Mid-Life Crisis

Ben got in his pickup truck after another hard day at the construction site. He fired up a cigar, welcoming the sense of relief it gave him. Damn, I needed this, he thought as he pulled out onto the road. Traffic was terrible, but between his cigar and the country music blasting from the stereo, his coping mechanisms were in place.

Finally arriving at his apartment building, he got out and headed towards the door, tossing the cigar stub and stamping it out with his work boot. He passed a group of teenagers hanging out, leaning on the fence in front of his building. One of them looked him in the eye, a strange, knowing look. He was a scrawny kid with straight black hair, looked about 13 or 14. As soon as Ben noticed, the boy turned away. Ben didn’t give it another thought.

Hi dear, his wife Marie said as he came in the door, and kissed him. She was an attractive woman, nearly 10 years younger than him. He knew he was a lucky man to have her. After spending his 20s and 30’s knocking heads and carrying on in the bar scene, he had met her 9 years ago, and fallen in love. She had domesticated him, but he had no regrets. The kids are waiting for you, she said as she gestured to the living room. Ben sighed a weary sigh and went into the living room. Daddy! His 6 year-old boy Toby said, grabbing his dad and giving him a hug. Wanna play? Hi daddy, his 4 year-old daughter Miranda said, still on the floor with her dolls. Oh man, Toby, give me a minute. Dad’s had a hard day ok? Ben said. OK, daddy, Toby said, a bit crestfallen. Ben went into the bathroom to relieve himself and get some of the grime off his hands. He looked in the mirror, his salt and pepper beard and balding visage staring back. Suddenly he had a strange feeling. What the hell? I don’t look like this…He shook himself, blinked and stared again. Of course I do. Where the hell did that thought come from? He pondered, as he stroked his beard a moment. For some reason a flash of memory came to him, the haunting face of that kid out front who had stared at him. Long day, that’s all, he told himself.

He went back to the living room, and squatted his bulky frame down on the rug to play with Toby and his hot wheels for a minute. You be the cops, Toby said. We’re having a chase! Ok, you’re the boss, Ben said, as he took one of the tiny cars and began chasing after Toby, as the boy laughed. Vroom! I’m coming to get ya! Ben said, as he gave chase. He giggled. He was having fun. Usually he would just humor Toby for the kid’s sake but this time he was enjoying it. He forgot his troubles as he played. You enjoying yourself dear? His wife said as she came in and watched her husband acting like a child. Oh…just getting into the part, Ben said. Uh huh, she grinned. Dinner’s ready. Come on. Ben and the kids went in to the kitchen table and sat down to eat. Ben felt especially silly tonight, joking with the kids, laughing a terrible knock-knock joke that Miranda mangled. He thought it was really funny for some reason. It lifted everyone’s spirits.

After dinner and a little more cops and robbers, which Ben urged Toby to play this time, it was time to put the kids to bed. Ben was surprised at the thought that he didn’t want the fun to end. But his wife insisted. With the bedtime chore out of the way, Ben sat down and flicked on the TV. He reached for one of his pipes. His wife didn’t allow cigars in the apartment, but had suggested a couple of years ago that the aroma of a pipe wouldn’t be so bad, so Ben had given it a try. Now it was cigars outside and in his truck, his pipes inside. Yes, she had surely settled him down. Never had this former marine imagined he’d be sitting in an easy chair puffing a pipe, his kids tucked safely in bed.

He lit his briarit up and began to surf channels. For some reason he stopped on Nickelodeon, and got caught up in a show with some obnoxious teenagers. What on earth are you watching? Marie said as she came in. Nothing, just was surfing, he said, as he flicked to another channel. Funny, he thought. I was kind of enjoying that show… He wasn’t enjoying his pipe very much, though. Must need cleaning, he thought. But he smoked it anyway, 20 years of his habit meant that his body needed a steady dose ofing the nicotine to mellow him out.

The next morning the alarm went off, waking Ben from a sound sleep. Ugh…time for school, he thought. School? Jeez, what kind of dream have I been having? He wondered as he lumbered out of bed and into the bathroom. Marie was already up, making breakfast. He showered and got out to trim his beard. As he stared in the mirror he had that strange feeling again. Who the hell is this? It was just a flash of confusion in his mind. He studied his reflection. Something seemed different, unfamiliar. Get a hold of yourself man, he thought as he trimmed. Trimming his beard seemed to be an especially difficult task this morning, as if he had never done it before. He finished and looked at himself in the full length mirror on the bathroom door. His gut hung over his waistline, his broad hairy chest sagging a bit with middle age. Crows feet at his eyes, a bit of a double chin. He flexed a bicep, pleased that he still had some muscle tone, his marine tattoo gracing the firm bulge of muscle. His sizeable cock hung limp. Why does it look so different from what I remember? That’s not my…another flash of confusion. This isn’t me! Yes. Yes it is. He rubbed his temples and closed his eyes, then one last look in the mirror to confirm reality. He tried to put the strange sensation out of his mind. As he got on his clothes and his work boots, he felt detached, as if he was watching someone else do this. It took a special bit of concentration to remember what he was supposed to be doing. Work…the construction site…yeah…I’ve got to go to work. Yet he had a vision of being out on the playground outside of school. It all seemed so familiar, so recent. I must be losing it, he thought.

He finished breakfast, dropped the kids at school and once back in his truck, he fired up a cigar. He felt more himself as it relaxed him. Yet, it didn’t taste so good. Just like the pipe last night. Filthy habit, he thought. Why did I ever start smoking? He remembered how his old Marine commander had got him into cigars back when he was in the service. That guy was so tough, a cigar always firmly planted in his jaw. He was Ben’s mentor at the time, and Ben wanted to be like him, going from a scrawny recruit to a muscular, cigar- chomping jarhead during the course of his tour of duty. He smiled at the memory of how much the service had changed him from boy to man. Yet now, something seemed so wrong. He couldn’t remember. I should quit. Later. Not now, I need it too much…

Work was a pain. He still seemed off, had difficulty focusing. Once it was quitting time, he got back to he truck, relieved to leave work behind. He pulled out another cigar with a strange sense of dread. He wanted it, needed it, yet knew he would not like it. I’ll quit tomorrow, he told himself as he lit up and grimaced at the pungent taste, and headed home. As he got out of the car, he had a sense of someone watching him. He turned and saw that same boy, across the street, peering out from behind a car. What the hell is he up too, he thought, squinting to get a better look. When the boy realized he’d been spotted he dashed around the corner. Nut job, Ben thought.

Once inside, he eagerly headed straight to the living room to play, barely acknowledging Marie. Toby didn’t need to convince him to play tonight, and he got into it with enthusiasm. Man it would good to be a kid again, he thought. Suddenly there was that flash of memory again. He was a kid. This isn’t me. I’m not a man. I’m 14 years old! He thought. It seemed so real. A vision of the strange boy came to him again. I know him. Where do I know him from? He sat in a daze, puzzling over these strange thoughts that he couldn’t shake.

Something wrong? He heard his wife say, as he snapped back to reality. No, I’m fine. Just thinking about school…work, I mean. He pulled his body up off the floor. Dinner ready?

Yeah, Marie said. Ben, you’ve been acting kind of strange. Is there something you need to talk about? Me? No, I’m fine. Don’t get all worried about nothing, he said. Oh, there’s something else, she said. I was looking at the bank account on line today, and it’s so odd. There’s several thousand dollars missing. Do you know what happened? Ben was puzzled. No…no idea. Well, that’s our house money. Marie said sternly. How are we ever going to afford one if we keep losing track? I don’t know anything about it! Ben said in petulant frustration. Marie studied his confused look. It was like he was about to throw a tantrum. Maybe the bank made a mistake. I’ll call them tomorrow, she said, to calm him. Let’s eat.

At dinner he was quiet, watching his wife and kids chatter, feeling out of it. Almost like they were strangers. After the kids were in bed, he cleaned out a pipe, figuring it would help the taste. Once he started smoking it he realized it didn’t help. Blech!, Hhe said in a childlike way as he put the thing down. He felt edgy, worried. How did I get here? How did I become this way? He thought. He looked at Marie, and remembered the lyrics to the old Talking Heads song. This is not my beautiful wife…

Marie spoke to him. Ben, you seem so upset about something. She came over to his chair. Maybe, you know…I’m kind of in the mood tonight. It would make you feel better. She caressed his chest. He recoiled. Me, with a woman? He thought with a peculiar sense of fear. I don’t know how to…oh man…what is going on with me? Maybe that would help, he said after a pause. He got up out of his chair, and gave her a long kiss, looking for that feeling. Nothing. But he didn’t want to hurt her feelings and followed her to the bedroom. What followed was a humiliating disaster, as he tried valiantly to remember what he should do, how he should touch her, waiting for an erection that never came. He knew he had slept with a lot of women in his day, and was a damn good lover. Now it was like he had no idea how to perform.

It’s ok. It happens sometimes, Marie assured him. I’m sorry, he said, a lump in his throat as if he was about to cry. He was so frustrated. Why was he feeling so lost here? Marie patted him gently on the back and rolled over to go to sleep. Ben laid awake for hours in a state of near panic. That boy kept coming into his head, his stare. That look. I know him. How do I know him? Finally he drifted off to sleep. He had a strange dream. He was running on the playground, chasing after the other boys he hung out with. They kept calling him an old man. He was out of breath from chasing them. Old man, old man! The other boys kept chanting. Then all of a sudden he was puffing on a cigar, looking down on them as if he was taller. See you later old man! They said, laughing as they ran off. He looked down on his heavy set body, his work clothes. They turned me into an old man! He thought.

Once againHis dream was interrupted by the alarm. He woke up, thankful that it really was just a dream. He he woke to the alarm, springingsprung from the bed, at least he triedying to. School time…he thought, as his heavy frame resisted his urge to move quickly. What the hell? He gazed at his pudgy belly and hairy chest. This isn’t me! The dream came true, they turned me into a man… Of course it is you, you lunatic, he told himself as he went thought his morning paces. Just go to work, shake it off.

He got in the car as usual, started to pull out a cigar out of habit. No. Those things are so gross! He thought. It was just as well that he skipped his cigar, because he needed all his focus for the road. It was like he had never driven before, lurching the truck forward, having several near misses with other cars. Another driver gave him the finger. Instead of returning the gesture, he felt hurt and humiliated, wimpy.

He finally made it to work in one piece, and headed to the construction trailer. As the foreman, there was lots of paperwork for him to do, and at least that would take his mind off his troubles. Yet still he struggled. He had trouble understanding the forms, and couldn’t remember how to use the software on his computer. He simply had no idea what to do. He felt that lump in his throat again, tears of frustration beginning to form. I don’t like this. I don’t want to be a grown up! I don’t know how to do anything! He slammed his fist on the computer keyboard. He felt so childlike, like a boy trapped in a man’s body. What’s wrong with me?

He heard some of the guys come in to the trailer.

Ben, we’ve got a problem…hey, what’s wrong with you? One of them said, seeing Ben’s teary eyes. Nothing. Allergies. He sniffed. So…what’s the problem? The electrician’s falling way behind, the guy said. You’ve got to kick his ass. OK, I will, he said. I’ll come out in a second. The guys continued a conversation that they had been having outside. Ben gathered it was about a dirty movie. Lots of graphic detail and foul language ensued. Ben felt terribly uncomfortable hearing talk about sex. He didn’t understand some of what they said anyway, as if he had never been near a woman before. He couldn’t relate to these men at all. He scooted out of the trailer and tried to remember what he was supposed to do. Something about electricity…electrician? He faked it for the rest of the day, drifting around the site and avoiding conversation. The work crew seemed scary to him for some reason, big guys, tough. He felt intimidated. He got out of there as soon as he could. It was frightening, not knowing what to do. He truly felt like a helpless kid amongst grown ups.

The drive home was even more tortuous that before, and it took several tries to find his building. He could barely remember where he lived. Then there was parallel parking, a comical display of backing and turning until he managed to get his truck part way into a space. Why don’t I know how to do this! He said aloud. He got out of the car, staring in dismay at his terrible parking job. He looked up the block to see if anyone had noticed. All was quiet. He went to the apartment door, but he couldn’t remember the security code. This is my building isn’t it? He wondered, pacing back and forth, wondering what to do. He sat down on the steps, fighting the urge to cry.

It’s like I’m turning into a little boy inside, he thought as he sniffled and tried to compose himself, looking around to see if anyone saw him. There was’s that damn kid again! He realized, as hHe saw the boy about a block away, looking in his direction. I know him. And he knows me. He has the answer! Ben knew instinctively, and he started to walk towards the boy. The boy began to walk away, looking over his shoulder at Ben approaching, picking up his pace. Ben did likewise, breaking into a jog. The boy began to run. Hey! Wait a minute! Ben said, trying to move his portly body more quickly. The boy ducked into an alley. Ben turned the corner and peered down. The boy was trapped, a dead end. I’ve got him now! Ben thought as he raced towards him, struggling to grab the boy by the shoulders. Who the hell are you?! He said. Why are you following me? I don’t know what you’re talking about! The boy said. Leave me alone old man! Not until you tell me what’s going on. I’ve been losing my mind ever since I laid eyes on you. And you know something about it don’t you? Ben shouted.

The boy sighed and stopped struggling. It’s no use. It’s all gone wrong, the boy said. What’s gone wrong? Ben asked.

What do you remember? The boy replied. Not much, Ben said. All of a sudden I keep remembering you. Remembering being a boy myself. Feeling so out of place. Remembering…another flash came to him. Remembering being you! Yeah. I was you! I was Todd Reese! That was my name! Now…you’re Todd!

That’s what I was afraid of. I should never have let you see me. Todd sighed. Why? What is all this about? Ben said, exasperated. Ok. I’ll tell you. Todd looked around, to assure no one was within earshot. You and I. We…traded places. Huh? Ben said, letting go of the boy. I used to be you. You were me. Todd said.

Ben heaved his breath as it all started coming back to him.

Yes! I was under the bridge near school with my friends, hanging out,. Ben said. We found a cigar, just one, in a little plastic bag, in our fort!

The cigar I placed there, Todd interrupted. I had seen you and your friends hanging around under the bridge, smoking, trying to be cool. I could see it easily from the park.

Ben nodded, and continued to tell his memory… And we started daring each other to smoke the cigar. The other guys chickened out, but I wanted to impress them, so I lit it up. As soon as I did, I felt weird. Light headed…my vision went blurry. The other guys just laughed, they thought I was just getting sick from the cigar. But I couldn’t stop smoking it. It tasted good all of a sudden. Then I blacked out. The next thing I knew, I was driving a pickup truck, smoking a cigar, a big bearded guy. For moment I felt total panic, then I felt right. I knew who I was. I was this grown man, with a wife and kids and a job. That’s the last thing I remember. You…turned me into a man!

Yes, and at the same moment you found yourself in that truck, where I had been a moment before, I found myself standing there with my new friends at the underpass, a 14 year old boy, getting sick on a cigar, Todd said. I knew someone had taken the bait. It worked. And that would have been that, If I hadn’t decided to find you, see how you were doing. You spotted me, and started to remember your old life.

When…when did this happen? Ben asked. When did we switch? About a week ago, the boy said. So, a week ago I was a 14 year old kid and all of a sudden I was a man, and I didn’t remember a thing? Ben said. That’s right, replied Todd. But why? Why did you do this? Ben asked.

The boy sighed again, not looking Ben in the eye. I was tired of being a man. Being in the rat race. I guess you could say it was a mid life crisis. I had had so much fun, the marines, sowing my wild oats for so long, and yet I found myself in an ordinary job, a regular family, just going through my paces like a work horse. I wanted out. I could have just walked out on Marie, run off somewhere, the way some guys do, but I didn’t want to hurt her. If only I could, you know, get a replacement. Trade with someone. I started fantasizing about it, getting into some weird stuff on the web… I found a site run by this guy…well, lets just say there’s more magic in the world that you might think, for the right price. Ben remembered about the missing money from the bank account.

Anyway, Todd continued, I paid him a lot of money, he gave me these cigars. Very special ones. Since I was a cigar smoker he put the potion into them. Said all I had to do find some ysome other oung man, and get him to smoke one. Then the magic would set in, and we’d trade places. I wasn’t sure if I believed it, but I figured it was worth a try. I had seen you boys under the bridge before, and it occurred to me that not only could I trade places, I could be a kid again. Who better to tempt with one of my cigars than some kid trying to impress his friends? It worked perfectly. Until I screwed up... I had to see you. I had to see how it all turned out. So I hung out in front of your building. But you spotted me. I guess that’s when it all started to unravel, because ever since then, I’ve been feeling confused, too. Started to act like my old self, like a grown man, missing my wife and kids. I even had the urge to have a cigar. So I came by your apartment again, to see if you were having trouble too. Sure enough, you were.

Ben was shaking. He wanted to kill this kid for doing this to him. But he knew the boy had the only answer. Can we change back? He asked.

Todd felt alarmed at the thought. He had become a boy again, just like he had wished. He didn’t want to change back. But Ben’s face showed he was so lost, so childlike. It seemed like he wasn’t just acting like a teenager, but a much younger child. Apparently losing his mind-body connection was sending him further into childhood. Before long he’d end up in a psych ward. Given Todd’s own growing confusion, he might end up there too. I suppose I have to do the right thing, he thought. Suddenly he had the answer, a smile crossing his face. I can fix this, Todd said.

You mean you can undo this? I can be Todd again? Ben asked said, looking hopeful. Follow me, old man. I’ll make everything ok again, Todd said. The boy walked confidently out of the alley and Ben followed him at a safe distance, so as not to attract attention. The boy walked a couple of blocks and stopped in front of an apartment building. Ben remembered that this had been his place, where he lived with his parents until the switch. He wanted so badly to go inside, see his parents. But they wouldn’t believe this middle- aged man was their son. Stay out here, I’ll be right back. Todd said, as he went up the steps and inside. Ben waited impatiently. The boy reappeared, his smile more confident than ever. Look what I have here, he said, as he pulled out a cigar.

Is that…Ben said. Another magic cigar, the boy said. It will make everything ok. Come on. Where? Said Ben. Just follow, Todd ordered.

They walked a few more blocks, and Ben recognized the bridge where he had taken his first puffs of a cigar. He followed the boy down the embankment, and they ducked under the bridge. It was his old lair, set up with cardboard boxes and some old furniture, a fort for he and his friends. Ok, time for your cigar, Todd said, handing it to Ben. Ben looked nervous. You know, I really don’t like these things, Ben said, as he turned up his nose like a child cringing at broccoli. I know, but you need to, Todd assured him. You need to smoke it to make everything ok. If you say so, Ben said with childlike trust, placing the cigar in his mouth, getting up his nerve. His body hadn’t had a cigar all day and despite his disgust with the taste last time, he felt the urge to smoke push him forward with this ritual. He had his lighter with him, and fired it up. It tasted just awful. That’s it, the boy said. All you need is another dose…Ben puffed, waiting to feel the change, to feel himself go into the boy's body. He closed his eyes, waiting.

As he puffed, he noticed the cigar started to taste pretty good again. He felt relaxed as the smoke soothed his addiction. I’m going to be ok now. Man this cigar is good though…but I should hurry. I need to get home, the kids will be waiting for me.

He remembered his wife and kids, thinking fondly of Marie, feeling aroused at the thought of her.

Wait a minute. This isn’t right, he realized.. He could feel his thoughts coming back, grown up thoughts. He was starting to feel good in this body. He realized what was happening. There was no light- headedness like last time, no sense of leaving this body. He’s trying to keep me this way! He tricked me. NO! He thought, as he opened his eyes. The boy was gone. Shit! Where did he go! Ben thought. I can’t let him get away with this! Ben clambered up the embankment, looking everywhere for Todd. He felt panic, drawing on his cigar instinctively to calm himself.

Todd was gone. Ben kept walking. It was clearer to him now. He remembered his wife and kids, knew he needed to get home. What else could he do? He wasn’t Todd anymore. Unless he could find the boy some day, he never would be again. Todd watched him from a safe distance, seeing his former body walke away, smoke trailing behind him. Never again, he told himself. I won’t go near him. Too dangerous. His own mind was clearer now, too, no longer confused, feeling like a 14 year old boy. But he could remember what happened. The switch was supposed to be absolute, the participants remembering nothing, but he could remember being a grown up. He would have to re-learn to be a child, put away his adult thoughts, adapt. He wondered if Ben remembered, too. He hoped he hadn’t made a mistake.

Ben got home, feeling a sense of relief that at least now he understood what happened, and could deal with it somehow. The confusion was gone, jJust memories of being a boy remained. He was indeed still a boy trapped in a man’s body, but he knew he had to cope with it for now. . He kissed Marie, trying to feel something, but couldn’t. He’d have to deal with that somehow. He played with the kids, ate dinner and put them to bed. He looked forward to his evening pipe, and enjoyed it immensely. At least that was ok again, He did love his pipe and cigar habit once again. Maybe everything else will fall into place eventually, too, he thought. He spent quite a bit of time in front of the mirror, getting used to the look of his adult face, no longer shocked by it. It even pleased him a little, seeing his bearded, blue collar counteanance with his pipe or cigar, smoke curling up, soothing him.

For a while he would walk the neighborhood, looking for Todd, gradually looking less and less as he got busy with his own life. He never found him. Eventually he gave up. It took him a while to adjust to manhood. He and Marie broke up for a while, he being too uncomfortable with his sexual awkardness. He moved into a rooming house. He experimented, dated women, gradually finding his adult hormones, and with the dim memories of this body’s wild days guiding him, learning he learned to enjoy it. He , eventually discovering discovered lust, the pleasure of sex., It was a rapid run throughcrash course in puberty as he came to feel like man and regained his confidence. After about a year, he found himself longing for Marie. He went to their apartment, told her he wanted to give their marriage another try. He kissed her, thrilled to feel his body aroused by her. They made love, learning how to pleasure each other all over again. Feeling like the first time made it wonderful, and Marie realized she had her man back. Work was getting better, too. His adult memories filleding in the gaps so he could do his job. He liked hanging out with the guys, trading stories of their sexual conquests at the bar, having no trouble talking tough like they did. He was one of them now.

Years passed. Ben He and Marie had another child, a son they named Ben Jr., and producing offspring made him feel truly like a man, and he truly felt like a man now. Toby was 110, growing like a weed, and he could see that Miranda would someday be as beautiful as Marie. He felt proud; he thought of them as his own children. He could still remember being Todd, but it was more distant, like that was merely his normal childhood from long ago. Memories of this bodies’ life were stronger now, too, as he embraced his manhood. He had put away his childish thoughts and embraced his manhood, once and for all. One evening as he and Marie strolled through the neighborhood with their young son in a stroller, Ben puffing his pipe, he spotted Todd. It took him a minute to recognize him. He looked to be about 17 or 18, taller, his body filled out. Todd looked frightened as he saw Ben approach. Ben just smiled. It was a reassuring smile, a little wink, that said don’t worry. I’m fine now. You can have your young body. I have a good life, kid.

Todd kept walking and heaved a sigh of relief. No one got hurt. Marie still had a loving husband, the kids a doting father. And Todd had his new life. It wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be, being an awkward teenager, but like Ben, he had adapted, learned how to act and grown comfortable in his body. The aroma of Ben’s pipe as they passed each other was quite pleasant. He remembered how much he enjoyed it, and knew someday he’d take up the habit again himself, maybe have a wife and kids after he had some serious fun. Everything was now as it should be.