Journal #15 (in which said man makes a big Tinder decision)

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.

“Oh.”

Brian tells me Tommy is living off a small inheritance.

“Oh?”

Brian tells me it’s from his mom, from when his mom died.

OH.

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—”

“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—

“There there.”

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)

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Journal #14 (in which said man gets kicked in the head)

Before we talk about Tommy Tinder, I should probably paint a better picture of the property that Brian and myself live on. It’s a big property, more land than either Brian or myself know what to do with. The landlord lives with his wife in the main house, across the garden from our cottage, and they’re great people. I think they’re great people at least, to be honest they’re never really around. Behind the cottage is a small cedar wood isolating us from the other properties. In front is the long gravel drive that snakes away from us toward the main road, trees and blackberry bushes lining the left side, our own private pond flanking the right. Then there is the field, the swampland, and beyond that— the tent where homeless Tommy Tinder has staked his claim.

“This was all grassland,” our landlord tells us, “all of it flat.” He means to say that he’s responsible for all of this: the fields, the woods, the pond, the garden, the cottage, us. In other words, he is this Eden’s God. He is our Creator and without him, all of this, all of us are nothing. Whenever I overstep my bounds, put plastic bottles in the wrong bin or park too close to the main house, he reminds me who dug that pond, who planted those trees, how sweetly he rested on the seventh day.

I’m not sure he knows that Tommy Tinder is living here now. If all of this were still grasslands he’d know, but it’s not, so he doesn’t. Hidden beyond the wet growth of the pond, Tommy’s tent has plenty coverage. This is also for my benefit, because I like to pretend that Tommy’s not living here. I like to pretend that Tommy doesn’t exist. When Tommy does venture from his tent to our cottage to use our toilet paper and empty our fridge, I block him out, pretend that it’s me eating all this food and that in all actuality I’m not starving myself.

Pretending isn’t always so easy. Some nights, when I’m up late and cannot sleep and Tinder has lost its allure, there’s nothing to do but listen to the frogs fuck. Their croaks, their rustling in the reeds. And then there’s the screams. Screams that really make you feel something.

I leave the cottage without bothering to put on shoes. Sharp gravel sticking to the soles of my feet. Following the screams on the wind that tear through the trees, I loop right after the pond. Through muddy marshland I walk, bare feet sinking into its mud. A silhouette of a tent in the near distance. Its fabric ripples in the wind. Beyond the tent, a wooden fence, one that looks over farmland pasture where several horses graze. Now the horses are still and they watch me, the light of the full moon reflected in their usually empty eyes. The screams are deafening now, along with the slapping of sweaty skin. I’m afraid to breathe, the wind is doing enough of it. My whole body feels sore, aching, like something has been torn away, some enveloping layer just gone. I don’t know where it went, what this layer was even protecting. There’s nothing left to protect.

I sit down in the grass, sink gently into the side of the tent and try not to cry. The way Brian’s hand clenches the fabric, the way his eyes clench so unbearably shut (you can hear this in his screams), his breasts slapping against each other—I swear I’m not listening to this. I swear I’m not. I’m just here. I’m just here. There is no reason for me to be here, I swear.

The screaming stops, replaced by low moans and heavy breaths and I hear them reposition themselves, making deals and arrangements in whispers. A slow wet clap. A slow, a slow, a slow wet slap. UUHHH. OHHHHH. I sink further into the side of the tent and close my eyes. Flailing arms, flailing legs—

a numbing bash against the head. My head. I collapse into the grass. I can’t see. Inside the tent is silence.

And whispers.

“What was that?” I hear Tommy hiss.

More silent shifting within.

“I think I kicked something.” That was Brian.

Cradling the back of my skull I fear may be fractured, I crawl through the grass like an animal, some creature of the nighttime. The tent unzips from the inside and two shadows emerge. I fumble into a four legged scamper. The frogs are at it again and I’m after them, all fours soaked in mud and grass and I’m after them, through brush and reeds and weeds I dive—

KERPLUNK.

~ripples in the water~

Silence. All I hear is silence with black water pushing up against my eardrums. I rise up from the water. Even the frogs are quiet now. Both Tommy and Brian stand naked in the night. A wisp of cloud drifts over the moon.

“What was that?” Tommy asks.

“A frog.”

“Sounded like a fucking pretty huge frog,” Tommy says before returning to the tent.

I peek through the overgrown weeds of the pond’s edge, watch Brian stand outside the tent, naked in the moonlight, his breasts gleaming a surreal, dead man’s dream glow. Dark shadows where I know there must be too much pubic hair. I watch him, him watching the pond. For a time I think he sees me, his eyes right on mine and he doesn’t blink. I’m not blinking either. It’s just us there now, the first time in weeks it’s just us. My hands and knees sink into the silky silt of the pond. Brian reaches for the cigarette behind his ear. He places it between his lips, doesn’t light it.

As I lay there in the pond, watching Brian through the reeds, the throb of my head making slow rhythmic ripples behind me, I feel like a child again. The summer after second grade, specifically. I’m at one of my older sister’s swim meets. I’m not watching though, I’m hiding on this play structure tower on the playground when another child joins me. This child says something to me but I don’t respond. The child sits down and watches me and I say nothing, it’s awhile before I understand why. There’s a confusion as I look at this child, because I don’t know whether they are a boy or a girl. I feel I must know, that I should know, so I ask the child—

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

And I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just a curiosity that I need answered.

The child answers— “a girl.”

Looking at her short cropped hair, her plain face and hand-me-down baggy clothing, I don’t believe her.

“Can you prove it? If you can’t prove it you can’t stay here in my home.” I’m talking about the play structure.

The child doesn’t seem disturbed by the question, because she too would like to stay in this play structure that is my home, though she’s slow to understand what I mean by proving it. I’m not sure I understand either, it was only a question.

The child’s parents are close by and hear the question. Through the bars of my home, they demand I repeat it to them. I don’t say anything. They demand I get off the play structure. I get off the play structure. They tell me to point to where my parents are. I point to my mom. I see her by the pool watching my sister swim and it makes me sad, because soon enough she’ll know.

The parents of the child leave me there, demanding I stay put. I stay put. I don’t watch as they approach her. I don’t watch as they tell her. She comes to fetch me, red in the face, takes me by the hand and pulls me from my home. I turn to see the child in the play structure, her green eyes watching me through its bars.

At my real home my mom asks me what I said to the girl in the playground. I tell her I didn’t say anything. When mom asks again, I don’t say anything.

Back then we’d still go to church and every time I went and listened to the pastor preach, I knew I didn’t belong there. I knew I was going to hell for what I’d done. There was no turning back, I was meant to burn. I would sing the songs and pray the prayers and make the sign of the cross, but I knew it wouldn’t change a thing. I was damned. I never confessed this sin to the pastor or to God because I feared the fire in their eyes. I accepted the flames that waited for me at the end. I just hoped the girl in the playground wouldn’t follow me there.

I no longer believe in the literal hellfire after death, but as I watch Brian naked in the moonlight, my whole body throbbing now, I wonder if this is my punishment, this is my hell. Doomed to love another who loves another. Although I’m half-submerged in cold water, I feel like I’m burning. I’ve reached the end.

It seems his eyes are still on me. I raise my right arm slowly, careful not to make any splash. I give the faintest of waves. Remember me?

Brian doesn’t respond. I realize his eyes are just over mine, looking at something beyond me.

A voice from the tent— “anything?”

“Nothing,” says Brian, and he disappears back into the tent, followed by a long, slow zip. “There’s nothing there.”

I track mud and duck shit back into the cottage, leaving wet clothes in my wake. Dark spots spread across the carpet. Sometimes it’s so good to see someone even when they don’t see you. I don’t go to sleep on my mat in the corner, instead I curl up beneath my desk where Brian used to sleep, smell the carpet that once smelled like Brian and now smells like feet. Tomorrow, I know, it’ll smell like duck shit. I don’t hear anymore screams that night. No frogs croak and even the wind seems to die. Outside it is nothing. Inside it is the hum of the fridge, the squish of wet carpet every time I shift.

In the dim light of the moon, the little that finds itself under this desk, I look at the collage of photographs and postcards that Brian has taped there. They’ve begun to wilt. A forgotten tribute to our home, to our life together. I look into the these pictures and wish that I was there, forget that I am there, that I am always right here. I wonder why we’re all doomed to love the wrong people. Someone who loves someone who loves someone else—

It’s endless. It needs to stop. I want it to stop. It takes all my willpower, every ounce of strength to fight the fate of my fingers, their destiny. This blog-journal-something-whatever is supposed to be about Tinder. This is not supposed to be about me. None of this is supposed to be about me. I don’t touch my phone that night. I can’t bring myself to touch it. This isn’t about me.

⛺️

join man next week for journal #15 (in which said man makes a big Tinder decision)

Journal #13 (which involves said man, a dead man, the coffeeshop girl and Alaska)

Her hair is tied back into her French braid and her forearms are covered in either climbing chalk or flour, and given the circumstances my guess is the latter because she is at work, I am at work, and both of us are on opposite sides of the counter as if all we’ve ever been is on opposite sides of some counter. I order my soup and sandwich, she gives me my soup and sandwich, I sit at the bar. The whole transaction, every bit of it, feels very tense. Very uncomfortable.

I can’t stomach this soup, I can’t even look at this sandwich.

She’s not looking at me. She’s peeling carrots. Her face is the same color as the carrots.

“So,” she says to me without looking up, “I read it. I read your draft.”

“Oh yeah? You’ve read it?”

“Yeah, I read it.”

I wait for her to say whether she liked it or not. She doesn’t say anything. Her focus is on the carrots and their peels that sprinkle the compost.

My focus is on her forearms.

“I’m not actually, you know, I’m not actually in love with Brian,” I say to her. “Just so you know. The Brian love story is for the story. So you know.”

Her peeling slows, her face once again the color of gold as opposed to carrots, and I wonder if she actually believes this, that I’m not actually in love with Brian.

She wipes her hands clean, her smile rising back into the permanent creases of her cheeks. “I was wondering,” she says. “It’s interesting, not knowing what’s real and what’s not. It’s very interesting, very mysterious. You’re very mysterious.”

And I smile at that, tears welling up in my eyes. That’s all I ever wanted to be—mysterious.

“How goes the Tindering?” I ask her.

“I hate it,” she tells me, “I hate it so much. How much longer do you need me on it?”

I shrug a flirtatious shrug, smile a flirtatious smile.

“Is this even helping you? I feel like this can’t be helping you. It isn’t, is it?”

“You’d be surprised,” I say, “the depth of information I got out of last night.”

She waves me off. “I guess I wouldn’t know.”

There’s an unusual tiredness to her eyes, some ancient LCD glow. Her right thumb twitches as she steams milk.

Later in the night, when the cafe is empty, I see her on her phone, swiping, swiping, swiping. Juggling too many conversations at once. The bend in her back begins to look like the bend in my back.

Past closing— she’s consolidating the trash. On the prep counter, her phone won’t stop vibrating. She does her best to ignore it.

“KyAnne,” I say.

“Yes?” She remains hunched over the trash, only now she’s not breathing.

“I’m sorry. I have what I need. You don’t need to continue this. You don’t need to keep doing this.”

The release of breath from coffeeshop lungs.

She turns to me and I see nothing but truth in her eyes. I don’t know if she’s relieved or disappointed. On the counter her phone still shivers.

“Are you sure?”

I nod. “I’m sorry.”

She reaches for her phone. A few quick swipes paralyzes it.

In that moment, I hear a hundred conversations die, I hear a hundred men fall to their knees and sigh. It’s just us now.

Because all I ever see is the presence of mountains in her eyes, I ask her if she’d like to go for a hike sometime.

That smile, it creeps back. She says yes.

The hike is more of a steep hill than a mountain, and being the mountain climber she is, somehow she stomachs this for me.

Our bodies fall into a step crunch rhythm. Our conversation falls into the depths where all conversation becomes irretrievable. Something to do with Alaska, and a little fishing town. I can’t remember it now. Just as this conversation is getting to the deepest, the rockbottom from where no depth can escape, a small dog scampers toward us from a bend in the trail, a black Shih Tzu yapping and strutting and bouncing and jumping. Beyond are too old men sitting on a felled tree tucked to the left of the trail. The Shih Tzu darts back and forth between us and the men, its laps growing shorter as we approach.

“Hello,” we say to the men, both of them bald and sweating.

The one with still some remains of hair smiles and asks us, “how many times?”

“How many times?” we ask.

“How many times up,” he says. “How many times have you gone up?”

Both of us, KyAnne and I, look up toward the up we’re going toward and then we look at each other.

“Twice,” I say.

KyAnne says this is her seventh time, maybe, but it’s been awhile.

“We’ve been doing this for forty years,” the not-quite-bald-man says. “We’ve been doing this every week for forty years.”

I tell him that’s a long time. They both nod in silence. The little dog still yaps though, bouncing on all fours and ruining a particularly good silence.

“Beautiful,” says the completely bald man, “just beautiful.”

I follow this man’s gaze and I say, “yes, yes it is.”

“Nine months ago I was dead,” he says. “It’s hard not to see this beauty after you’ve been dead. Not after that darkness, no sir.”

I feel KyAnne tense up beside me, or maybe it’s just my own body, tensing up.

He wears brand new Nikes, grey sweatpants tucked into tube socks. The bald man goes on— “The darkness changes things, you see. It changes the things you never see, you see?”

“I see,” I tell him.

The man nods. “The darkness, man, the darkness.”

And then there is a long pause where everyone is nodding, even the dog is nodding and nobody saying anything. The silence is pure. There’s a wind in the trees and the leaves are waving us either hello or goodbye. But they are waving. Dust at our feet already on the move. KyAnne shifts, a scattering of pebbles rolls down the hill.

The bald man seems anxious to talk more about the darkness but he won’t be prompted. The two old men, together, wait for us to ask, to inquire further about the death and the darkness. To ask— how? I’m afraid to ask though, because men don’t just die, see death and the darkness and then come back to tell the tale, to tell me. I’m afraid to ask because I believe this man really did die nine months ago and see the darkness and he’s still in the darkness now, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come, and right now he dreams of me. We’re all still nodding in unison and I’m terrified to say our fare-thee-wells because if I walk too far, disappear from this man’s dream, what will become of me? I focus on my breath, the sweat of my skin and the muted sun between the trees.

KyAnne says, “well, it was great talking to you guys.”

The two men wave us off, their focus now on their yapping Shih Tzu. We continue our trudge up the hill, turn a bend and disappear from view. Dead men’s dreams, all we are are the dreams of dead men. I’m the dream of a dead man yet here I am, walking up some hill, a beautiful girl beside me and my hand grazes hers, the wet sweat of soft skin, here I am alive.

The trail we follow is that of Pine and Cedar Lakes, but we turn right at Hemlock and follow Hemlock to Raptor Ridge. Other than the shortness of breath, the weight of your legs, the sweat on your back, there’s no evidence of upward movement. Wind shrieks through the brown toothpick trees. To our right, the caves of old boulders.

Reaching the ridge called Raptor, walking through the last of the pines to the sky that breaks open before you, the world breaking open before you, it feels like everything, it feels like rapture. Thick clouds blanket the sky but it seems like those want to break open too, the sun wants to get through. A faded glow where the sun floats, long away beyond.

We lay out on the rocky crag, feels like sandstone, waiting for the clouds to break, waiting for the sun, for everything else. Green hills beyond green hills stretch out before us, the wind shredding the trees with blind ripples. From here, there is no sign of civilization. The dream is desolate. It’s only us.

Carved into the sandstone someone once wrote— ‘fuck you and your world.’ No other message survives from the ancient days.

KyAnne turns to me and asks, “Do you hear that?”

I tell her yes.

“I just imagine that the distant sound of cars is the ocean. If you listen hard enough,” she says, “or listen less, it sounds like the ocean.”

And now I’m pissed, because I thought the distant car noise was the ocean.

Down by the lot, at the end of the hike or the beginning, I lean against my minivan, already or still sweating. I’m looking at KyAnne who doesn’t seem to be looking at me at all. There is a presence in her eyes, some other lone mountain calling her and this mountain calls her alone. She never stops moving, she never stops climbing. I can’t keep up, I can’t hold her still.

“I like seeing you,” I say. “It’s nice seeing you out here.”

And then there’s that smile again, that smile that reminds me of dead men’s dreams. “I like seeing you too.”

Though I’m not sure I believe her because I think she’s talking to the mountains.

And then she hugs me and I believe everything. Once again, I believe in Something.

In the brief moments her arms are around me, it seems like she wants to say something, but she doesn’t. Something to do with a conversation I can’t remember.

She backs away. “Well then, bye.”

I only wave as she walks away, not quite understanding the sadness of this departure, the hunger in my chest knowing that I’ll be hungry for much longer. It’s amazing how the hunger still takes you, drives your blood so wild after fasting for so long, abstaining so long. I remember her as she peels those carrots and the need in my body as I watch her do this, her shirt hanging down just enough to see the midnight light of Alaskan skin, otherworldly, and the rest is only shadow.

The next time I expect to see her at the cafe she’s not there. She’s not there the following day either. Or the following week. She disappears, I die. I fall to my knees and sigh.

In her place is a shorter coffeeshop girl, with beetle black hair and mascara that makes her look tired. She doesn’t smile at me, I’m not sure it would matter if she did. Now I pack my lunch, eat in the break room alone and fear the worst— that original coffeeshop girl got lost in the dead man’s dream, or escaped it, I don’t know.

Turns out, or so I hear, that she just went to Alaska, but maybe that’s the same thing.

🗻

P.S. Dead man, if you are no longer dead, there is something I wanted to ask you. When you leave your body and come back to it after an absence, do you know what you smell like, the same way you only know the smell of your home after returning from a long vacation? You smell like an old man, dead man. Surely you must know that now.

join man next week for journal #14 (in which said man gets kicked in the head)

Journal #12 (in which said man eats Thai food with coffeeshop girl)

As promised—a Thursday night. I stop by her place after work. She lives just a couple of blocks up the street from the bookstore. I’ve passed by this house I don’t know how many times yet I never knew this was the place where coffeeshop girl ceases to be coffeeshop girl. I knock on the door. When I stop, my heart is still knocking. Did I ever knock? I’m not sure. I knock again.

Then footsteps. Then the door, opening.

Her caramel hair is down, I’ve never seen it down before. At work it’s always tied up into a French braid, loose strands making thin shadows before her eyes. Tonight it is down and I feel I’m seeing something I shouldn’t be seeing. This is a sight not meant for her customers. Tonight I am not a customer, not a bookstore clerk who works in the same building.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey.”

She smells like lady showers. Her jeans fit her tight and so does her sweater the color of mustard. Shower water dampens the cotton, she only just got out. It’s Spring but the wind still feels like Winter. A light scarf loops around her neck.

“Shall we?” I offer her my elbow.

She refuses with her smile and a playful push. That smile. My elbow goes weak at the crook. She locks the door behind her.

Together we walk, side by side, to the Thai restaurant around the corner and I imagine we’re holding hands. We’re not holding hands though because that would be weird. Weird for her, not for me. My hand is a fist, gripping itself.

Somehow the air inside is colder. A black piano sits in the corner but no one plays it. Late 90s, early 00s music streams from speakers. Makes you think Thailand is a land of the past. Eight years for the music to get there, eight years for it to get back. Right now it’s “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. It sounds just like it did back then. Uncanny.

…she acts like summer and walks like rain… reminds me that there’s time to change…

It’s just us and the waiter here. I wonder if he’s also the cook. And it’s now that I should tell you, reader, that the name of the coffeeshop girl is KyAnne (pronounced like the pepper but spelled in a way a hippie would spell it if they were to name their child after a pepper). KyAnne was named after a pepper and her parents were hippies. I think one of them still is. Alive, I mean.

She orders a glass of Merlot and I order a beer and she says to me, “I thought you didn’t drink.”

I tell her I don’t, that the beer is for her.

“I’m getting wine,” she says.

“Oh.”

She stares at me, her perpetual smile. “So the beer?”

I chase down the waiter and try to explain to him in the simplest English I can that I don’t need beer after all and that the beer was never for me, it was for the coffeeshop girl named KyAnne—“that’s her, that’s KyAnne,” I say as I’m pointing to KyAnne—and now she doesn’t want the beer because she ordered wine and I don’t drink and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—

I’m on the verge of tears now, or long past the verge of tears and simply crying and I tell him, “I swear I’m not trying to get her drunk. I’m not. I’m not a rapist.”

He stares at me through his glasses and says in perfect English, “No beer?”

I nod, relieved that he understands, that I’m an understandable kind of guy, and that so is he. We bonded just then, we became something more.

I sit back down. KyAnne asks me, “we good?”

I tell her we’re good. Our waiter, my friend, brings us the wine and water and although he doesn’t physically wink at me, I know he winks at me mentally, because we’re soul brothers now, we’ve crossed cultural divides and found ourselves one.

Enter a lone viola, soul wrenching. What sounds like an Irish funeral dirge. A soft, slow piano like rhythmic drops. A voice like God—

When I am down, and oh my soul so weary… When troubles come and my heart burdened be… Then I am still and wait here in the silence… Until you come and sit awhile with me…

The next verse wakes me to the truth. This is not God, this is Josh Groban. You raise me up so I can stand on mountains… YOU RAISE ME UP to walk on stormy seas…

I watch KyAnne sip at her wine. I watch her eye the emptiness that surrounds us, listen to the vastness that Josh Groban’s voice fills. Most of the dinner we eat in silence. I don’t remember what I eat because I can barely eat. KyAnne has the yellow curry. She finishes it no problem. Every now and again I point out a song I haven’t heard in some time. Every now and again she asks me about Tinder. There isn’t much to say.

“Another glass of wine?”

“No,” she says, “one is enough.” Her gold cheeks are flooded pink. “I only need the one.”

We get separate checks but I tell the waiter I’ll pay for the wine. He winks at me again without winking.

Walking back to her place I again imagine we’re holding hands. We’re not holding hands though. That would be weird.

I lay my satchel down on the carpet. KyAnne is in the kitchen while my eyes roam the walls. Everything surprisingly bare, under decorated, a carpet torn and frayed. It’s quiet because the weird stuff is about to begin. Because I asked her to rejoin Tinder, for “research.” Because I wanted her alone.

KyAnne peeks out from the kitchen and asks me what kind of tea I’d like.

“Do you have Lemongrass Jasmine Green? But the decaf kind.”

—A short pause— “no.”

“What do you have?”

“Green, black, and chamomile.”

“I’ll take the chamomile.”

“Actually, I’m out of chamomile.” She shakes an empty box at me.

“Green is fine.” The realization hits that I won’t be getting any sleep tonight.

A kettle shrieks. KyAnne brings out a tray with a pot, steaming, and two empty cups. She places the tray on the floor and sits down beside me.

“So,” she says.

“So,” I say.

“We’re doing this.”

“Yes.” Though I forget what this is. I’m about to lean in to kiss her when she takes out her phone, activates her Tinder account. I forgot how easy it is, how quick it is to make yourself known to the world.

We scroll through her Facebook photos looking for the perfect Tinder bait, though really I’m just nodding, saying yes to all, because really I’d swipe right any one of them. My God, that smile. In the end she chooses photos of her rock climbing, snowboarding, shaping clay into something more. Then there is the picture of her with her roommates, and she’s wearing this little black dress I’ve never seen before. Her hair is down in the same forbidden way it’s down now. She’s about to let anyone see.

I tell her not to worry about a bio. She won’t need one.

It stuns me to see the men that fly across her screen. I feel like we just built a boat together and now it’s sprung a leak. Now we’re drowning in men. And I’m talking about real men with real men bodies. Looking at these men I realize that no, I’m not a man at all—I don’t know what I am. I’m talking men with chainsaws and hatchets and you know… abs. I’ve never held a chainsaw in my life and wonder what it’d feel like to start now. What’s even more disturbing is that she swipes most of these men LEFT, just a ridiculous onslaught of lefts. We’re drowning in men but she does what the drowning do best, sloshing pail after pail of men back into the sea. Eventually though, her fingers loosen up and find their rhythm and even a few right swipes. Her match success rate is somewhere between 85% and 97% though I’m no mathematician. The amount of matches she gets in a single hour destroys me, but this is what I wanted wasn’t it? To witness this flood of matches, to see what happens on the other side. She’s in the boat, I’m in the sea.

The way her eyes light up, I know she’ll swipe right even before she does. She swipes right for snow, she swipes right for mountains, she swipes right for adventure. For red hair. I watch as my competition builds up in her phone though I’m quick to realize they’re not my competition at all. These men are playing rugby and climbing K-9s and I’m masturbating in showers and playing frisbee golf alone.

I take out my phone because it’s all too much. I hope that if I start my own swiping I might make her jealous, but I see I’m not even on her radar—she’s in it now, I’ve reintroduced a Tinder addict back into the world of real men and musk. My Degree “Men” deodorant doesn’t even register. I get no matches that night (excluding the pity match that KyAnne gives me when I come across her phone) all the while KyAnne gets 23—make that 26—while being far more selective than I could ever be. Also, she gets four Super Likes in a matter of minutes. What have I done.

This wasn’t really supposed to be for research, KyAnne. I thought I was more transparent than that.

Her roommate walks in the front door and when she sees us there, on the couch together, she exclaims “OH!” as if she’s interrupting and quickly retreats to her room. And I picture how the two of us must have looked just then, and even now, the two of us side by side on the couch, our knees turned toward each other, centimeters from touching, both of us hunched over our phones—two halves of a broken heart, slowly, steadily, mending back together. I realize now that none of these men have the advantage that I have. I can smell her, I can feel her warm wine breath. Carefully I inch toward her, or maybe I just oscillate and don’t really move at all. I put down my phone and look into her eyes that reflect the men sprinting and doing pushups across her screen.

“Hey,” I say. “Hey.”

She looks up from her phone, faded eyes.

“You’ve been down there awhile,” I say as my arm crawls along the back of the couch behind her.

“You’re right,” she says looking back down at her phone, but for the time. “Yeah it’s probably time for bed. You should probably go.”

“Right,” I say (my arm retreats back toward me). “I should probably go.”

I don’t go though, at least not right away. We sit there drinking the cold tea we’ve forgotten about and when both of us have emptied our cups, caffeinated at all the wrong hours, she says— “yeah, you should go.”

And this time I do, but not before she stops me at the door. “There was one more thing you promised me though,” she says.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Suddenly I’m confident in my lips’ ability to kiss.

“You said you’d let me read the rough draft of your first post.”

“Right,” I say, because at this time I haven’t posted anything yet, still processing the disaster that is Tinder. From my satchel I pull out five pages of dribble and hand it to her, full well knowing that I mention my obsession with the coffeeshop girl at the end of it. She’ll know she is said coffeeshop girl. It is that transparent, this here is my confession.

“Don’t think poorly of me,” I say, also fully aware I mention in it my habit of masturbating in cold showers. “Don’t think ill of me.”

She folds the pages and tucks them in her back pocket. “You really have nothing to worry about,” she says. She says it with that smile.

On the drive home, Train comes back on the radio. It’s one of their newer, more poppy tunes that sounds great but leaves you cold. I don’t know the name, I don’t listen to the lyrics. Because I miss the days when there really were drops of Jupiter in her hair, the songs that never change reminding you only of the things that do.

🎶…can you imagine no first dance, freeze dried romance, five-hour phone conversation, the best soy latte that you ever had and me... and tell me, did you fall from a shooting star, one without a permanent scar, and did you miss me while you were looking for yourself…🎶

“NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NAA NA NAAA,” I sing into the night over a song that’s not the song I’m singing. But maybe that’s love for you, we love someone else over the person we love now. Tonight I’m listening to KyAnne’s tune, polished and beautiful and lovely, but I’m singing someone else’s, raw and lonely.

🎤😭

join man next week for journal #13 (in which said man has yet to come up with a title, but it involves coffeeshop girl and a dead man on a mountain)