• Empathetic || In spite of a past that might seem counterintuitive to producing such a quality, Matteo is a sensitive person underneath his many protective layers. This allows him to pick up on the emotions of others and he is frequently moved to compassion when he recognizes pain and sadness. He also has zero tolerance for exploitative situations such as the one he found himself in as a child. When Le Pavillon's youngest member, Jayden, was brought into the fold, he became angry to the point of confronting Isaac directly and was punished as a result. Since then, he has taken on a sort of mentor role to help the twenty year old cope with his new circumstances.
• Exceptional Actor || In his profession, giving the client what they want is the biggest part of the job. For Isaac, customer satisfaction is a top priority and that means interpreting their guests needs in order to fulfill their fantasies. Matteo has mastered the art form of slipping into different roles based on the proclivities of those he works with. At times, this requires some coaxing, but he's very good at putting the minds of shyer clients at ease. He prides himself on being able to look at a person and gauge their private perversions based on visual assessment alone. Though he's not always spot on, he's right more often than he's wrong.
• Forbearing || Matteo came to understand shortly after being abducted that his own wants and desires did not matter. When expressed, they frequently went unmet, or worse, punished. He learned how to hold these captive inside of himself, developing self-restraint that now serves as the cornerstone of his personality. He has accrued tremendous amounts of patience as a result of not having his needs met. It makes him far more forgiving of the shortcomings of those who do display care for him, as genuine tokens of affection have been so rare.
• Claustrophobic || When Matteo was in his early teens, he developed a severe case of claustrophobia. This anxiety disorder manifests itself primarily as panic attacks whenever he is forced to go into small, enclosed spaces. For Matteo, the most anxiety inducing locations are small rooms without windows, closets, elevators, tunnels, and cellars. Extended periods in cars and planes can be problematic as well, though sitting by the window alleviates this to an extent.
• Low Self-Image || Although he hides this well behind simulated confidence, Matteo does not think highly of himself. Nearly all of his self-worth is tied up in his sexuality, to the point he believes this is all he has of personal value. Due to this, he is inordinately preoccupied with his looks, as he believes once these fade, whatever purpose he might possess will fade along with them. He doesn't believe anyone could ever genuinely like him for who he is, so he tends to maintain a facade and keep walls up to safeguard himself.
• No Formal Education || Although an exceptionally intelligent autodidact, due to his circumstances, Matteo has had no formal education since he was a child. This is a point of immense frustration and shame for him, as his parents, both in the medical profession, held education in the highest regard. To compensate for this, he reads constantly, both for education and pleasure. As a result, he is well-read and can hold his own in almost any conversation despite what his profession and social class might imply.
Most often, the first impression of Matteo is that of a charming, personable twenty-something. He exudes an easy confidence and has seemingly no inhibition when it comes to meeting new people. Oftentimes he is flirtatious, complimentary, with a knack for reading people and adjusting his demeanor to fit their desired role. In his profession this is absolutely imperative and his background has groomed him for exactly such a purpose. Depending on what the situation calls for, he can slip from easygoing confidante to smoldering seductor to submissive neophyte to domineering authoritarian, all based on what he deduces from his client. These are merely temporary personas, however, not genuine facets of his personality; although he frequently hides behind these without showing the true depth beneath the surface. In his experience, people don’t want to see what lies behind the mask, so he keeps it in place, leaving each person with a different perception of him.
Privately, he is far more reflective and wistful. He loves books and can most often be found sitting out in the lounge reading. The genres that interest him are broad and eclectic. He’s been known to pour over a historical biography one day, a murder mystery the next, and a fantasy romance soon after. He is old-fashioned when it comes to books, preferring to purchase them in hardcover and add them to his collection. He is observant and enjoys people watching, noticing details about those who visit the hotel that most seem to miss. He mostly prefers to keep to himself when he isn’t working, which sometimes makes him the focus of gossip among his coworkers, who mistake his private nature for aloofness and fill in the gaps regarding his past accordingly. These assumptions could not be further from the truth, as those who truly know him can attest.
The people who get close enough to peel back his layers discover a soft-hearted, sensitive man who has learned to adapt and protect himself out of necessity. Mentally strong and resilient, the things Matteo has experienced are so horrific, few could withstand them and come through without harboring a bitter viewpoint of life and garnering a lack of faith in humanity. In love, he is thoughtful and romantic, willing to give everything he has to his partner, with little expectation in return. However, despite very much idolizing the concept of love, he is skeptical a person exists who can look past his job and accept that he has no intention of giving it up. Although he has dated a handful of clients, each eventually came to resent his job, allowing jealousies to tear them apart. The quickest way to make Matteo run away is to make demands regarding his occupation, as this is a sure sign the person he’s involved with cannot handle the darker parts of him.
His past has shaped his psyche and sexuality in many ways. Abuse became hopelessly interwoven with intimacy during his sexual developmental years, resulting in masochistic tendencies. While he ensures his clients' desires and needs are met, he is most aroused while experiencing moderate or extreme pain, suffering, or humiliation. These proclivities were all shaped by a past where his own preferences were not taken into account. On a personal level, unless his partner has gained his full trust, he has difficulty tolerating milder, tender forms of intimate expression.
Trigger Warning: Anything and Everything One Might Find Triggering.
Vogogna, Italy 1998
Your tiny eyelids pull apart, dark brown hues peering out into an unfamiliar space. Your vision swirls, confusion dotting your expression as you blink to clear the fog from your mind. The scent of mothballs and tobacco fill your lungs. The room you’re in is stocked with aged toys, action figures from decades past and dolls with missing eyes and yellowing faces. Yet these things do not bring you comfort in this strange place. Patchy memories begin to form as you sift through your hazy recollections. Images of a thin man surface, his car pulling up alongside you on your walk home from school. You feel uneasy as he demands with worry in his tone that you jump into the car, his claims of being a colleague of your father’s sent to collect you due to emergency eventually winning your trust enough to climb inside.
The man, Tessio, seems nice despite lingering concern you shouldn’t have gotten into a vehicle with a stranger. He stops to buy you food, offering the type of sugary drink your doctor parents would never approve of, but you’re so hungry after a long day and you devour the meal and drink without hesitation. This is the last thing you recall before waking up alone. Eventually, Tessio comes in to check on you, explaining that your parents want him to keep you overnight. You’re left anxious by this arrangement, but at seven years old, you don’t argue or put up a fuss. However, as one day turns into two...three...a week, you start to become unnerved by the way Tessio seems to be placating you. Despite observing him on the telephone talking to your mother and father on a daily basis, you demand to speak to your parents directly. Tessio provides you with a phone number and access to the telephone, insisting you can call them whenever you desire.
And you do call.
Over and over and over again, the phone's endless ringing leaving your stomach in knots. It isn't until a few weeks later that Tessio, with a heavy heart, admits he hasn’t been completely honest with you. He explains that your parents do not want you anymore and have left you permanently in his care. You refuse to believe this at first and begin calling the phone number with more frequency, but as more and more time passes, it becomes impossible to deny the truth. You've been discarded. Thrown away. Tessio is there to soothe your heartache and wipe away tears, playing the role of compassionate friend. You have no reason not to trust him and you soon become attached to the man you once viewed with wary caution. He becomes your father, your caregiver, and after months of calling your parents without answer, you stop, tearing up the piece of paper with the phone number scribbled across it.
Vogogna, Italy 1998 - 6 Months Later
In a dimly lit motel room, you sit alone on a queen size bed. The room is musty, retaining a sort of damp odor that causes your nose to wrinkle. Directly across from you hangs a scenic painting of the Italian coast, the pastel colors popping out brightly against the canvas. “A friend of mine is going to come into the room,” Tessio explained minutes earlier, “I want you to be a good boy and do everything he says.” What exactly this means, you don’t know, but you try not to worry, lowering your sight down to your bare feet until you hear the twisting of the knob. Your head jerks toward the door, observing a heavy set man as he enters the small space, seemingly taking up all the room.
He doesn’t say a word. Doesn’t offer a name. Not so much as a “hello” and you sit there, frozen, your heart racing as he lumbers toward the dresser. His rotund belly hangs over the waistband of his jeans as he tosses his wallet and cell phone atop the wooden surface. Your wide brown eyes take in every detail, though you’d one day wish to erase the snippets of unwanted memory. The man wears a long-sleeve, plaid shirt and ball cap. A foreigner, most likely. Your gaze settles on the wallet behind him, splayed open to haphazardly reveal the family photograph housed within. Happy faces. A mother, father, and two boys who don’t appear much older than yourself.
You feel a pang of sadness as your thoughts turn to your own parents, but this is short-lived, the man’s approach chasing away all other thoughts as you watch him undo the buttons of his shirt one at a time. Anxiety dances in the pit of your stomach, his rough kiss like sandpaper on your baby skin, unrelenting in its demand for compliance. His weight is crushing and there's nothing you can do as he robs you of your innocence, perhaps to spare his own children a similar fate. The encounter doesn’t last long, but it leaves a permanent scar that you will spend the rest of your life trying to conceal. You’re crying and naked when Tessio resurfaces to console you. “We must all evolve and change,” he whispers soothingly as he strokes your back tenderly, “and sometimes that change is painful, but necessary.” Whimpering, you shut your eyes and fall asleep, the sound of Tessio’s words echoing in your tiny ears.
Venice, Italy 2004; age thirteen
“He’s outgrown the age my clients are looking for.”
You pretend not to be listening as Tessio and the other man converse. Your dark brown eyes fix on the crystal blue surface of the water, watching the gondolas of Venice paddle up and down the Grand Canal. The man, Magnus, possesses an air of elegance; every part the polished aristocrat from his well-oiled hair to his custom suit to his expensive, patent leather shoes.
But at this point you are not fooled by appearances. The men who pay to use your body night after night come from all walks of life. Business professionals, fathers, clergymen, teachers...all are little more than meaningless labels, descriptions that only describe the masks they wear, the camouflage they hide behind. No longer are you naive to the world, nor to the evils that lurk within it. And this Magnus is evil. You recognize it the moment you look into those bottomless, predatory eyes. You know you’ll be sent away with him, you became convinced of this weeks ago when your father began hunting your replacement, canvassing primary schools.
Soon you will be discarded again.
Unspoken resentment settles into your bones and you breathe past the ache in your chest. You’re hurt deeply by the understanding that Tessio, like your parents, finds you so disposable. But one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure, or so it seems. You watch Magnus slide a thick envelope across the table, which Tessio is quick to snatch and tuck away. Just like that, you’ve been cast aside. You go compliantly with your new master, fearful of what’s to come, but helpless to do anything else.
Venice, Italy 2004; age thirteen
A heavy hand comes down hard across your cheek, knocking your head to one side. Another closes forcefully around your throat, squeezing until your windpipe constricts uncomfortably. You struggle to breathe passed the crushing hold, gasping while your new master grins down in cruel delight. He appraises your vulnerable position, pale eyes empty and hollow as they wander over your naked body. The edge of your vision starts to blur from lack of oxygen, your head becoming hazy as unconsciousness threatens to draw you under. Finally, he lets go and your lungs expand as you suck in much needed air.
He doesn’t ease his entrance into your body and you hiss in pain, gritting your teeth against the burning sensation of being stretched against your will. His hips slam into you over and over again, punishing, unforgiving. “This is all you’re good for,” he grunts in between thrusts, the words seeping into the core of your being. You refuse to make another sound, refuse to cry out. You won’t give him the satisfaction of either. An open hand connects with the side of your face and you ball your fists, absorbing the sting that spreads across your cheekbone without complaint. You decide right then and there that the only way to endure, to remain unbroken in the midst of this kind of torture, is to fall in love with that pain. So you welcome it, embrace it, adapt to survive.
He doesn’t trust you to be left unsupervised, not even in the dark, depths of his cellar, your prison. He forces you inside a hole dug directly into the dirt floor. It is barely enough room for your slender body and you must curl into a tiny ball in order to fit. A dense piece of wood serves as a barrier, to keep you trapped inside, and heavy sandbags are placed on top to prevent any effort to escape. It is here that you develop your deep seeded fear of small spaces, the cramped quarters seemingly more suffocating than his grip clutched around your throat.
You begin to welcome the abuse, as it represents a kind of sick freedom. At times Magnus is not the only one who pays you a visit. Friends, with similar proclivities, are invited to take turns with you, his toy, his pet. Together, this pack mentality fosters toxicity, encouraging them to be especially vindictive to garner accolades from their audience, and you are humiliated in the most depraved ways imaginable.
Venice, Italy 2008; age seventeen
The years pass slowly, but you’re a good pet, obedient, eventually earning your captor’s trust enough to avoid being put back into the hole. You’re permitted to move freely within the cellar, but you miss the wind on your face, the sensation of grass beneath your feet. You dare to mention this to Magnus only once, however, and are swiftly punished as a result. You learn how to bury your own wants and desires, accept that you do not belong to yourself, but rather exist for the enjoyment and fulfillment of others. But he does allow you to have books, albeit only a series of old Encyclopedia Italiana at first. These you devour one after the next, committing everything you learn to memory, becoming a store of random facts yourself. He brings you more books over time and these are cherished as prized possessions.
When you’re fifteen he makes an unexpected decision. You’re brought upstairs into the house, allowed to sleep in his bed, and while this makes the times he reaches for you more frequent, you’re relieved to feel more like a human being and less like a possession. However, he finds other ways to ensure you remember your place. The cupboards stay locked when he ventures outside of the house to make sure you’re eating no more than he’s rationed to you. The chain he keeps shackled around your ankle is too short to reach the door and loud music is played to prevent neighbors from hearing you, should you attempt to call out. But the more you comply to his every command, the more you prove to be trustworthy, the more he loosens the reins until all that's left is the memory of them.
He becomes so arrogant he starts to believe you’ll never seize the opportunity to escape, that he’s crushed your weak spirit to the point of possessing it as surely as he’s possesses your body. But he’s wrong. The day he chooses to leave you unchained, the door unlocked, you run as fast as you can and disappear without a backward glance. Wandering through the city, you consider going to the police, but ultimately talk yourself out of it, your fear of him such that you worry he might be able to convince them to believe his own word over yours. Instead you live on the streets, using your body as a source of income, for this is all you’ve ever known. Another hustler tells you of a so-called foot spa where you can make a killing sucking and fucking strangers anonymously through holes in the back of the establishment. You do this for a while, but at age seventeen your soul is tired and you start to feel aimless.
At a cyber cafe one afternoon a moment of morbid curiosity leads you to sign onto a website for missing and exploited children. You don’t know why you search your name, or what you expect to find, but you’re shocked when a photo of yourself at seven years old comes up. Stunned and shaken, you call the number provided on the site and are put in touch with someone who arranges to have you picked up and taken back home to Vogogna where your parents are awaiting your return.
Vogogna, Italy 2008; age seventeen
It takes two cars and a train to get you back home, but as you weave through the streets of town an uneasy feeling settles over you. Your small village looks exactly as you left it. How is it that you could have changed so drastically? When you pull up to your family’s home, you stare out of the passenger window for what feels like an eternity, the woman who drove you encouraging you to step out and head up the pathway. Your mind is laden with doubts and fears, but these all prove to be for naught, as the second your parents open the door they throw their arms around you and hold on like nothing could pry their limbs from you again.
It’s a teary reunion and for a split second, you find yourself believing maybe things are going to be alright. You let them usher you inside, but the house, like the village, is exactly the same, save for a few scattered photographs of the two children they bore in your absence. You can tell they want to ask questions, but they hold back for the sake of giving you time to adjust, and you don’t volunteer any answers to their unspoken inquiries, worried they might blame themselves for all that has happened. Instead you put on a smile and pretend everything is fine. You have dinner with them, meeting your siblings for the first time, observing their interactions with your mother and father closely.
What you come to understand by the end of this meal is a truth neither of your parents will ever accept: you do not belong here anymore. You sit by the open window in the guest room, smoking a cigarette, unable to sleep after the rest of the house has retired for the night. Your brown eyes stare into the darkness and you come to realize you’ve existed for so long in those shadows that you’ve become one yourself. You throw your backpack over your shoulder and creep out of the house without a sound, vanishing back into the night like a ghost.
Venice, Italy & New Orleans 2009; age eighteen
For whatever reason, you choose to go back to Venice and your old ways. You convince yourself that you’re okay with the life that you lead, burying your shame and embracing all manners of depravity. What you never anticipate is your past catching up to you. Perhaps in hindsight it was unwise to return to the city your former master called home, but by the time you come to this realization it is too late. He’s plucked you off the streets and you’re back in the hole. But there’s fear behind his eyes this time, the confidence he once possessed, the arrogance replaced by paranoia allowed to run rampant over the few months you were away.
He demands to know what you told the police, not believing your claims of having told no one. When he cannot get you to agree to his warped version of the truth, he decides you’ll both have no choice but to leave the country. He applies for a visa waiver to get you out of Italy and within a few days you’re both on a plane bound for the United States. You’re warned against making a scene, told to keep quiet and let Magnus do the talking. You remain virtually silent on the plane, barely speaking a word, but your mind is far from inactive. Your thoughts are weaving together a plan, one you enact as soon as you make landfall.
The airport is chaos, a bustle of people moving between terminals, and you recognize your opportunity. You make a run for it, disappearing through the crowd, aware Magnus will not be able to chase you without causing the scene he wants to avoid. You jump into the first open cab you see outside, but the language barrier creates problems as you speak very few words of English. You’re officially a foreigner in a strange land, but the driver takes you as far as Bourbon Street out of pity. This touristy corner of the city hosts a wide range of complex characters, but it doesn’t take you long at all to figure out where your class of people loiter. Alone and scared, you assure yourself you’ll figure things out. You’ll observe, you’ll adapt, you’ll survive, and this time you’ll make sure to look over your shoulder.
New Orleans 2009-2011; age eighteen-twenty
It isn’t easy for you, navigating this new country and the language barrier that comes with it. You’re frequently taken advantage of by Johns who use this to their advantage, but you become wiser, adjust, and perhaps most importantly, you gain Faith. The prostitute has observed your struggle since you arrived in the city and is moved to offer advice. Friendship develops over time. She is patient with you, helps you learn the language, and the pair of you begin looking out for one another, remembering the descriptions of customers and cars, making sure the other comes back safely.
With her help, after a year, you’ve mostly gained a grasp of the language, though you still carry a heavy accent that some find difficult to understand. She is the first friend you’ve ever had, the only friend you’ve ever had, which is why you’re so distraught when she disappears one night without a trace. You try to find her, ask around, even contemplate going to local law enforcement, but your status as an illegal alien makes you hesitate. But you don’t have to wait long to learn what has become of her, for it is your destiny as well. You climb into the wrong vehicle that night and all it takes is a glimpse from the icy blue eyes of the driver and a single word to seal your fate. “Sleep.”
When you wake up, you’re panic-stricken, as this scenario is so frighteningly familiar to you. The room you’re being held in is barely the size of a closet and you begin to hyperventilate, certain there isn’t enough oxygen to breathe. By the time someone comes to collect you, you have blood caked beneath your nails from attempts to claw your way through the walls, as if this is even a reasonable way to escape. You beg the person not to put you back inside, managing to calm down to some extent by the time you’re taken into an extravagant room to meet the man in charge. Your world will be turned upside down by the revelations of the next several hours. You’re told of the existence of vampires, of how the blood bank you occasionally donate to for extra cash was used against you, but mostly importantly you’re told what is expected of you going forward if you have any hope to survive.
Once again, your freedom is stripped away, and you become the property of yet another master. But despite being surrounded by monsters, you find that this life agrees with you, perhaps better than any ever has. Here you get three square meals a day, a lavish roof over your head, and a cut of the money you earn. You've had it worse. Granted, you’ve been programmed to return to your cage should you venture out, but at least you have the choice to venture out. It’s a prison, but a minimum security one, and you can live with that. For a while.