I wake up covered in dry mud, naked under my desk where Brian used to sleep. The mud is now dust, it sweeps right off me. The whole cottage, I see, is caked in this dust that once was mud, was the shit of ducks. How this must look to an outside observer. Living in this filth, holed up under my desk, eyes the color of bloodshot, I can only imagine.
Away I roll and naked I clean. I scrape the clay from the carpet and vacuum the leftovers. I wash all clothes, scrub all surfaces with moist toilettes, take out the trash. Mold, gone. Tomato splatter, erased. Brian’s panties, tucked away. The house smells of formaldehyde. I open all windows, take a shower. The water and steam turn dust back into mud and down my body, down the drain it goes.
I’m drying off when Brian enters the cottage, followed closely by Tommy. When I enter the kitchen/living-room/entryway area, Brian is making a mess of breakfast.
“Hungry?” he asks me.
“Yes,” I say. I smell the sex all over him. I smell it on Tommy too. They reek of one another. I myself smell of Irish Spring Cool Breeze. They have no awareness of my brief past as creature of the night. I sit at my desk, cross my legs, hands draped as one in my lap. Tommy lies on the floor, coloring a coloring book. Probably a gift from Brian.
Brian scrambles eggs and potatoes and mushrooms and peppers and kale, salmonella spraying over all surfaces. I do my best to smile, listen to the whir of the fan take in the steam and the feverish scrape of Tommy’s colored pencils against paper. Though the food is almost ready, Tommy reaches for a grocery bag (my grocery bag) and takes an apple. He doesn’t rinse it. Biting down, juice drips from his lips to the paper making a splotched watercolor effect. He keeps coloring.
I scratch a tally mark in my mind. There are already too many missing apples to count, but tally I must. The inside walls of my skull must look like a prison cell, the bones of the tally-maker disintegrating to dust.
We eat in some sort of silence, the quiet munch of one third of my food going to waste. “How’s Tinder?” Brian asks me.
I swallow, startled. I don’t know where to begin. Tommy stares at me. He wears dark lipstick and a green poncho, I only just noticed. He waits for my answer too.
“It’s alright,” I say. And I guess thats all that was expected of me, because the conversation quickly moves on to other things, primarily between Brian and Tommy. I’ve become a third wheel in my own home.
I swear we used to have real conversations, Brian and I, before we moved in together. If we were to have talked about Tinder then, if we both had Tinder then, I would have told him everything. How futile it all seems, how my longest conversations can fit into an entire screen without scrolling. How seeing all these beautiful girls and options that aren’t really options have strangled me, left me breathless. Life before Tinder was easier. I was calm in my celibate acceptance. Now I can’t function, put two thoughts together or interact with others. I can’t do this, I would’ve told Brian then, I can’t keep this up. And Brian would hold me, caress my back and tell me it’d be okay. And I’d be okay.
In the era of Tommy Tinder, I get two words in and then they’re off, me alone in this war-torn kitchen. And no, Brian, I am not okay. I am not okay with any of this. I pick up my bag of groceries, eye the apples minus one, and search for a new dark corner to put it.
But even the darkest corners have traces of Tommy, his socks, his sweat. I lay down on my mat in the corner, take a bite of an apple, chew, stare at the stucco of the ceiling and contemplate the few reasons I have to get up and if they’re even good reasons at all. My phone vibrates—a notification from Tinder. I leave it there, I ignore it. It used to be these notifications would light me up, electrify my mind and body with purpose and meaning.
These notifications no longer have the same effect, it all leads to the same end. When I am on Tinder, swiping through the faces, there is no excitement, no hope. I don’t know what I look for anymore. Someone to shove in Brian’s face maybe, the same way Brian has shoved Tommy Tinder in mine.
And the sad thing is, I don’t actually hate Tommy. He’s not Brian’s usual disaster of a guy, he’s actually quite nice, quite sweet, hard to fault despite the theft of my food, my space, my best friend. In another life, a life where I had friends, he could have been a friend. But in this life, I know, we are pitted against each other to the death.
Across his chest he has a tattoo of a cherub-sloth with the wings of an eagle, on his forearm wraps a coiling snake, a dagger for a tongue. On his lower back is a bloody tattoo of a beheaded rat, a cleaver knife still lodged in its neck. I remember the first time I see this, I think there is something wrong. That something horrid happened to his back.
“Oh no,” he says to me, “it’s just a tattoo.”
I look closer, see the intricacy of the rat, its bulging eyes, the splash of blood, and I still think there’s something wrong. That something horrid happened to his back.
His belongings slowly make their way from his car into the cottage and across the lawn, paving the way to his tent. Sometimes when I’m being a grump, a “piss puppy” as Tommy calls it, he’ll hug me and say—
“There there,” pat my back, “there there.”
Tommy often wears a turquoise skirt that hangs past the knees, a battered tank top. The last remains of a wardrobe when we still called Brian Brianna. As for Brian, he’s taken to wearing Tommy’s clothes. Black jeans, black shirts, black hats.
I, for one, stick to my own clothes. They fit me.
Later, when Tommy is in the shower, Brian and I sitting in silence, listening to the screech of Tommy sing, me wondering if Brian still thinks of the night of his shredded hair (because I constantly am), I ask Brian—
“So what exactly does Tommy do? How does he pay for his stuff?” By stuff I mean his brand new set of colored pencils, his tattoos. I don’t mean the food he hasn’t been buying.
Brian tells me Tommy doesn’t have a job.
Brian tells me Tommy is living off a small inheritance.
Brian tells me it’s from his mom, from when his mom died.
And Brian sees the confusion in my face. Mother Tinder. Father Tinder. Spiraling to nothing in my eyes.
“What,” he asks, “did you think the assholes who kicked him out were his parents?”
“Well they weren’t.”
He goes on to explain that Tommy’s mother died when Tommy was 20. He explains how his dad moved back up to the woods of Alaska after that, where he wouldn’t be reminded of his dead wife through the son she left behind by dying. Tommy kept everything, his father wanted none of it. He couldn’t bear to hold onto anything that was hers. She died of lung cancer, though she never smoked. Now Tommy waits for his father to die the slower death of heartbreak. There is no cure for heartbreak.
Brian tells me all of this but all I hear is how little I listen, how terrible an investigative journalist I am. How I only hear what I want to hear and what I don’t hear I fill in with what makes sense to me. Loss like that, heartbreak like that, it doesn’t make sense to me. Not when all I’m dealing with is the heartbreak and rejection from faces I don’t know on people I’ve never really seen. What am I doing? Why do I bother writing any of this down?
“Are you okay?”
“Mother and Father Tinder,” I ask Brian, “who were they?”
“What are you talking about?”
I think about that— what am I talking about? Words in my head, spinning some sort of false truth. This web of lies that has become too real. We all do this. The fiction you’re living is laughable. You are not unique. You are just like everyone else.
Say it, Brian. Say it. None of this is real.
I realize now how much my head hurts. This throbbing at the back of my skull.
“Are you okay?” Brian asks me again.
I sit down on the carpet. I feel the throb in order to feel what’s real. This. This right now is real.
Tommy emerges from the shower, my towel wrapped around his waist and I see all his tattoos in their full glory. Though he hums the tune to “Lola,” in his eyes I see all the sadness I can never compete with, and somewhere in there I’m at peace with the fact that he has found someone to share his loneliness, someone to help hold up its weight.
Tommy lowers himself to my level and wraps his arms around me. I’ll never forget what he says to me. What he says to me is this—
I thought this would go differently. In my mind this would be an in depth investigation of Tinder and the Tinder life. I had stories all mapped out in my head with my character arc going from a timid loser to a super confident and rad pussy-hound bro, a King of Tinder. All the ladies would go weak at their knees and I’d make up for five wasted years. This is not what happens. I wish I could write it and say that’s what happens but I’m not that good of a writer. What happens is that nothing happens. It turns out the app is just an app and apps don’t in all actuality change lives. You start with a burst of dopamine disguised as happiness and change and then you crash and realize that nothing really changes at all. Well, everything else changes. You stay the same.
What happens is I run out of people because this town ain’t that big. What happens is I get matches but not enough to fill fingers. Only one match agrees to meet and then I go quiet, we don’t meet. Nothing happens.
This night, when the world is silent, I venture out into the woods behind the cottage. The high trees black against the moon. I arrive at a small clearing and begin to dig. I dig a grave fit for the King I wanted to be. I drop the shovel, remove the phone from my pocket. The LCD light blinds me. I press down on the Tinder icon with the flame, until it shimmers, until it shakes, until the little X appears and I tap it.
Delete “Tinder”? Deleting this app will also delete its data.
I hit delete.
I lay my phone in the grave.
I bury it.
In the cottage bathroom, I wash the dirt from my hands, I live up to the title of this blog and become truly, a Man Without a Tinder—a problem I long realized was a problem when I strung together this failed storyline and character arc of a man on the rise, a man who definitely has a Tinder. I sleep well that night, knowing this man no longer has a Tinder, that the title of this investigative journal isn’t advertising false. I dream of mountains, trees on fire. Smoke that leads to a great blackness. This man won’t be getting back on Tinder.
join man next week for journal #16 (in which said man feels the earth beneath him vibrate)