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My Monogram in His Flesh: Dry Ice Branding is Permanent

ogram in His Flesh: Dry Ice Branding is Everlasting Technically, I can not hope to add anything of value to the recorded collective experience of enlightened branding enthusiasts, but, perhaps as an expression of my inner-most expectations, the retelling of the dry ice branding my lover on his right buttock with my stylized monogram can revitalize this technique for new uses in the coming millenium. In truth, the ample posterior that received the brand did not need any embellishment, but the symbolism went far beyond the techniques involved. The problem to be overcome with the branding was simple: my lover is black, not ebony black but rather dark-skinned. He shows an admixture of African and Amerindian descent that gives him a special beauty. His eyes, virtual windows to his soul (and with epicanthal folds to boot), are quite Indian, whereas his thick, black hair, slightly curly, attests to Mother Africa. A simple tattoo simply would not stand out. (He already has one, of a lion, on his right shoulder.) We opted, with good results, for branding with a specially made iron super-cooled in dry ice. Let me digress for just a few minutes. If you will bear with me through the next few paragraphs, perhaps I can explain why we are so happy with the results of this branding. Bruno and I live in Brazil, that country so famous for its soccer, carnival, and mulatto women. Do not be surprised if there is yet more to this place, whose recent census has counted an unexpected 170 million inhabitants. We have our fads, our scandals, and our dreams, too. Day to day life here goes on in banal fashion, as it does all over the globe, and folks are constantly reminded of their poverty by the Brazilian mania for luxury on television and big-spending when they get their hands on some ready cash. Certain ideas, almost a code or religion in itself, govern the way people behave: we have lots of beer and music and frequent sex of all imaginable sorts. The women are not all that demure. The men are quite macho, even when they take one another to bed. Moreover, we live in northern Brazil, where the races mixed in a special way. Indians contributed some 20% of the local gene pool, uprooted African slaves about 10%, and their European masters (mostly arriving without their own women during the colonial period) a whapping 70%. The combinations of these racial stocks have many local names (and stereotypes), but are all attractive in their own right. I would not say that we live in a paradise without racial prejudice, but the color line here is so blurred as to be hard to see. The poverty line, however, is felt at stomach level. Toothbrushes must last ten years in Brazil. This is because the number sold each year is approximately 15 million or, roughly, a supply sufficient for only a tenth of the country's population. If you make the same calculation with the condoms sold every year here, you would have to conclude that this is either a nation of celibates or that unsafe sex is the rule rather than the exception. I would put my money on the latter alternative. My experience takes me even further: Brazil is essentially bi-sexual. Both men and women enter into and fall out of intimate same-sex relationships, many of which are widely known among the upper classes and artists of all sort. Even sports figures are openly bi. It is chic among university students and in among executives. Double (or even triple) lives are so common among Brazilians that biographers have to work overtime researching their subjects. Although I am an immigrant from the snowy northlands of Europe (no, I am not Ronald Biggs), I am no exception to the general rule. My wife and three teen-aged children do not know about my "caso" Bruno, who is also married with children and himself no exception to the general rule. We conform to still other archetypes in our relationship. Bruno is poor, and I, more financially endowed, foot the bill for our outings to restaurants, clubs, and motels where the mirrored suites are rented by the hour. The first time we met was when he was the bouncer at a private party to which I was a guest. He was assigned to see me safely home since I was visibly drunk. After tucking me in that night he accepted my invitation to share the bed. So far we have been together for twelve years, not seeing each other all the time and even avoiding each other for weeks at a time. To say that our relationship has been stormy is to understate the ups and downs of our ins and outs. We do believe that in some sort of a way we are married to one another, as well as to our respective spouses. In times of trouble, not just financial or material, we cling to one another. Our dream is to take our vacations together, travel to another city, and set up housekeeping for some while. So far, however, we just go out drinking and then to my beach house where privacy is a bit more possible in this fish-bowl of a local society. Our commitment to one another can not be manifest in external symbols, such as a wedding ring or joint bank account, because we are underground lovers in a society that—with the exception of our families—could really care less about who is doing what to whom. At times, I envy the frank openness of gay couples who are completely out of the proverbial closet. At times I curse myself for ever getting involved with this beautiful Brazilian blade with such an enticing smile and smooth, muscular body. Our double existence has taken a toll of my peace of mind, but at long last we have decided on making our union binding, at least in our own eyes. You see, I am 48 and Bruno 30. It was time we cemented our relationship. This is where the idea of a permanent, indelible marking came in. Disregarding tattooing as not sufficiently contrasting on his mahogany-colored skin, Bruno wanted me to design and apply a burn mark that would identify him as forever mine. Naturally, he was thinking of the slave brands that the Brazilian elite used to use to identify their chattel property, and I was naturally not keen to identify myself, even to the two of us, as a slave owner. A kinky history book in the local library reproduced as engravings the various slave brands of the last centuries, some quite interesting but none politically correct. Furthermore, Bruno and I noted that brands, as shown in photographs, often are highly variable, something I would put down to the lack of experience of the would-be branders. I was ready to give up the idea, but Bruno begged me to find a way to realize this fantasy of his. Since we live by pursuing our fantasies, I could not deny him his dream. I think I did the logical thing: I went to a cattle ranch were branding is routine. There are no longer to be found branders of humans in this modern country, but Brazilian cattle is marked by branding because herds are sometimes mixed when moving from one pasture to another. Cattle rustling is also a concern of the ranchers (whereas cutting down the rain forest to expand their low-productivity pastures is not). As a guest of the absentee rancher, I tried my hand at branding cattle, and I listened to the experienced hands on the ranch talk about branding bulls, steers, horses, and goats. These modern-day cowboys were macho to the extreme, but there was not a woman to be found on the ranch. They would spend four or even six weeks, they said, between visits to town since there was no use going to town without money. It was an unspoken truth that any amount of money they could acquire would suffice for but a single fling in town. The most experienced hand on the ranch was the cook, rotund and jovial Ronaldo, an unlikely and effeminate figure for a cattle ranch (or so I initially thought before I got to know him better). After a while, I got to talking to this fellow and realized that we had seen through each other's macho disguise. I felt I could confide in him, especially since he was far away from my normal sphere of acquaintances. When he learned, to his chagrin, that I was looking to brand my Brazilian lover, he put his mind to perfecting the best technique he could come up with. He was full of practical advice that made me quake to my bones and almost turned my stomach. Hog-tying was not among the procedures I was willing to learn. The local town, I learned, had a blacksmith who made the branding irons from welded pieces of curved iron rods, and several of these instruments at the ranch attested to his skill in forming the letters of the ranch owners' names. I was beginning to see possibilities. Ronaldo and I designed a branding iron with my monogram: the block capital letter "T" (for Thomas) inside the slightly oval letter "O" (for Oren). The business end measured eight by ten centimeters. The width of the letters was to be a uniform one-half centimeter. Heated red-hot, it would carry a lot of heat and hurt like hell when pressed against the skin, and that was something I did not want to think about. A trip was laid on to town, supposedly to buy food but really to see the blacksmith and get him to manufacture the branding iron. Our model was drawn on a piece of paper torn out of a notebook, but it was more of a guide than Arthur, the droll blacksmith, was used to receiving. He was a true artist, however, and indicated an improvement that I had not included. The stem of the "T" would extend below the lower boundary of the "O", such that both letters would be the same size, abet offset from one another. The tips of the "T" would be trimmed with handsome glyphs, too. This was most appreciated by Ronaldo and myself, and offered at no extra charge. Always talkative, Ronaldo was so enthusiastic about the iron, asking for a smooth finish and polished handle, that I thought he was going to spill the beans to the blacksmith. I hardly wanted to be known as a brander of young men, and I certainly did not own a single head except the one on my shoulders. With all necessary (and unnecessary) recommendations, the branding iron would be ready that very same week. Arthur was a man of his word and realized that on the ranch branding was something that just could not be put off. (Why do things only move quickly in Brazil when you would really rather that they took their time?) I felt like I was putting the cart before the proverbial horse. Within three days, the branding iron was in my hands (that is, when Ronaldo was not fantasizing with it in his hands.) I now needed advice on dealing with whatever could go wrong, such as infections, and I chose (wisely, if I do say so myself) to ask the local veterinarian in town. (This was also a good chance to get away from Ronaldo, who was getting hyper.) What if, I casually asked the vet, the brand burned too deeply or the site became infected. No, I admitted, I had never had those things happen, but I was just curious. Yes, I am a city dweller here in the interior for just a visit. No, I don't have any cattle or animals of my own. The sympathetic vet was amused with my questions, but I was nevertheless able to persist in this perplexing conversation because, as a foreigner and a passer-through, I have a certain license to be eccentric. Finally, I decided to reveal my plans to yet another person. If you can't trust your vet, who can you trust?. Chico, this earnest young man right out of vet school (and into the tightest blue jeans I've ever seen on anyone), turned out to be a most valuable source of information. He wanted to see the branding iron, whose workmanship he admired. He was, as I was, concerned with the total area of heated metal that was to be applied to Bruno's tender hide. A serious burn would no doubt develop, the skin would be broken, and a large infection portal would permit bacterial and fungal invasion, especially in our moist, tropical clime. The idea of the branding was to Chico's fancy, as it was to Ronaldo's, but care for our human subject was a matter of professional concern. Chico's suggestion was that I decide what sort of a result I was aiming for and where the brand was to be applied. I was thus forced to think, something indispensable but that I had been wont to skip. "Where" was the easier question. It would have to be on Bruno's substantial butt, where brief swim suits or jockey shorts would still cover the mark of the branding iron. This would entail the need for proper surgical dressing while the brand was healing, as well as padding and loose clothes for comfort. Healing time could run into two weeks or more, Chico ventured, when movement would be difficult. During this time Bruno would not be able to work or even ride his bicycle. Antibiotic salves and cortisone, as well as burn ointments to reduce contact with the air, would be needed. Did the quadruped to be branded have any allergies to antibiotics? Chico was making me ashamed of the careless way I was addressing the whole procedure. The effect I wanted was not necessarily a raised brand whose scar tissue would make an embossment, but rather a color contrast that could not be had with tattooing. Uniformity was important to me, too. I certainly did not want to live with a disfigured lover. If anyone was going to be seeing this brand on a regular basis for years to come, I wanted that someone to be me. Bruno's posterior was dear to me, and there was no use in risking a disfiguring scar. Chico suggested that cryostat branding, substituting utmost cold for red-hot searing heat, was easier to control and might just produce a white scar on the heavily pigmented skin. This is done with prize horses and young animals, in general. A dry ice slurry in methanol is used to super-cool the branding iron before it is applied to the hide. The tissues are frozen, and ice crystals probably form in epithelial cells that then rupture and die. The replacement scar tissue would lack pigmentation. New gel-containing bandages might speed healing along. His professionalism was almost too much for me when Chico suggested that I bring "my" Bruno around to his clinic for a consultation. That, however, is exactly what I did. The following week Bruno and I, accompanied by an effervescent Ronaldo, pitched up at Chico's veterinary medicine clinic. We waited until all the regular business had been attended to before putting Bruno on the table. The big difference with this consultation was that this patient was more communicative with the doctor than were the previous ones. Yes, Bruno said he wanted to be branded. Yes, he wanted it right here, and he pulled his shorts down to reveal his smooth brown buttocks. Yes, he knew it would hurt, and he gave a convincing grimace of feigned pain. Yes, he knew it could never be undone. Yes, he would always be proud of being distinguished with my initials burnt into his body. No, he did not want to give up on this ludicrous idea. The physical examination went as well as this cross-examination of Bruno, who posed nude with just his baseball cap for modesty. Ronaldo applauded in acknowledgement of the health and vigor we were shown. I am sure it was just out of habit that the vet complimented me on the fine conformation of my favorite. Chico, however, said that he would not do the branding: that was for Bruno's "owner" to do with his own hand. He would, however, orient us in how it could best be performed to avoid complications, and this he did with great gusto, becoming almost as giddy in his explanations as Ronaldo was with the mere thought of what we were planning. The four of us watched the tropical sun go down from behind our beer glasses and commended ourselves on being pioneers and blazing new trails in the forest of human existence. The equipment we needed was best obtained in the city. Dry ice does not last long, after all, in the hot Brazilian sun, but it is available by the kilo in the big city. Adult diapers, extra thick, are also not common items in the countryside, either. Antibiotics and burn salves, methanol and cortisone creams, all were bought and brought together for the big day. We had gauze and micro-pore bandages. The scene was set at my beach house. Ronaldo, almost the fairy god-mother of this strange idea, would never let himself be left out at the last moment, and he was duly collected at the bus station that afternoon. Chico was a phone call away, standing by to offer advice if anything should get out of hand. Arthur, like Hephaestus, master weapon maker to the Olympian gods, was represented in the branding iron he had so masterfully constructed, as thought it would serve a whole herd of cattle. Bruno's buns are almost hairless, but I nevertheless shaved the fine fuzz that covered the area where the iron was to be applied. The area was cleaned with alcohol and delimited in ink, Bruno positioned himself on the table in a fully prone position. At his insistence, he was completely nude. I tucked a pillow under his abdomen. The branding iron was below the table in a new plastic bucket filled with dry ice and methanol. Even the wooden handle was cold, requiring me to use a glove to get a firm grip. Ronaldo was cradling Bruno's head and arms, mostly to keep him from recoiling. We decided on an initial application of the cooled iron for 60 seconds. That would be it for the day, that is, if Bruno were able to support that long of an application. For some reason my hand was steady as I gripped the handle of the iron. Maybe I was reassure by Bruno's bravado and Ronaldo's motherliness toward us both. I made sure no alcohol or dry ice clung to the branding iron, and I applied it firmly to the spot that I had earlier marked with a felt-tip pen on Bruno's right buttock. When the skin was depressed, I started to count aloud, in time with the second hand on my watch. Other than my hoarse counting, the house was quiet. Not even garrulous Ronaldo made a comment. The tension was extreme for me, as I looked to see how my lover was supporting the torture that he had so eagerly sought for himself. I realized in those long sixty seconds, that I would be not just his care-giver but also a fellow suffer with him. Bruno, to his credit, did not even flinch. Then, too, I could see him smiling, or perhaps just grimacing, at the corner of his mouth. It dawned on me that this seal on his ass would be a badge for us both, even though it would only burn his flesh, not mine. I could hardly deny the mark that was my monogram, embossed on my private stationery and sewn on my shirts and ties. Now it was going to be on my lover, whose body would bear this emblem until the grave finally erased all traces of his individuality. In slow motion, the measured minute, one of the longest I have ever experienced, passed, and a new phase of our existence was beginning. Ronaldo was all tears, whether of joy or weeping I could not be sure. Bruno was gritting his teeth. I was holding my breath. Bruno, I think, broke the silence with a single word: merde. That hurt, he said simply, without moving. I hustled to put the branding iron away under the table and to apply anesthetic-laced burn ointment, an invention of Chico's imagination. There was, however, no immediate relief, and Ronaldo seemed to be suffering as much, if not more than stoic Bruno, whose facial expressions were most controlled. A reddening of the skin under the brand was already apparent, as was a slight swelling of the whole buttock. Time was passing in slow motion. Pain hung in the air for those seconds and minutes until Bruno moved to get off the table. He signaled that he needed our help not to roll over on his butt. Our plan was to take Bruno out to the ranch and then to see, or rather be seen by Chico. Ronaldo was going to be the best nurse in the world, and Chico would heal up the brand with almost magical powers. We were all high on something as we got Bruno to lie down, ass upward, in the back seat of my car. I was hard put to analyze my feelings, and I am almost afraid to tell myself and my readers that what I was feeling was pride of ownership. I know that doesn't sound quite right for this day and age, but I was in effect being honored, if not with my name in lights on Broadway, at least with my initials burned in the flesh of a young man who wants and needs me. I admired his bravery and his nonchalance. Bruno had done something that would forever be a link between us, a commitment for us to live up to and a pact to be abided by. I would have to correspond in my own way. I remember telling my own kids that pets can be a big responsibility: imagine what responsibility I was assuming. Oh, can I take that back? That unwarranted remark was flippant of me, typical of the giddy mood I was in. Bruno is every bit my equal and better. I made the vow then and there that our long-awaited joint vacation was to become a priority. Our life together would become a greater satisfaction for the two of us. I could give a damn for what anyone might think. The rest is history. Ronaldo, although perhaps a bit over solicitous, did a fine job as a nurse. He finished up his taking care of Bruno and moved in with Chico, the vet. I suspect that Ronaldo may well be the next branding patient in the clinic, but with Chico's initials, not mine. My family and Bruno's got along fine for the two months Bruno and I spent in Salvador where we rented a flat on Itapuã beach. Bruno healed just fine. He never tires of inspecting the badge of honor on his derriere, twisting to see his backside in the mirror. The brand is perfectly legible, emblazoned white letters on black skin that is more precious to me than my own pale covering. I treasure this brand, Bruno adores it, and it has, if you can understand this subtle point, united us as one entity until death do us part.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 15 Dec. 2000
in Scarification

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Artist: author
Studio: Brazil
Location: Icoraci

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