The house is much like the others around it in this small suburban neighborhood. Copy and pasted in a semi-random arrangement among many other models that had been copy and pasted to give a sense of uniqueness to the owners. I can imagine the thoughts of the owners as they live amongst a community of repetition and sameness, trying to justify their purchase: Sure the same floor plan might be found two streets down, but at least this house is the only one like it upon the street, and this street is closer to the park. So I win. I roll my eyes at the thought and I pull up to my destination.
A two-story red brick house. Identical in every way to the one the next street over, except that one had a faux sandstone facade. This one, however, was quewntisentially American with that rust-colored brick on it and two trees, far from fully grown. Boarding the sidewalk are two plastic yard signs, planted into the ground by thin aluminum rods that barely support them as they shake in the breeze. One sign depicts a volleyball flying over a net with “State Volleyball Champions, 2022” written on it in bold blue and gold letters. The one next to it depicts a snare drum and a tuba with “A Mustang Lives Here” written in the same bold blue and gold font. Two children, probably in middle school, based on how long it has been since we’ve gone on separate ways, taking each other’s lives with them. I wonder if the kids have my face.
I get out of the car and walk to the house, not sure how I’m going to explain myself for showing up so many years later. I know why I’m here, but I wonder if he’ll buy it. A chill gust rolls through. I pull my coat tighter and walk towards the house and knock.
It’s the middle of the day, so I don’t expect an answer. Maybe that’s why I decided to show up at this time, to self-sabotage, like I always did after the incident. Whether it be with drugs, alcohol, unprotected sex, or financial troubles. Of course, I’ve been through rehab and therapy, many times over. His family had always been so supportive of me despite not being their son. But to them, I’ll be nothing more than a black sheep, a failure. And honestly, I had hoped the same for him, that he too would be a wreck like me, but the Americana house in the richest suburb of the metro would disagree. Or perhaps he just married rich? I knock again and wait.
With each second that passes my pulse heightens. My blood pressure increases. The all too familiar sensation of the anxiety and hypertension that I had become cursed with. It’s weird to say that I caught them from him, but it’s true in a sense. There are mysterious ways that the universe plays pranks upon its residents, at the expense of their life and sanity. I feel my pulse reach that of a runner’s, but I don’t move. I have business here, the business that my therapist insists I take care of. My therapist, the latest one, has been the best to me of the bunch. She doesn’t see me as insane or deluded like the rest. Even though the past ones have never said it, I could see it in their faces, the way they scrunched up or scratched a phantom itch whenever they spoke of my “delusions” in a serious manner. But not my latest therapist, she’s kind and gentle, and if she has any doubts about my “condition” then she keeps them locked up inside of her and hidden away from even her own consciousness. She’s the one that suggests that I confront my ex and finally get the closure I need. There’s no unwinding the incident, but there is at least healing to be done. I just pray that his face doesn’t boil my emotions to the top.
I use the rest of my willpower to knock. My arm wants to pull back. My knuckles want to rap silently so nobody can hear. And my legs want to dash to the car and drive away like a ding-dong ditcher, but I heed my therapist’s advice and knock as hard as I can and anchor my legs in place. I hear footsteps. My feet flinch as if to tell me that this is the last chance. But I hold them in place. I hear somebody fumble with the lock and I begin to panic. What if it’s his husband that opens that door and asks what I’m doing here and who I am? How could I ever explain myself? Fuck. I give in. I take a step back. And then the door opens.
Looking back at me through the threshold of the doorway is a face I had almost long forgotten. It’s pudgier than it used to be, as what comes with age. I know I’ve put on a few dozen pounds since we saw each other. However, his face still looks great. The last decade and a half had aged it well, better than I had expected. His face looks so natural like it had always been his own. But we both know it’s not. Standing on the other side of the door, my face looks back at me. And I look at it with his.
He doesn’t know what to say at first. His mouth dropped in shock. It’s not like we had any sort of arrangement to never see one another again like this, but that decade and a half ago we had decided that it would be best to live our own lives. Living with somebody dressed in your skin and speaking with your mouth had become a nightmare for both of us. We didn’t want this to happen, and yet it did like in the plot of those 80s body swap movies where two people shout at each other “I wish you knew what it was like to be me!” Except, unlike those movies, there were no quirky adventures, no goofy side kicks or hi-jinks, and no going back. Just hell. So we cut each other out of our lives and tried to make our own, just with a different face. That was much easier said than done.
“I can go,” I say.
He shakes his head. “No, it’s fine. Stay. Ben’s at work and I don’t have to pick up the kids for another few hours. Come in, it’s cold.”
I do as he says and follow him into the house. The house is clean but not too clean. It’s decorated in the typical suburbia decor, with a faux wood dining room table, a chandelier, prints designed to look like actual paintings hanging on the walls, and photographs of my face doing things I never got to wear it to. Wedding day. Playing with children at the beach. Dancing. He looks just like a typical suburban stay-at-home mom. It’s uncanny. We walk to the living room where there’s an open bottle of wine with no glass.
He looks at the bottle and then at me and smiles in embarrassment. He deflects saying that he was expecting some friends over and got the bottle ready, but they canceled. We both know it’s a lie, but I let him have it. He offers me a drink instead. I say I’m sober now. I don’t tell him that it’s only been forty-six days. Still a far cry from my record of six months.
He goes to the kitchen and comes back with a glass of water and an empty wine glass. Without thinking of it he pours himself a glass of Chardonnay. Silence fills the room until he breaks it.
“So what brings you to the neighborhood?” He asks. It’s now that I really hear my voice for the first time. It’s no longer the voice I recognize as my own. It’s tired and defeated, but dressed in the typical niceties of a customer service worker who is forced to put on a smile despite their shitty home life.
“My therapist,” I said. “She- well, she’s not like the others. She believes me. Believes us, I suppose. You’d like her.”
“She says that I should visit you, and get closure. To see what you’ve done and perhaps I can use that to escape my trappings and finally build a life of my own again. Like you’ve done.”
I look him in the eyes. The same chills that ran down my spine when we lived with one another after the incident returned. He stares at me for a moment and sighs.
“I haven’t built a life,” he says. “I just fell into this one. Like an injured rabbit into a pitfall trap on the forest floor. I’ve been trapped in here, digging myself deeper and deeper every single day. First with marriage. Then kids. And now I can’t escape. The worst part is that I fucking love them all too. I picked him because he was safe and cared for. We had kids because he wanted them. We share everything, but I can’t tell him the truth. It’s been so long. So whenever he’s gone I drink my pain away. I want to go back.”
He starts to sniffle. My eyes begin to water. I don’t know who cries first but we find each other wrapped in one another’s arms, the warmth of one another takes us back to the past, to when we were a happy couple who never fought, except that one time the universe played is sadistic joke upon us like a child with a magnifying glass above an anthill. There was no going back, but my therapist’s words echo through my head and I find solace in those. “There is only going forward,” I mutter between tears. And it is then that I realize what those words finally mean.
This story had no intention as being as depressing as the prompt would have suggested (which you can find here), but as stated in my original author’s note for the story: I’ve been wanting to read a story deconstructing the 80s body swap trope in a realistic manner, especially with the swap being irreversible and just how hard that would be on the people. Well, I haven’t found a story like that and for some reason this harmless little writing prompt just made me go “I’m going to freaking write that story dammit!” And here we are. I promise that my next story won’t be so depressing!