Anita Mechler: Inflatable Love

I found myself alone again. It was a small dance party and the attendees were embraced in a waltz. This is not something I wanted to do on my own, because I didn’t care to look totally ridiculous. The dark wooden floors were as bare as the walls and the smell of cedar dust hung in the air like a ghostly presence. Music wafted from an unknown place, a string quartet beyond sight or reach, the engulfing sound competing with the rising heat of the room and of my embarrassment.

Couples around me swung gracefully in each other’s arms. They ignored me as they locked eyes with their partners. There I stood. Alone like always, made fully aware of my less-than-perfect unpartnered state. I wasn’t welcome here, there was no room for me. They all seemed so content, so private, so encapsulated. Soon, I would cease to exist. Their desires would erase me.

It was time I made a decision. Closing my eyes against the couples, I thought of him. An idea of a man. I thought of an outgrowth of myself, a counterpart, a complement, something that could protect me, legitimize me, make me complete. I started with feet, those on which I could rest like a little girl dancing on her father’s borrowed toes. Up to my waist and torso, I thought of something I could wrap myself around and where he might hold me. And then of a place to rest my head, something comfortable with some give, like a fleshy pillow of comfort. Women like a strong-shouldered man with “good” arms, I thought. I could fit my head in the crook of his neck, next to his bulbous head. He would be round and soft and provide me support so we could glide along the floor. It would become unnecessary for me to move my feet; he would hold me completely. As I thought of each physical trait, I could feel it taking form, filling in the space around me, below me, above me.

I felt movement, wind gently brushing my face, like a lover’s caress. I was now part of the dance.

When I opened my eyes, I realized that all eyes in the room were looking quizzically toward us. I could see now that he wasn’t a real man and barely a facsimile of one. Instead of blood vessels, bone, and muscle, he was filled with air. Instead of skin, he was made of tarpaulin in one uniform color of Persian blue. We were a disgrace, an affront to true coupledom. He was faceless, round-headed, stubbly-appendaged, crude. But he was mine, my responsibility, I had created him out of desperation and he would have to do.

We were at once separated and as I saw the whole of him, he began to deflate, perhaps in shame or because our connection was broken. The people pulled us apart, turned him upside down, examining him, despite my protests. His outsides started to cave in. At this, I pushed forth my will for him to continue to exist. I concentrated every fiber of my being into my creation.

And then, he kicked, filling himself with air. Jerkily, his arm retook shape, his legs bending and snapping, with the sound of a tarp caught in the wind. We were shown the door. I was guilty by association and creation and devotion. And I felt I had no other choice but to bring him home.

Luckily for me, he could walk, straight-legged and awkward, propelled by some unknown motivation to walk by my side. I was protected by the bubble of our weirdness, no one seemed interested in getting my attention and in fact, they crossed the street when they saw us coming. When we rode the bus, we took up an entire section in the back. This gave me a small sense of our power together: it was us against the world, no one understood our love, we were meant to be.

Going up the stairs to my apartment was trickier. Because he had no joints, it was difficult for him to understand the concept of bending. I had to place my hand where I figured he would have a knee. It took us three times as long as it would have taken me to get up all three flights. By the time I got to the door, I was exhausted; it had been a long night.

I decided to try and let him sleep in my bed. His “skin” was magnetically attracted to me, but every time he touched me, I began to sweat and slid sickeningly against him. It was suffocating to be next to him, taking up more of his share of the bed space, invading my side and squishing my entire body and face up against the bedroom wall. The sound of his shifting kept me awake. When he tossed and turned, his straight arms slapped me in the face and his legs pushed stubbornly against mine. I couldn’t sleep, so I left for the guest room but not without sighing, hoping he would notice my displeasure.

The next morning, I decided to check on him. I had not slept well. His form was so deflated by the heat of the night that he couldn’t get up. He lay there helplessly staring at the ceiling, waiting, attempting to flail his limbs for help. I had to use my bike pump to inflate him to his desired pressure. I also had to figure out how to keep him propped up and entertained while I was gone, so I set him in front of the computer with videos on loop. I positioned him with pillows and an upright chair, keeping his knees bent with hair ties. Realizing that I would be late for work, I rushed out of my apartment with no time to eat breakfast or take my daily shower.

I came home after a long day, to find him in the same position, but one leg flattened from where the metal piece of my hair tie punctured his skin. Feeling remorse, I apologized to him and quickly got out my sewing kit, and glue, and began to make repairs, trying not to inflict further damage. I hadn’t wiped him down from the night before and noticed the trails that my sweat left behind. I took care to clean him and then I made dinner. Before I could be with him again, I had to clean the kitchen, do a few loads of laundry, and take out the garbage. He stayed occupied in his chair in front of the computer, as I finally perched on the edge of the bed, watching videos over his shoulder while eating dinner.

This became, at its simplest, our new routine. He rarely wanted to leave the comfort of our home and his magnetic attraction to me meant that I was never alone at home. He followed me to the bath, watched me in the kitchen, and was ever present in the bedroom. Social interactions were strained at best, my friends unconvinced that he warranted any recognition, but it was so nice to have the seat next to me filled at all times. If I was feeling up to it, I would bring him out on the town with me, but it became exhausting to navigate the world for us both; he could barely defend himself and he depended on me completely. I was his steward, his guardian; it gave my life a new purpose. He needed me like no other man I had met previously and he allowed me to dote on him constantly.

We spent our nights and weekends in quiet solitude together. I discovered that he was amused by books; although, it was up to me to turn the pages for him due to his lack of fingers. Our apartment was filled to the brim with books for his amusement, an entire room became his dedicated library. When I whispered “I love you” into his face, I heard my words echo back to me, reverberating off him, telegraphing to my skin. His embraces were all-encompassing, filling the empty space around me. For a long while, this was all I needed, even if I was now permanently sleeping in the guest bedroom.

Despite his constant presence, loneliness found me once again. I poured my love into his care but felt empty. Our routine gave stability to my life; I had to work several jobs to support our life together. He expected me home immediately after work to adjust his seating position or to bring him things from the outside world. I kept getting ill: one ear infection led to two, stomach viruses left me with a dirty bathroom and clothes that needed laundering. I was now sleeping upright on the couch in the living room. I alone would care for these things; he stayed sitting in front of the computer most days. He was my duty, my responsibility, my creation. We loved each other but I could feel my inner world becoming grayer and molding, like an appendage in need of amputation.

From the couch, I had a window. Through it, I saw snow blanket the world and then the exuberance of cherry blossom trees exploding with brilliance. Birds flew to perch on its sills. There was a promise out there, whispering to me. I resisted. He needs me, I protested, it’s complicated. By then he had stopped checking on me, I was left to my increasing nightmares, solitary mornings and afternoons, my ailments and my recovery. The world was relentless, dragging me down, telling me if it was meant to be, so it would be.

So, I ventured. I made him presents, made sure he had everything he needed, and left him behind. I traveled to the end of the world and I looked into the face of smiling strangers, finding myself among them. He shrank, lost his hold on me, my extra appendage withering painfully, but the whole of me returning, refilling. I cut the tie that bound us together and he floated away, leaving behind a wound that slowly healed and that is what he became: like a blue balloon lost to the sky.

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