Often I find myself at Boulevard Park, walking the long boardwalk that stretches out across the water. Beyond the bay the islands stretch out, create their maze of channels and evergreens rising from the horizon, and down from the sky the sun dips and bathes the atmosphere in crimson. I bury my fists into my pockets, brace myself against a breeze that doesn’t come. The air, the ocean, the hearts of all so calm.
Everyone I pass is a couple. Lovers holding hands, arms wrapped around waists, flirtatious pushing and a succulent kiss leaning out over the waters, their dark reflection kissing just the same. A blanket spread out on the beach down from the tracks, a young couple watching the slipping of the sun with darkening mists in their eyes. The fire of the sun a dull glow now as it drops beneath the islands, a sliver of flame and gone. Low red sky separated by brushstroke clouds from a blue above that threatens to be black. Although I’m not alone here, I’m alone here. The way everyone touches one another, they look like touch junkies, everyone touchingtouchingtouching, skin on skin, hips on hips, lips on lips, and inside I scream. How desperately I need to touch something, how I must touch anything at all. I scratch my forearm. This is not enough.
I think of the writings of Joseph Campbell and the fish he often mentions—the fish with the white belly and the dark top that disguises and protects him from predators above and below. When said fish falls in love however, his scales change their color. He’s vulnerable to attack, his guard is down, but it’s the only way to attract a mate. I feel like this fish. I can relate to this fish, because I’m not invisible here anymore. As these conjoined couples pass me on the boardwalk, I see the way they look at me. My loneliness disgusts them, gives them power.
I want to stop swimming. I wonder what this means. Will I sink to quiet depths or will I float to the surface, pulled by tides for seagulls to rip and devour?
In my mind Joseph Campbell continues his account of the fish—
It’s a very amusing exchange. When the female fish goes by, a dance takes place. There is something about his coloration that makes her give a little move, and then that move triggers his response. If any one of these little moves is missed, the dance ends and that choreography is finished. But if they can go through the whole choreography, then something happens.
And I know we are no different from these fish. Tinder is our dance, our mating ritual, and I don’t know the moves. My coloration changes and I’m vulnerable. The mouse girl, she likely dances with another mouse now, one who knows all the steps, the tap dancing answers and questions on the Tinder screen dance floor. We really could have been something, you and me.
The low red sky is gone, everything falling into a hazy shade of lavender. Silhouettes of seagulls, wings flapping then falling still. A distant glow of a ship. A first star followed by a slow spattering of others as the lavender sky fades to black. I know if Brian were here with me, he’d look me in the eyes and say with confidence that none of this is real. That it’s all a game. And I know he wouldn’t just be talking about Tinder, but all of this—the rising moon, the stars, the lone heron sliding across the night—it’s all an illusion. It’s buddhist shit. In the end we all die, it was only a game, nobody wins or loses and everyone dies. Brian would laugh. I would cry. And that’s how that would go.
I wake to an empty cottage, Brian still staying at Tommy’s home in the days before Tommy’s homelessness. I will return to the Tommy tangent another time, and when I do it’ll no longer be a tangent, but something more—a waking migraine you can’t get rid of. For now the cottage is empty and my mind is not. I avoid my phone. I avoid Tinder because I’m just not ready, I fell in love too fast. Tinder, no, it’s too soon, the heartbreak of it all.
I drive to work. Thick clouds blanket the sky, bathing everything and everyone the color of cobweb. My minivan sways and turns with the curves of the road. Rural country turns to suburbs turns to old town turns to downtown. I keep my eyes off the pedestrians, most of them homeless, transients carrying sacks, empty faces. I turn onto State Street. A girl on the corner, waiting to cross. I don’t let her cross. I keep driving. In my rearview I watch her. Her familiar face. Eyes back on the road, they dart back to the girl, and I do know her. She nibbles a block of cheese and yes, it is cheddar. I’m running late but my minivan shrugs, it strays and I have no say in the matter. On the roundabout I miss my turn, take N Forest instead.
Looping back to State Street, to the crossing, I search for her. The minivan crawls. I turn, I turn, I turn somewhere else—
There. My heart stops or moves so fast it feels still with no dead space between the beats, because I found her. She’s right there, do you see her? Her with the backpack, the block of cheddar, the ratty hair, the gentle little steps.
I’m driving slow, the pavement barely moving beneath me and I feel the rage of the driver at my rear. I pull into a metered parking spot. I have no change, no quarters for the meter. Pat my body down, nothing. The mouse girl, she’s getting away. If I could just explain!
A homeless man on the corner, I beg him for change. For just one quarter, three if you have it. The man only stares, he doesn’t realize I have a date with destiny.
The mouse girl turns a corner onto Railroad Avenue. I dart after her, keep 50 paces back. What should I say, how to explain I was trying only to flatter her with my message, not spit in her face. I’m not still bitter, are you? I really am a good idea.
She stuffs the block of nibbled cheddar into her backpack and looks around. I stand there unmoving, realize it’s weird that I’m not moving, arms and legs still in mid-stride position. I let loose and walk on, super casual, super cool, awesome sauce suave.
She walks into a Starbucks.
I walk into a Starbucks.
The same Starbucks, what a coincidence!
Behind her in line, I’m smelling her hair and it smells like mice, if mice smell like hamsters and I know they do. This is how these things begin, I tell myself, this is how it starts. These are the roads we go down, people like me. These are the backstreets and alleyways where the good men stray, find ourselves outcasts.
My hand reaches out, finger extended and ready to swipe right on her pale shoulder. The pump of my blood so loud, her skin looking so smooth, and I’m almost—
A jolt of vibration against my thigh stops me. The mouse girl steps forward to the counter. I didn’t realize how much sweat one body could produce. I wipe my hands on my hips. I pull out my phone—Congratulations! You have a new Match!—and I almost collapse. The screen fades back to black. I stand there, my reflection staring back. Someone says something. Someone says something to me.
“Can I get you something?”
I look up. The mouse girl is gone. A short, terrifying barista with red hair and a green apron glares at me. I look to the menu, think I’m reading Italian and know that yes, I must be losing my mind.
Back in my van I stare at my phone, try to convince myself that if I open the app, I won’t once again fall in love too quick. Because I don’t know the moves. I don’t know this dance. The step, shift, kick, twist, turn, tahh-tahh-tahtahtah, get down and up and JAZZ HANDS! I don’t know it. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t open my phone. I put it in my pocket and drive away.
That’s one version in my mind. In another version, I immediately open my phone, find myself salivating and convinced that with practice, I can dance this dance, move my hips in a way and snap my fingers in a way and bite my lip in a way with a cha cha shuffle and clap that makes the ladies helpless, weak in the knees and defenseless against my attack.
join man next week for journal #8 (in which said man launches his attack, his heart a moldy block of cheese)