four-point suicide swing
My suspension was rather surprising in its timing. Two close friends of mine; John Wayne and Alice, are founders of the performance group Freak Factor and very wonderful, inspiring people. Last year I participated in a flesh pulling in one of their shows, and having quite enjoyed it; I decided to try a full body suspension the next time that the opportunity arose. This only happened rather abruptly when they discovered that they were moving quite soon, and would not be able to suspend me privately. Luckily they had been in the midst of planning a show where Alice was to be doing her third suspension; a Faulkner, and they asked if I minded being part of a public performance.
Of course I did not mind at all, especially seeing as I probably would not get the chance to go up once they left the small town where I stay. I started the preparations the month before the show as per John Wayne’s instructions, slightly modified to my dietary preferences. He advised that I eat fried eggs every day, to build up the protein and oils in my body to ensure strong, healthy, stretchy skin. However, I am (mostly) vegan so instead I ensured that I ate my usual portion of legumes, but supplemented this with nuts and a lot of soy-based protein powder. Luckily it was avocado season so I had plenty of healthy fats in my diet (especially as I also ate a kilo of peanut butter that month). John Wayne also advised me to have a slab of chocolate about once a week. I asked why. He told me not to question his all-knowing wisdom. I began asking why again, then realised I was requesting a reason to eat chocolate, and stopped. But basically John Wayne suggested it because chocolate produces endorphins and all those happy things that are good for you. What did I care; I began happily munching away at chocolate-covered Brazil nuts every week.
Obviously there were other requirements, but those were easier to fulfil for me. I was advised not to drink, smoke, or do any hard drugs; but I don’t use substances at all. I was also meant to drink a glass of salt-water every morning to assist with the detoxification process. Other than that, I took a lot of vitamins (a multivite, flaxseed-oil capsules, iron, extra vitamin C for collagen renewal, and a calcium-magnesium combo) spread throughout the day for optimum absorption. It was kind of a full-time awareness of what I needed to do to be super healthy. I also did daily exercise (dancing, cycling, crunches, skipping) and ate a lot of raw food. John Wayne asked if it would be possible if I could lose a kilo or two, purely for aesthetic reasons; the drop in weight would make my skin a little looser and look more dramatic when I was hooked up and everything was being stretched; but due to the protein powder and all the peanut butter I could only maintain my weight despite all the exercise I was doing. My gentleman courter gave me a lot of back massages to loosen the skin and dissolve as much tension as possible though.
The morning of the show I had a cold. Go figure. So I took a lot of vitamin C (well.. more than usual) and a decongestant, which allowed me to nap for a couple of hours and wake up feeling better. John Wayne lamented my vegetarianism and said that I should eat a big steak beforehand, but I had a good hearty meal and an iron tablet instead. As for nervousness, it didn’t kick in until the space where the piercings were to be performed was prepped. John Wayne was up first; hanging a crate of beer off hooks in his forearms. I was to go next, then Alice with her four-point knee. When I sat down on the table facing the crowd I began to get jittery, so took a bite of my chocolate bar to up my blood sugar. The first piercing (left shoulder) was fine. The skin was clamped, the 3mm hollow needle went in, the point of the hook was threaded and forced into place. The second was a little rougher. The third was downright painful. It felt like the needle was going through skin the texture of soft clay, then hitting layers of tough cardboard and exiting through soft clay again.
Afterwards the guy that clamped me said that my skin was so taught that he struggled to hold it in place. They also had to adjust the placement of the hooks as the skin of some of the original markings did not have enough “give” to allow for clamping as the skin reacted to the trauma. The inner layers were involuntarily tensing up no matter how I tried to relax or do my breathing exercises, and it was starting to get quite bad. All I could do was take bites of my chocolate and close my eyes as the hooks were pushed with greater and greater effort into the skin; which was the worst part. The needles were only 3mm, the hooks were about 4. So each time I managed to endure the needles punching out small tunnels of flesh I knew that the hooks would be worse. What exacerbated the situation, ironically, was the amount of support I had from all my friends in the crowd. Everyone was screaming encouragement and trying to catch my eye, which intruded on my personal bubble. One guy in the crowd, a stranger to me, kept waving with increasing ferocity to try gain my attention so that he could take a picture of me looking directly into the camera. By that point I was crying a little so steadfastly ignored him and continued looking past the spot on the ceiling I had picked out. After all the hooks were in and the carabiners clipped, John Wayne suggested I go outside to calm down while he had a cigarette before the rigging process. So I went and stood where there was fresh air (the smoky environment of the bar was truly awful) and Alice tried to help me slow my breathing down. There was not much pain; only a lot of tightness, but it was just something about the way that the hooks had to be forced into my skin that was unpleasant. Also, a personal quirk: although I had not been properly crying (ie sobs, mucus, etc) I did shed a glistening tear or two; and once this begins it’s hard for me to stop. Quite embarrassing in front of a crowd. This led to a friend coming to check up on me, and then another, and another; and suddenly there were five people surrounding me with hugs and anxious looks and encouraging words; and it was lovely to know that they cared so much but speaking to them interrupted my “zenning” attempts and only led to hyperventilation. Eventually when my boyfriend tried to join the crowd I asked everyone to just give me some space. My knees were literally trembling and felt all wobbly; not in the sense that I feared imminent collapse, but rather that I could actually feel my knee-caps shaking and twitching of their own accord. In addition, my hands shook and my breath came in hitches. I had more chocolate in my bag but felt repulsed by the thought of more sickly-sweetness in my mouth (for the first time ever). One of my friends gave me a sugary apple-juice though, and that tasted crisp and clean. Once I finished that I went back inside and stood with my back to the rig, facing the crowd.
John Wayne clipped the carabiners to the ropes and explained that they would begin to hoist the rig just until the ropes were tight, then I should allow myself to be lifted into my toes. He would check if I was okay, then I should allow myself to leave the ground. He also advised that I curl my feet up immediately, which would lead to a clicking all the way down my spine as my body adjusted to being off the ground. Blackarm Burt, one of the tattoo artists/modifiers from the store, came to hold my hands and guide me as I went up. As I felt myself leaving the ground I pressed hard on his hands, basically using him as a means to exert pressure downwards and relieve the pull on my upper back. Basically, I was scared to leave the ground. There was a moment of internal fear and pressure on my upper back, and I curled my legs up just as John Wayne told me; looking into Burt’s eyes as he instructed. Then I let go. My legs were up behind me and the skin adjusted to its new weight, accommodated the stretch and realigned on its hooks. I could hear the crowd cheering but felt quite removed from it; Alice had warned me that the first ten seconds are disorientating and you are unsure of how to feel, she said it was both the best and the worst part of the experience. It was still hard to interact with the people around me, but after a moment or two I realised that there was no perceivable pain in my back. The ache had dissipated and I only felt the indescribable joy in the novelty of swinging unsupported by any means visible (by me at least). At first John Wayne pushed me from behind, then Burt held out his hands and pushed mine in a high-five motion. It was slightly difficult to push back against him because it caused discomfort in my shoulders, but I swung my legs back and forth to increase momentum as John Wayne hoisted me higher.
Around this time I allowed myself to make eye contact with my friends and gave them what I hoped were reassuring smiles, enjoying myself. The swing was amazing but I was not advised to do spins, as the untwisting could lead to a sudden jerk. After a while I felt a slight pain in the hook nearest to my right shoulder and asked John Wayne if it was okay. He said it was fine, but a later I felt it again, much sharper. To my nervous mind it felt like ripping. So I asked them to get me down quickly, which they did. However, the skin was fine and John Wayne had obviously been carefully supervising, but although I initially lamented my swift descent, in retrospect I’m glad I listened to my body and came down when I did because the same spot gave the odd twinge of pain hours after I got home that night, as well as the next morning. I was only up about ten minutes, but to me it was a seemingly paradoxical space where time was interminable and endless and yet went so quickly. You feel the “weightlessness” of your own body coupled with the (slowly) increasing pressure on the piercing sites, you are aware of your own bodily “noise” and the endlessness of your own thoughts as the swinging becomes a natural rhythm.
As soon as I was down there was a sea of well-wishers mobbing me to check how I was. This was also a little overwhelming to deal with, especially as the table I sat at to get the hooks removed was right next to a very loud speaker. Once the hooks were gone, the areas were massaged to get the trapped air out; uncomfortable, but not painful; and a layer of clingfilm was put over the holes just to prevent any unwitting contact in the crowded venue. I had some more juice and chatted to friends for an hour or so, then went home to unwind with a cup of tea before bed. The comedown after all the heightened emotion was quite rapid and tired me out.
The next couple of days I basically took a break from exercise and just relaxed. There was some understandable tenderness but nothing dramatic; by day three it was almost painless. The “rice crispies” (air trapped under the skin creating a spongy sensation) were interesting; I forced most of them out in the shower and got John Wayne to give me a quick backrub. Other than that, wound care was minimal; a little anti-bacterial soap and it scabbed over cleanly. I tried not to pick at said scabs and after a month there was nothing to show but eight little discoloured dots on my upper back.
With regards to the deeper after-effects, I was more careful with my suspension than I had been with the pull I had done previously. There had been some negative reactions to this and I merely ensured, to the best of my ability, that those close to me who would take offence did not find out about the show at all. Afterwards I felt glad that I had been lucky enough to participate and experience that adrenaline rush of floating without pain. It was a very emotional experience for me, all in all, and I would very much enjoy having the chance to do another; not only for the experience, but to see whether it affects me in the same fashion or whether my reaction was due to the circumstance alone.
submitted by: -K
on: 03 July 2012
in Suicide Suspensions
Artist: John Wayne Stevens
Studio: Full Sails Tattoos
Location: Grahamstown, South Africa