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Before that moment in the shower, Volker says, "all of his emotional connections to other humans had been tapered down or shut off. You wouldn't be able to tell it by looking at this big, smelly kind of guy, but he was closed down. Now he feels like he can at least search for someone. Like life isn't hopeless."
The first time Volker told her about surrogate therapy, Catherine felt as though her entire life had been leading up to this. "I felt immediately like this is what I was meant to do," she says.
Now in her early 60s, she sat down recently to talk about her life as Florida's only sexual surrogate.
Catherine is not her real name. She asked that her name not be published because of the nature of her work. Catherine, ironically, is her confirmation name.
She grew up in a Catholic family in southeast New Jersey. Her father was a factory worker and an alcoholic. Though her Ukrainian mother was devoutly Catholic, she divorced while Catherine was in elementary school and waited tables at a diner to pay the bills. She worked the graveyard shift while Catherine looked after her three younger sisters.
Her mother never taught her about the birds and the bees. "All my mother ever told me about boys was that I should stay away from them no matter what," Catherine says. "She never even said anything about protection or how anything worked or anything. 'Just stay away.' So, of course, naturally, I couldn't resist."
In high school, she'd sneak out of the house to meet her older, football-star boyfriend. At 15, she got pregnant. It was 1960. Her mother was devastated. "A priest came to my house," she says. "They said I had two options: Get married or move to a convent. Luckily, [the father of the baby] was OK with getting married, and as much as you can be at 15, we really were in love."
A week before her 16th birthday, she married and moved to Key West, where her new husband's father was a wealthy businessman. She says her father-in-law had a string of girlfriends he regularly mistreated. She worried that her husband might one day take after Dad.
Seven months after the move, she gave birth to a boy. Over the next five years, they had two more sons. She says that by then, her husband had cultivated a stable of paramours just like his father. When they divorced, she was 22. She says her father-in-law pushed hard to keep the kids in Key West.
Relinquishing custody of her sons, Catherine worked one odd job after another, bouncing up and down the East Coast. She tended bar, waitressed, and sang in clubs in Key West. Her longest stint was as a receptionist for Xerox in Miami.
The same year her oldest son went off to college on an ROTC scholarship, her ex-husband died at 37. The two youngest sons decided not to move in with their mother. Their grandfather gave the boys a mobile home to live in by themselves in Key West. "As you can imagine, two teenage boys living on their own, the place was a constant party."
Catherine took a job as a flight attendant. Two of her sisters were flight attendants, and it sounded appealing — crisscrossing the world, meeting interesting travelers, learning about other cultures. And taking care of people, which is what Catherine did best.
She had a run of short relationships with men, including a brief marriage to an alcoholic who reminded her of her father.
After several airlines she worked for went out of business, she started looking for a new line of work. She took acting classes and got work as an extra in movies and a few speaking roles in commercials. She saw an ad in New Times calling for actresses who would be comfortable showing their genitals to Nova University med students needing to learn how to examine live patients. She got $30 per student, with about eight per class. She found that she was completely relaxed with her clothes off. And she liked it. She found satisfaction in helping nervous future physicians navigate what could have been an awkward experience.
Catherine told a chiropractor friend how much she liked working with the young students. One day, as he worked on her back and she talked about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, he touched a sore spot below her shoulder blade, the area behind her lungs. The sensation immediately brought tears to her eyes. Not from physical pain, though; the touch seemed to trigger something else inside of her.
Her friend asked her to talk about what she was thinking. She explained that the touch reminded her of something from her childhood. Something horrible. Something someone had done to her.
He told her about the concept of "muscle memory." As humans, one of our brain's coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma, particularly sexual trauma, is to repress the memory of the traumatic event. Certain kinds of touch can stimulate those memories, even if they've been dormant for decades. "The body is a funny thing," Catherine says. The chiropractor's touch brought back memories of a time as a child when she was molested.