, Stanley liked to strike when I, his intended victim, was weakest.

“Are you deaf? I said it seemed like you enjoyed that last call more than any of the other ones I’ve seen you take.”

“Well I didn’t. Actually, the whole time I was thinking about how much I just wanted to go to sleep, which is what I’m going to do now.”

“Okay.” He said. He didn’t yell, but I didn’t dare to hope it was any kind of real progress.

He wouldn’t let me kiss him goodnight.

I went into the bedroom and drifted into an uneasy sleep, certain that Stanley would burst in at any moment, berating me for enjoyment I didn’t even experience. That was his method, and it was, in some perverted way, part of what attracted me to him.

I’m not completely sure if Stanley gave up on the idea that I ever took some enjoyment from calls, or if he just decided not to say anything, but nothing more ever came from the exchange. There were repercussions, however: once again, I lived in constant fear that I might upset him by appearing to enjoy a call too much. At Paradox I had been afraid he would decide I was cheating when I came home. But while I was away at work, I could be at least somewhat free. Suddenly I was chained to my phone and had to watch every word out of my mouth. I was constantly terrified.

I often found my callers annoying, it was true, but since that one call I made a performance out of being annoyed. I would look over at Stanley specifically in order to roll my eyes during particularly long and involved calls. I suffered fits of nerves over every moan, would he think it was too realistic and decide the orgasms I had with him were faked?

I’m shocked I didn’t start to go grey. I may have only been twenty, but the stress was incredible. I was losing my mind slowly. What with the pedophiles, the people who called me with their psychological problems, and now the fear of Stanley’s judgment and rage, I found myself retreating more and more into the depths of my head.

I felt as if I was becoming some kind of fog, a blank space in the world. I was diminishing, both physically and mentally. I barely left my house, I certainly wasn’t exercising, but I lost weight, lots of weight. My waist was twenty-four and a half inches for the first time in my life. My clothes hung off me. I looked horrible, deflated, and limp.

Even then I realized I was in a daze most of the time, but I couldn’t see quite how bad it was. I convinced myself that I looked amazing; skinny is the same as pretty, after all, and I rationalized my unwillingness to ever be naked around anyone away with stupid excuses.

I blamed my daze on bringing sex work home. I persuaded myself, through a series of mental gymnastics, that my problem was not that I was in an incredibly toxic relationship, but that I had simply managed to erase the once-formidable physical boundaries between sex work and real life and so I magically was no longer able to turn off the blank-slate fantasy of a nothing I played on the phone. If asked, I would have sworn up and down that my problems were absolutely all my fault. Blaming Stanley was, of course, unthinkable.

As I read the journal I kept during that time, it’s difficult to reconstruct events or feelings as they happened. Most of the journals I’ve kept over the years are fairly exact: I did this, I felt that, this is what I’ve been thinking about, this is the thing that happened to me today. The ones from when I was a phone sex operator, through my awful one week stint as a camgirl, and for several months after that are vague, they barely touch on what I did, what I was thinking, what I did, who called. What they do touch on, what they fondle, and what they practically grind on are all the reasons why I was totally okay and not losing my mind at all, okay? I mean, TOTALLY FINE, ALL RIGHT? FINE AND FUCKING DANDY!!!!!!!!

The denial is terrifying. I watch myself writing about how I started to doubt the reality of everything around me, how I felt sometimes that I was just living in a long dream, and then I watch myself writing about how all of that was okay, I just needed more sleep or something, and I shudder.

I can’t say whether phone sex would have destroyed me on its own. I was, after all, keeping hours that essentially cut me off almost entirely from most of my friends and that kind of isolation is not good for anyone, even someone as reclusive as I. At the time, I blamed what little bit of fogginess I would admit to on my bringing the blank slate nothing-girl into my home, but I can’t say for sure if that was the problem, or if the accidental erasure of my self was due to Stanley’s reign of terror and my subjection to it but I can say with certainty that the whole experience turned me off of the idea of bringing my work home forever.