Only a month after Ricardo moved in, he revealed his many faults.
He had little regard for the way I’d laid out my apartment, and moved chairs around so people sat face to face. He mixed coloureds and whites in the laundry and left his dirty dishes on top of mine in the sink. He didn’t use pegs when hanging our clothes on the line. He sang operatic airs badly out of tune when he cooked dinner, and left his shaver on the bathroom shelf amongst the collection of makeup brushes I had carefully laid out to dry. And he rudely referred to my period as collapsing from the inside as he handed me the hot water bottle he had prepared.
When I complained, he was infuriatingly patient, when I wanted a good screaming argument. Then he would go off and quietly remove the shaver, or apply the pegs, or reset the chairs or the vase or the painting or whatever item of furniture needed his attention.
Were it not for the frequent, and very passionate, bedtime dismemberment sessions I might have called it quits. Because despite his almost impossible gentleness, he was a wizard in the sack.
He was a mummy’s boy too. His voluble Italian mother drew me in close when they first met and instructed me on how he liked his Bolognese or Napolitana sauces, his favourite Italian wines, his preferred coffee, the best recipe for tiramisu and other delicacies from her pantry.
‘Mama,’ he’d say, ‘are you trying to drive Cassie away?’
‘No, no,’ she’d protested, ‘I’m just making sure you keep each other happy, so you’ll be together always. You look after this one, Ricky, she is an angel.’ And she’d put her large arms about our shoulders like a referee in a boxing ring, and kiss us both in turn, something she did every time we met. We always left her with an enormous bag full of meals, sauces and treats.
But the resentment grew. I felt he didn’t fully appreciate the efforts I’d made to accommodate him, how hard I’d worked to change my life so we could live together. It boiled over one day when I found the tape drawer empty, and I hadn’t finished taping for the day.
‘It’s plain manners, especially for Collapsers,’ I said, ‘like replacing the toilet paper if you finish it.’
‘I’m sorry, sweetheart,’ he said, ‘but I’ve been under pressure to win the new job at work. If I get it there’ll be a huge windfall for both of us. I bought some on the way home though.’ He pulled out a bag of new tape from a shopping bag.
‘It’s too late now,’ I said. “it’s like you don’t appreciate how much effort I’m putting in to living with you.’
He dropped his shoulders and said, “Me too.’
‘There you go,’ I said, ‘I’m describing my feelings and all you do is talk about you. You’ve got to see it from my point of view.’
He paused and stared at me, smiling. I rolled my eyes. Always this passive response. Give me some rage, I thought, and said,
‘What are you smiling about now?’
‘I have an idea,’ he said. I sighed and regarded him suspiciously. Impossible bloody man.
‘You say I need to see your point of view,’ he said, ‘and I’d like you to see mine.’
‘So why don’t we swap heads?’
I took a step back. What on earth?
He said, ‘That way, you’ll see me, and I’ll see you, and we’ll get to experience each other. We’ve got the same size necks, it’d be a great fit.’
‘That’s crazy,’ I said.
‘I know, but hey, has it been done before?’
Truth was, I was riled up enough to give it a go, even if just to prove him wrong, so I said,
I hadn’t anticipated how quickly he would move. His hands were suddenly on my ears, and with a quick jerk my head lifted from my shoulders. I squealed, and found myself staring at the ceiling from the couch. Before I could collect my thoughts I was lifted up by a pair of hands that I recognised as my own. Then with a twist and a click I was staring at Ricardo again, but not Ricardo: it was Ricardo on my body.
I screamed, and shouted ‘Oh my God!’
I put a hand to my mouth but it wasn’t my hand, it was Ricardo’s, large and unpainted. I yelled, ‘Help!’ although I didn’t know who might help me. I ran to the mirror in the bedroom and looked at myself – himself – my head on him – and shrieked. I spun around, away from the reflection. My mind twisted. ‘This is all wrong, Ricardo,’ I shouted, ‘this is unnatural!’ I returned to the living room where we had been arguing.
Ricardo was holding up my carefully manicured fingers with their shiny nail polish.
‘I like my nails. Isn’t this fun?’
My jaw dropped. ‘Fun?’
‘Why not? We can change back again. Look.’ He pulled off his head, and then put it back on. Then he said, ‘We are Collapsers. We can do this unusual thing.’
I stood rock still trying to settle my turbulent thoughts. I breathed in, air into his lungs, and he was breathing into mine. I had relinquished control of my body to another, which left me with a deep feeling of estrangement., more than I had ever experienced with the loss of a limb. You don’t realise how attached (if you’ll pardon the pun) you are to your body until you lose it. This was shocking and new. My stomach churned. But despite the weirdness, it was somehow strangely exciting. I felt vulnerable, and stared at my body, willing for him to keep it safe.
But I felt strong too. I had his body as leverage, and what a body it was. I was fit, and now I felt the surge if his fitness. It was almost facile, this effortless energy his body exuded. I hadn’t realised just how naturally and casually strong a man might feel. I clenched her/his fist and felt the strength of its grip, strength I had only guessed at in the times he had held me. I realised his capacity and his control, his consideration for my wellbeing, how, despite the ability to overwhelm me with physical prowess, he was unwaveringly gentle. I realised the grace of this, the love he must feel to so regulate his abilities in my favour. I understood his constant gentleness, his desire to keep me safe, and resolved to encourage him more to indulge his physicality.
I jumped up and down, did an easy burpee, flexed my new biceps (as I was now tempted to think I owned them) and whooped loudly. I turned to Ricardo and said, ‘This is so fabulously weird!’
But he was looking sickly. After his initial bravado about my nail polish, his face had blanched, and he was staring forlornly at his – my – feet.
‘What’s up?’ I said.
He raised his eyes plaintively. I almost felt sorry for him.
‘It’s all different,’ he said. “I feel suddenly vulnerable and exposed, like I somehow need protection.’
I flung his arms about my shoulders and hugged him close. He was surprisingly small now, compared to the big body I was wielding; I could hug him all for once. And he still smelled like Ricardo, even if he didn’t feel like it. Plus I was a taller now, and could nuzzle his hair as we hugged.
But then the thing happened. Oh dear. I could feel the stirring down below. My god, the man was looking for comfort and here was I starting to get aroused. It was the oddest sensation, not at all like I was used to. There was no slow burn, no warming of the soul, no gathering storm. It was there, bang, up and ready in an instant, like a dog promised walkies.
My mind reeled. Half of me wanted to care for the man, provide solace and support, the other half wanted to see my tits and belly and groin and lie him down and have my way with me. Wow. This was upside down. I’d be having sex with myself, and a large part of me – the part below my neck (or, to be more specific, below my/his waist) wanted it straight up. That nice large part of me that was so confusing me now. It seemed to have a mind of its own. How do they manage with these things jumping around all the time? Aren’t they linked to their brains? Is that what it is to be a man, a walking two brained monster? What do they call alcoholics who can still get through the day – a functional alcoholic. Was every man, with his mind-of-his-own penis, a functional Collapser?
Ricardo pulled away from me, and said,
‘You’ve got an erection, haven’t you?’
I felt immediately embarrassed, ashamed even.
‘You have,’ I said, trying to deflect.
‘It happens,’ he said, ‘but right now I don’t want it to happen. I’ve got so many thoughts swimming in my head at the moment, I can’t deal with that.’
‘How do you deal with it at the best of times?’ I said.
‘It helps having a girl like you around.’
‘How do you deal with all this stuff in your head?’ he said. ‘When you just want to sit and talk and are confronted by, well, this, or some other demand?’
I smiled, the poor man.
‘It happens. I remind myself that I’m strong too, and needed, and valuable. And when someone ignores that, I get angry. I have agency, I have power. Desire too. When the time is right, then it’s good to go. Especially with a boy like you.’
He smiled, and said,
“Part of me wants to hug you, part of me wants to sit down and be alone, part of me wants to talk about it, part of me is scared, part of me is determined. I feel like I should be doing more, and I feel a bit guilty about it all, and a bit worried that it might all go to pot and what if you won’t like me anymore, and that’s crazy and you’ve invaded my space like some big oaf but I invited you in so it’s my fault anyway, but it’s your space and it’s me who has invaded it and it’s all so jumbled and disjointed. Kind of like being a constant Collapser, just held together with a bit of sticky tape.’
I wasn’t sure what to make of that little speech. I was about to raise a hand to his cheek, when he said, ‘I’d feel a bit odd with my hands touching me.’
‘What if I just touched the me bits?’ I said, ‘you know, below the neck. That’d be your hand on my body.’
‘That could be weird,’ he said. ‘I might even feel you touching me from my side, and from your side. You know, the collapsed hand can still feel the touch of an object. I’d feel my hand touching your body, and the body I have now being touched, at the same time.’
‘So you can still feel your erection?’ I said.
‘Yep, but it’s mixed with what your body is doing.’
I focused a moment, and he was right. I could feel his body working inside the pants, but also the sensations I knew so well of my own arousal. They were kind of detached though, as if distant and obscured by the more demanding sensations of the body I was now head of.
‘You’re right,” I said. ‘Isn’t this just the strangest thing?’ Then before I could stop myself I said, ‘You want to have sex?’
His eyes widened. ‘What, like this? With the wrong heads on?’
I looked at him admiringly. I loved his face, his eyes, his hair line and stubbled chin. I wasn’t so turned on my looking at my body beneath it, but the force of arousal was exerting control.
‘I’m not so turned on by looking at my body,’ he said.
I think I decided then that I was in love with him. He was thinking my thoughts. It might have been just the head expressing what the body was telling it, but he understood me, and I understood him: I had, for the first time only figuratively, lost my head.
I wanted my body back. I wanted to see him again from my whole perspective, not disjointedly. I wanted to love him uncollapsed. I was about to speak when he said,
‘Let’s get our heads back. We can try the collapsed sex in the future, but right now, I want to love you whole.’
Oh God yes. See? Exactly what I was thinking. I wonder if he felt his ovaries twang.
* * * * * * *
Photo by Vincent de Zalinge, courtesy of Unsplash.