In elementary school, before I would go to bed, I would memorize the contents inside of my Laura Ashley dollhouse. I would tuck each doll in and take note of everything: the position she lay in, the shoes on the floor, and even the furniture arrangement. I was convinced, after reading Ann M. Martin's book The Doll People, that my dolls would come to life at night when I slept. In the story, the dolls had to be sneaky about their magical nightly festivities, so the best I could do was investigate in the morning to see if there was the slightest activity or movement.
Years later, I was still playing the dollhouse game. Except now, I was subconsciously memorizing the setup inside of my boss's apartment each time I left. When I returned in the morning for work, I'd notice which bedrooms were slept in, empty cocktail glasses, a misplaced hand towel in the bathroom, or an unfamiliar brand of cigarettes on the balcony.
Sometimes the game was a slap in the face, like finding a stripper's bra under a pile of clothes in his closet. My boss would even admit to it when I asked, but he'd make up a strange story, like her bra happened to fall off in his Uber ride back. How it was a joke, and I shouldn't be upset.
This version of the game was not exciting. There was no magic.
I graduated in June 2015. I wore a medal for graduation with distinction and tassels for magna cum laude, and I felt on top of the world, empowered. College wasn't easy for me. I didn't have memories of sisterly love in a sorority, late-night ramen noodles, or attending crazy parties. My sophomore year, I was diagnosed with multiple anxiety disorders and lived in a lot of panic. I transferred colleges, became a commuter, and tried my best to focus on my work, although sometimes that meant hours before I could relax and begin an assignment.
By the time my senior year ended, I didn't have any large-scale panic attacks until a week before my graduation. After taking a college exit survey in the library, I found out I would have to pay over $500 a month in student loans. I ended up passing out there, letting the panic overcome me. When I woke up in the hospital to an IV for hydration, I was embarrassed that I hadn't fought off the attack. My parents were there, worried sick. I told them that it wouldn't happen again.
Right after graduation, I was motivated. I embraced the uncertainty and was determined to get my life together. Loan payments didn't begin for six months, and I was hopeful to get a job as soon as possible.
The night before I started my job search, I needed to let out some steam. I performed some poetry at a local bar, and one of my friends from college, Jade, shot me a message.
"Head over to Cheerleaders after! Meet my friend Todd*."
I got a cab — hesitantly, because I knew it would be expensive, but Jade said Todd would pay for it.
I was relieved but annoyed when the cab driver asked if I was a dancer. Cheerleaders was a new strip club in town — one of the few places that was open late in Philly. Jade liked to be courted by rich older men who would treat her and her friends to meals, and I was very hungry.
When I arrived, Todd took a hard look at my legs. I sat at the barstool next to him. Jade asked about how the poetry reading went and passed me the menu. Coming out of finals week, I was starved. I ordered everything: chicken fingers, French toast, mozzarella sticks, a burger. Todd was grossed out as I stuffed my face, but he wanted to know more about me. I told him about my job search, and he said he needed an assistant.
I toyed around with the idea that night, and Jade and I ended up crashing in his guest room. I was annoyed at how impressed I was with his bachelor pad when I woke up; the sun leaked through the arrangement of high glass windows, reflecting off the mirrors, leading out to the view of Philly from the 50th floor.
Todd was already awake. He was wearing a jersey and gym shorts. His blue eyes were sharp against his white hair. He was handsome, and he seemed very lonely. When Jade left to run errands, he gently pulled me close to him. He told me he needed me for his company.
I agreed. I said I would work for him. We negotiated a reasonable salary, and Todd had a cute pep in his step after our discussion.
My friend, an attorney, looked over my contract and said that working out of Todd's home office was questionable. He also pointed out how my job description as an "executive assistant" was vague — it had only one sentence, stating that I must "report directly to the CEO," Todd. I shrugged it off, figuring I could leave if it got bad.
My attraction to Todd began shortly after I signed. I became engrossed in his lifestyle, which ranged from wine and fancy dinners to bad "that's what she said" jokes and casual nights with movies and takeout. Our sex life was simple but poisoned with complications due to my role as his assistant. Todd bossing me around all day turned me on, and I fully understand why.
It was also a foreign concept for me when Todd insisted that I call him "Daddy."
It didn't seem like just a kinky phrase for him. It was more than just something to say in bed — it was a lifestyle.
This carried on for months. As his assistant, I would do tasks for him like get him lunch or clean out storage with frustrated delight when he asked. I would fly out and meet him at a hotel whenever he needed me, even if it meant staying in an unfamiliar city for less than a day. I was shocked to hear myself call him "Daddy" and enjoy every second of it.
I couldn't figure it out. What the hell was my deal? I was a hybrid of a babysitter, escort, secretary, personal driver, lover, wife, and maid. My life revolved around him. But as thrilling as it was, it was just as depressing.
I kept trying to be positive, but after while, we didn't have conversations anymore. We had polarized political views, and his idea of a debate meant cutting me off when I responded to his shallow, disturbing viewpoints. He would shut me down at dinner meetings or try to embarrass me. I became consumed with anger. I hated myself and how I still liked him, still called him Daddy.
He had a drinking problem that worsened. The bottles of wine we would share made my face red but his always redder. I was holding his hand as he continued to self-destruct, dragging me with him into his own hell. I hated this idea that I felt compelled to stay around and help him.
If not me, who else? Who would still love him after they played the dollhouse game? After they find evidence of last night's woman scattered across the apartment?
The answer is simple: someone else. Someone else that he could find very easily. If he's not asking one of his other employees to do these odd personal tasks for him, he can easily hire another recent graduate who needs the money.
There are lots of loans, fear, desperation, and young women willing to call their boss "Daddy."